Regulatory applications show that SpaceX wants to use Starlink to connect its fleet of rocket recovery ships to the Internet and potentially launch a series of tests that could prove the burgeoning satellite network viable for maritime use.
The news was first reported by CNBC and came in the form of a radio service application filed with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on September 15th. Such archives are routine at this time, as SpaceX is working to dramatically expand the network of fixed earth stations that will serve as network hubs for all Starlink Internet services. Conducted through subsidiaries Space Exploration Holdings LLC and SpaceX Services Inc, SpaceX has filed more than 500 experimental licenses, Earth Station licenses and the Special Temporary Authority (STA; temporary communications license without a dedicated license) within the last 1
Hundreds of these archives represent licenses for hundreds of ground stations in the United States alone, with several more dedicated to the increasingly widespread use of user terminals – smaller antennas intended for individual buildings. However, SpaceX’s September 15 application requests permission to install multiple user terminals on an active fleet of rocket recovery ships – possibly the company’s first attempt to license Starlink communications with mobile users.
For SpaceX itself, flexible and responsive communications services from a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation are highly desirable. The company is currently relying on off-the-shelf satellite dishes and traditional geostationary satellite ISPs to connect a fleet of at least seven active ships used to recover Falcon boosters, Falcon fairings and Dragon spacecraft.
For the broader Starlink business, maritime communications represent a solid, largely internal market worth at least $ 1.3 billion. Annually in 2019, while the industry estimates growth to at least ~ $ 2.4 billion. About the year at the end of this decade. The massive bandwidth, unprecedented low latency and low cost it aims to offer mean that Starlink is exceptionally positioned to disrupt the maritime communications market, just as it could quickly become a huge figure in the in-flight communications industry.
In the short term, the addition of Starlink user terminals on SpaceX rocket recovery ships could potentially mean that these ships could broadcast the live views they bring to SpaceX webcasts over SpaceX’s own satellite network. Starlink terminals are probably too large to fit on Falcon rockets themselves. However, the use of groundbreaking phased array antennas and the ability to literally tailor Starlink network performance to fit SpaceX’s needs could potentially allow for much higher quality live footage in SpaceX webcasts, possibly even solving the problem of satellite network connection instability during Falcon booster drone ship landings.
There would be some satisfying symmetry if Starlink ensured even better live views of the Falcon booster landings that effectively made the unprecedented satellite constellation possible in the first place.
Check out Teslarati’s newsletters for quick updates, perspectives on the ground and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes.