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SpaceX plans to fit laser links to its Starlink satellites so they can beam the internet to planes for in-flight WiFi

Jun 10, 2021, 17:08 IST
Business Insider
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.Pool/Getty Images
  • Elon Musk wants to connect SpaceX's satellite internet service, Starlink, to airplanes.
  • SpaceX is in talks with airlines about this in-flight internet, a Starlink vice president said, per The Verge.
  • SpaceX would need to connect its Starlink satellites by laser links for the plan to work.

SpaceX could soon provide in-flight WiFi to airline passengers via its Starlink satellite internet service, The Verge first reported on Wednesday.

Elon Musk's space company was in talks with commercial airlines to beam Starlink internet to their airplanes, Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX's vice president of Starlink and commercial sales, said during the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit on Wednesday, per the Verge.

"We're in talks with several of the airlines," Hofeller said. "We have our own aviation product in development … we've already done some demonstrations to date, and looking to get that product finalized to be put on aircraft in the very near future."

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Starlink mainly serves rural communities through its 1,635 low-Earth orbit satellites. A beta kit costs $499 upfront, plus $99 a month for a subscription.

SpaceX plans to use airline antennas, which work in a similar way to existing user terminals but have "obvious enhancements for aviation connectivity," Hofeller said. The company would design and build tech specific for aircraft, he added.

SpaceX would start connecting each Starlink satellite with laser links that don't need to bounce off ground stations. This would mean airplanes flying over remote areas, such as oceans, can still offer in-flight internet.

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"The next generation of our constellation, which is in work, will have this inter-satellite connectivity," Hofeller said during the summit, per The Verge.

Hofeller said that low-Earth orbit satellites, including Starlink's network, would outperform existing geostationary satellites.

"It's going to be up to the individual airline whether they want to be responsive to that, or if they're okay with having a system that is not as responsive to their customers' demand," he said.

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SpaceX didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment about which airlines they were in talks with.

In March, the space company requested in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it connect moving vehicles, including planes, ships, and large trucks, to Starlink, a constellation which could have up to 42,000 satellites in orbit by mid-2027.

"No longer are users willing to forego connectivity while on the move," SpaceX director of satellite policy, David Goldman, said in the FCC request.

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