SpaceX can now deliver its satellite-based internet service to “Earth Stations in Motion,” paving the way for the network to go live on airplanes, ships, and other moving vehicles. The FCC ruling is a major step forward for Starlink’s consumer and enterprise services, including plans to activate service on commercial aircraft later this year.
The authorization covers an “unlimited number of consumer and enterprise end-user earth stations” to be deployed. This includes ships in the territorial waters of the United States and throughout international waters worldwide; and U.S.-registered aircraft operating worldwide, as well as non-U.S.-registered aircraft operating in U.S. airspace.
SpaceX must still get its antenna and terminal solution certified for operation on commercial aircraft. The company has been running test flights on business jets and will continue to pursue that test program.
JSX anticipates its first aircraft to be flying with the Starlink kit on board later this year. Hawaiian Airlines signed a similar deal, with a 2023 expected activation timeline. And, despite rumors to the contrary, the carrier insists that deal remains active.
In issuing the ruling the FCC permits SpaceX to use the full 2 GHz range of Ku-band spectrum (10.7-12.7 GHz) for space-to-earth communications. This includes use of the 12.2-12.7 GHz space, which was opposed by DISH and Viasat. The Agency dismissed those objections over potential interference.
It also sees the FCC determine that its listing of approved frequency ranges for communications between space and earth are non-exhaustive. Rather than granting an exemption, the Commission suggests the listing “does not limit our ability to authorize these operations in other frequency bands. Instead, operations in frequency bands not on the list may be assigned on a case-by-case basis.”
Finally, the FCC notes that an active court case by DISH could still affect the authorization for the contested frequencies. Should DISH prevail in court the authorization will be amended and SpaceX “assumes all risk” related to investments made to bring service online while that is pending.
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