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SpaceX given FCC nod to provide Starlink Wi-Fi to moving vehicles

The approval allows the satellite network to cater to planes, ships and trucks in next step of expansion

Close up of the Starlink logo, a stylised black 'X' with the word starlink beneath on a white background, with other such logos in the background but blurry

SpaceX has officially been given approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide Wi-FI to moving vehicles, a long sought after goal for the company.

With licence in hand, the company's Starlink service will now be able to provide Wi-Fi to planes, boats, ships, and large trucks in a landmark move that expands the capabilities of the ambitious satellite network.

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Starlink provides high-speed internet access to customers in remote locations across 36 countries, using satellite receiver dishes to connect to an array of low earth orbit satellites. Residential customers can expect download speeds around 104 Mbits/sec, while the company claims that firms signed up for Starlink Business get 150-350 Mbits/sec.

To date, the service has only been available for static use, as well as in a flexible package called ‘Starlink for RVs’ in which customers can pause and unpause their connection as they move between locations for an added cost. SpaceX has not announced when customers will see the immediate benefits of the ruling.

Earlier this year, SpaceX signed an agreement with independent air carrier JSX to provide in-flight Wi-Fi for their flights, as well as with Hawaiian Airlines with the service set to go online next year. With Starlink’s reputation for strong satellite connection, it is likely that other industries, such as shipping, will sign contracts with SpaceX in light of the FCC decision.

The network has been in the news recently due to praise it has received from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, as citizens and soldiers in the war-torn country have continued to speak with loved ones and access crucial information systems using satellite receiver dishes supplied directly by SpaceX.

SpaceX has ramped up Starlink deployment of late, with four launches in May alone adding 212 satellites to its ever-expanding network. Over 2,200 Starlink satellites are currently operating in orbit as part of the ‘Gen1’ phase, with an overall plan for 12,000 satellites having received permission to go ahead by the FCC several years ago.

SpaceX has filed paperwork to allow further expansion of this ‘megaconstellation’ of satellites to between 30,000 and 42,000 over the next decade. This has drawn criticism from some in the space community, with concerns aired over the potential for debris from Starlink satellites to make orbital activity more perilous, and astronomers last year asking the UN to look into the satellites’ increasing intrusion into long-exposure photos of the night sky.

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