SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships are already connected to the Starlink broadband satellite constellation. During the most recent launch, the company’s ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ (OCISLY) autonomous drone ship was equipped with a phased-array antenna dish to connect to the Starlink network. The pizza-sized dish is identical to the one customer’s purchase to connect to the internet. SpaceX conducted the 26th Starlink mission on Tuesday, May 4, a previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket lifted off for the ninth time to propel a fleet of 60 more satellites to low Earth orbit. Soon after deploying the satellites to space, the rocket booster reentered the atmosphere to land on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone ship which was situated in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 630-kilometers downrange from Florida’s Coast.
The recovery vessel has worked reliably as a strong platform where the Falcon 9 rocket conducts propulsive landings with its powerful Merlin 1D engines. During the Live broadcast of the 26th Starlink mission, the camera feed zoomed out enough to see that the OCISLY drone ship is equipped with a Starlink dish antenna, as shown in the image above on the right corner. This suggests that SpaceX’s drone ships and supporting sea-going vehicles are already using SpaceX’s Starlink internet infrastructure to transmit data. The autonomous drone ships need reliable internet connection to receive data about the booster as it returns from space to land, also to transmit Live broadcast video of the incoming booster.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship – the 9th landing of this booster pic.twitter.com/wzPjMsu2z3— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 4, 2021
In September last year, SpaceX filed a request with the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate the Starlink user terminals on vehicles that support launch operations. –“In order to expand its assessment of the end-to-end capabilities of its satellite system, SpaceX seeks authority to test these user terminals [dish antenna] on seagoing platforms for a period of up to two years,” the aerospace company wrote in the filing to the Commission, “Specifically, SpaceX proposes to deploy a total of ten earth stations across up to ten vessels, including two autonomous spaceport droneships used to land rocket boosters at sea on high-velocity missions that cannot carry enough fuel to allow for a return-to-launch-site landing, and support ships that accompany the droneships to the landing zone at sea,” they wrote. “Such authority would enable SpaceX to obtain critical data regarding the operational performance of these user terminals,” SpaceX told the FCC. SpaceX plans to utilize the Starlink internet communication service while the vessels remain “anchored in port, in transit to predetermined landing zones in the Atlantic Ocean, and on station at those landing zone sites.” It appears SpaceX already started to test the Starlink network aboard its launch support vessels at sea.
Most recently, early-March, SpaceX filed a new request with the FCC seeking a ‘blanket-license’ to operate Starlink user terminals onboard public moving vehicles such as: vessels at sea, aircraft, trains, as well as large trucks and RV’s, according to company officials. “Granting this application would serve the public interest by authorizing a new class of ground-based components for SpaceX's satellite system that will expand the range of broadband capabilities available to moving vehicles throughout the United States and to moving vessels and aircraft worldwide,” SpaceX wrote to the FCC last month, “The urgency to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved areas has never been clearer. U.S. and worldwide demand for broadband services and Internet connectivity continues to increase with escalating requirements for speed, capacity, and reliability and ongoing adaptations for usage.” The Commission has not yet granted this license, but did provide SpaceX with an experimental license to test the Starlink dish aboard the Starship SN15 prototype in South Texas. The dish is attached to the outside of the stainless-steel vehicle. The Starlink network is expected to undergo testing during Starship SN15’s upcoming flight which could take place as soon as this afternoon. Read more in the previous TESMANIAN article linked below.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX Live Broadcast
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.