SpaceX is “in talks with several” airlines to use its Starlink satellite internet network to provide travelers with inflight Wi-Fi, the leader of the company's project said on Wednesday.
“We have our own aviation product in development … we've already done some demonstrations to date and [are] looking to get that product finalized to be put on aircraft in the very near future,” SpaceX vice president Jonathan Hofeller said during a panel at the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit.
Hofeller did not give a timeline for when Starlink will begin inflight services, saying that an announcement is coming “hopefully sooner rather than later.” The Verge first reported Hofeller's comments on Wednesday.
Airlines work with satellite broadband providers for inflight Wi-Fi, with Viasat and Intelsat – the latter of which purchased Gogo's commercial aviation business – two such companies that add connectivity on flights by airlines including Delta, JetBlue, American Airlines and United. But, while existing services use satellites in distant orbits, Starlink satellites orbit closer to the Earth and could potentially boost the speeds that passengers see inflight. Hofeller added that Starlink “provides a global mesh,” so that “airlines are flying underneath that global mesh have connectivity anywhere they go.”
“Passengers and customers want a great experience that [geosynchronous satellite] systems simply cannot provide,” Hofeller said.
After Gogo's sale of its commercial aviation unit, the company focuses on the business aviation marketplace. Gogo's stock fell 9% in trading on Thursday, below $13 a share, amid the SpaceX news on fears of a potential new competitor in the aviation broadband space.
Starlink is the company's capital-intensive project to build an interconnected internet network with thousands of satellites, known in the space industry as a constellation, designed to deliver high-speed internet to consumers anywhere on the planet. SpaceX first rolled out the service with a beta program for select consumers for $99 a month, and in the past year has sought regulatory approval to test the network inflight and expand the service to large moving vehicles, like ships and trucks.
Hofeller noted that Starlink antennas for aircraft would be “a derivative” of the ones it sends to consumers, but still will be built in-house by SpaceX.
While Starlink satellites can service “quite a bit of the aviation market” already, Hofeller also said SpaceX will have to have inter-satellite links – or what the company calls “space lasers” – to service trans-oceanic flights. SpaceX is adding inter-satellite links to the next generation of its Starlink satellites.
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