July 24, 2021

SpaceX wants to bring Starlink on board

SpaceX is working flat out to make its Starlink connections usable for international air traffic. There is currently a lack of hardware on both sides of the connection.

So far, airlines have mainly used the service providers Intelsat and Viasat when they want to set up Internet connections on board their aircraft. Both work with geostationary satellites whose latency values ​​are too bad for responsive use.

Previous top dogs want to improve their presence

At least Viasat wants to change that now and is planning a new geostationary satellite trio that will be supported by a 300-unit Leo network. Leo stands for Low-Earth-Orbit and describes small satellites that orbit the earth in low orbits. SpaceX’s Starlink works exclusively in this way.

So it stands to reason that Elon Musk’s space company would be interested in doing business with commercial airlines. After all, the company already has a fleet of around 1,800 Leo satellites in orbit and is continuously working on expanding them.

SpaceX applies for approval to test mobile units with modified designs

Last week, SpaceX applied to the US regulator FCC for approval to test a new transmitter and receiver unit. The clearest difference to the previous unit is that the antenna is angular. This form has proven itself particularly in aviation.

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SpaceX plans to test the new design in five US states. SpaceX had already submitted an application for the approval of Starlink mobile units in March. The company understands this to mean transmitting and receiving devices that are used in a mobile manner, for example on ships, in trucks or even in airplanes.

Elon Musk quickly denied that this could also mean the use in Teslas. The units are just way too big for that, he tweeted.

For commercial air traffic, compared to geostationary solutions, there would be significantly more options for making Internet access accessible to passengers, for example. However, there is a serious catch that makes the rapid availability of a Flieger Starlink persist in some distance.

The Starlink constellation has not yet been able to communicate from satellite to satellite. This should work in the future using laser technology. However, satellites that have been launched into orbit so far have not installed the technology.

Starlink is currently dependent on the distribution of the data streams via the earth station. This in turn is not a problem for an aircraft at altitudes of eleven kilometers. However, it becomes problematic where the planes are out of range of earth stations – for example over the sea. The entire long-distance air traffic is therefore canceled for SpaceX for the time being. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the construction of the earth stations is still in full swing and is far from being nationwide.

The next generation of Starlink satellites will already have laser connectivity, promised SpaceX manager Jonathan Hofeller at the online conference “Connected Aviation Intelligence” on Wednesday. When asked, Hofeller was unable to say when specific products for aircraft would be introduced. He hoped for “sooner rather than later.”

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