By Trevor Mogg
As SpaceX continues to deploy numerous satellites in low-Earth orbit as part of its Starlink internet project, the company revealed this week that it’s talking to “several airlines” about the possibility of providing in-flight Wi-Fi.
Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s VP of Starlink and commercial sales, revealed the news during an event at the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit on Wednesday, The Verge reported.
“We’re in talks with several of the airlines,” Hofeller told a panel at the event, adding, “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.”
SpaceX’s main aim with its Starlink initiative is to provide broadband connectivity to unserved or underserved communities around the world by using its space-based satellites to beam internet to terra firma.
The company, led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, has been deploying Starlink satellites in batches of around 60 during regular rocket launches that started in May 2019. The company’s most recent Starlink launch took place on May 26, and it now has around 1,800 satellites in orbit. Although it needs to deploy around another 2,500 Starlink satellites for global coverage, the company has been able to launch a beta service, and by March it already had more than 10,000 customers around the world, each one paying $99 a month as well as a one-time fee of $499 for the Starlink kit.
Beyond its ambitions to beam internet to homes, Hofeller’s comments indicate the company is now making serious efforts to target other markets in order to further commercialize its technology.
Prior to Hofeller’s comments this week, a filing with the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year revealed SpaceX is looking into the idea of installing its internet terminals in moving vehicles. Musk confirmed the news in a tweet at the time, saying the aim is to connect “aircraft, ships, large trucks & RVs,” though not cars as the equipment is currently “much too big.” Hofeller’s revelation that SpaceX is talking to a number of airlines — he didn’t say which ones — suggests the plan is now starting to properly take shape.
SpaceX’s news will certainly be of interest to the likes of Intelsat and ViaSat, two well-established providers of in-flight internet services, though it appears that Musk’s company is yet to ink a deal with any interested airlines.