Starlink is an internet service operated by SpaceX that uses thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit. It has been limited to fixed stations, like homes and parked RVs, but now Starlink is coming to moving vehicles.
The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted SpaceX authorization to deploy Starlink’s super-fast internet on “Earth Stations in Motion” — meaning cars, boats, trucks, and aircraft. Even though Starlink uses ground-based wireless dishes to communicate with satellites, which can (in theory) be placed anywhere, the company didn’t have permission for vehicles actively moving until now.
The same authorization also granted Kepler Communications permission to operate its own satellite-powered internet on boats in United States territory, and any US-registered ships in international waters. Kepler is a Canadian company working on a similar network of small internet satellites in Earth orbit.
Satellite internet is nothing new, as services like HughesNet and Viasat have been around for a while. However, Starlink and other newer networks are unique because they use larger numbers of satellites in a much closer orbit, at around 340 miles above the Earth’s surface. HughesNet, Exede, and other companies have satellites much farther away in geostationary orbit (around 22,000 miles), which decreases speeds and latency (ping times). Starlink still isn’t perfect, but it’s much more like ground-based internet access, and it’s even possible to play multiplayer games over a Starlink connection.
Now that SpaceX can legally deploy Starlink in moving vehicles, it won’t be long before commercial aircraft and ships start using the system. Delta was testing Starlink internet in planes as recently as April, and SpaceX signed a deal with charter airline JSX to equip 100 planes with internet later this year.
The new authorization comes just two weeks after SpaceX launched an additional 53 Starlink satellites into orbit, on one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets. Additional satellites are helping to boost the network’s capacity, which hopefully means faster speeds for Starlink customers.
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