On November 30, SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales Jonathan Hofeller participated in a panel discussion at the Airline Passenger Experience Association where he talked about the Starlink satellite broadband network. Hofeller said that SpaceX aims to offer Starlink internet service to airlines “as soon as possible,” stating that they are already testing it with several aircraft. SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared earlier this year that Starlink is undergoing testing on Gulfstream jets and that they are focused on obtaining a license to provide internet aboard Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 aircraft, ”as those serve the most number of people,” he says.
“We’re in talks with several of the airlines,” Hofeller said. “We have our own aviation product in development… we’ve already done some demonstrations to date, and looking to get that product finalized to be put on aircraft in the very near future,” he said. Hofeller also shared with the panel that the Starlink antenna used aboard airplanes will feature technology similar to its consumer terminals “with obvious enhancements for aviation connectivity.” Hofeller also shared that Starlink will create like “a global mesh,” that will enable aircraft “flying underneath that global mesh [to] have connectivity anywhere they go.”
To date, the company operates around 1,844 Starlink satellites in Low Earth Orbit that provide internet to over 140,000 users across 20 countries. SpaceX plans to launch at least 12,000 satellites to build a robust broadband network. The company aims to achieve global maritime coverage by mid-2022, according to Musk. Having maritime coverage will enable Starlink to beam internet data down to vessels at sea and aircraft in motion. Musk revealed in October that the company is talking to multiple airlines about providing Starlink Wi-Fi internet in-flight. “[...] We are talking to airlines about installing Starlink. Please let them know if you want it on your airliner. Low latency ~half gigabit connectivity in the air!” Musk said via Twitter.
SpaceX already started to launch its next-generation Starlink satellites equipped with intersatellite communication laser links that enable satellites to relay data with each other without the need to directly receive the data from ground stations. The laser feature enables the satellites to transfer data at a much faster rate because light travels faster through the vacuum of space than fiber-optic cables used by terrestrial internet infrastructures. Starlink “should work everywhere for global maritime by roughly middle of next year (enough sats [satellites] with laser links launched). Until then, it will be patchy when far from land,” Musk said.