SpaceX’s Starlink Project to Provide In-Flight Connectivity to Commercial Airlines

Unlike conventional in-flight internet providers which have a few satellites orbiting at about 36,000 km above the earth, SpaceX has close to 1,800 satellites orbiting at only 550 km above the earth.

SpaceX‘s satellite constellation-based internet network Starlink is exploring the possibility of providing internet connectivity to several airlines.

Speaking to a panel at the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit on Wednesday, Starlink VP Jonathan Hofeller revealed that an ‘aviation product’ was already in development and testing.

This news comes ahead of SpaceX’s planned commercial launch later this year.

Still, on beta testing, Starlink has at least 10,000 users worldwide. The majority of these paying $99 each month for speeds of up 100Mbps and 20Mbps for downloads and uploads respectively.

The project, first proposed in 2015, aims to provide global Internet coverage, especially in rural areas where the lack of fiber connections poses a challenge. Out of its initial target of about 4,400 satellites, SpaceX had managed to launch over 1,730 into low earth orbit as of late last month.

Currently, SpaceX has regulator approval to fly 12,000 satellites and has filed paperwork requesting permission for an added 30,000.

Providing wi-fi on commercial flights will require some modifications to SpaceX’s technology behind the consumer antennas. To enable connectivity to aircraft flying out of reach of ground stations, for example, inter-satellite links will have to be used. Inter-satellite links eliminate the need for satellites to bounce signals off ground stations. They can instead communicate directly. This is a feature that Hofeller says will be available in the next generation of SpaceX satellites.

Starlink: Faster In-Flight Connectivity

Unlike conventional in-flight internet providers which have a few satellites orbiting at about 36,000 km above the earth, SpaceX has close to 1,800 satellites orbiting at only 550 km above the earth. This results in faster internet speeds and superior latency.

Commenting on this, Hofeller told the panel that “all in all, passengers and customers want a great experience that [geostationary] systems simply cannot provide. So 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.”

As to a projected time frame, Hofeller could not specify but assured the panel that it would be “sooner rather than later”.

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Mercy Mutanya is a Tech enthusiast, Digital Marketer, Writer and IT Business Management Student.
She enjoys reading, writing, doing crosswords and binge-watching her favourite TV series.

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