SpaceX Introduces Rugged Starlink Parabolic Antenna for Vehicles, Boats and Aircraft

Illustration of Earth with the logo of Starlink, the satellite broadband service planned by SpaceX.

SpaceX says Starlink’s user terminals for moving vehicles will be hardened to withstand “harsh environments” with extreme levels of heat and cold. SpaceX has been seeking permission from the Federal Communications Commission to deploy terminals in moving vehicles since March and provided new details on its plan in a application filed on Tuesday.

Compared to Starlink satellite dishes installed in homes, the new Earth Station in Motion (ESIM) “has been hardened to handle harsher environments so that, for example, it can continue to operate at higher extremes of heat and cold. Capacities improved snow / ice melt, and will withstand a greater number of thermal cycles “, SpaceX told the FCC.

Starlink standard user terminals go into “thermal shutdown” once they hit 122 ° Fahrenheit, causing outages for some beta users. While ruggedized terminals for moving vehicles won’t solve the problem for home internet users, presumably SpaceX will try to make the next version of its home terminal more resistant to heat and cold.

The hardened terminals for moving vehicles “will operate with higher gain and lower transmission power (thus maintaining a constant EIRP [effective isotropic radiated power] compared to other SpaceX Services user terminals) “and” will communicate with SpaceX satellites that are visible on the horizon above a minimum elevation angle of 25 degrees, “the document said.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has saying Moving Vehicle Terminals are intended for airplanes, ships, large trucks, and RVs. The terminal is “too big” for Tesla cars or similarly sized passenger cars, he said.

SpaceX seeks exemption

SpaceX needs an exemption from the FCC to use the 12GHz band for ESIMs because “this spectrum is not specifically included among the bands available for ESIM operations,” according to the company’s application. In a previous ESIM proceeding, the FCC “only concluded that the registration was not sufficient at the time to include the band, not that the operation of ESIM would cause any technical impediment to other authorized uses on the band,” SpaceX wrote.

SpaceX said it recognizes that its ESIMs must use the 12GHz band “on an unprotected basis” without the protection given to fixed ground stations, so mobile terminals must accept interference from satellite television services and MVDDS. (Multichannel Video and Data Distribution Service). “However, the commission has recognized that allowing satellite operators to opportunistically use unprotected spectrum provides operational flexibility and more intensive use of spectrum without compromising service to customers,” SpaceX wrote.

SpaceX said the ESIMs will be installed “in vehicles, vessels and aircraft by qualified installers who understand the radiation environment of the antenna and the most appropriate measures to maximize the protection of the general public and the people operating the vehicle and equipment.” .

Arguing that its application serves the public interest, SpaceX said ESIMs “will expand the range of broadband capabilities available to vehicles in motion throughout the United States and to ships and aircraft in motion throughout the world, and more particularly, to those in challenging environments where ruggedness is appropriate.. “

SpaceX added that “users now require connectivity while on the move, whether it’s driving a motor home across the country, moving a freighter from Europe to a US port, or during a domestic or international flight.” A business executive saying In June, SpaceX is in talks with several airlines about the provision of Internet on board.

1,700 satellites and 90,000 users so far

Giving a general update on Starlink, SpaceX said that with more than 1,700 satellites deployed so far, the “system is now about to deliver [broadband] service throughout the United States, including the remotest corners and polar regions of the country, which are too often left behind. “

Starlink is approximately 90,000 beta users in 12 countries. Due to its use of low Earth orbits, “Starlink was the only satellite Internet provider with an average latency close to that seen on fixed broadband in the second quarter of 2021,” wrote Ookla’s Speedtest site in a new report. Starlink’s average latency was 45 ms, compared to 14 ms for fixed broadband connections overall.

Starlink’s average download speeds in the US were 97.2 Mbps in the second quarter of 2021, up from 65.7 Mbps in the first quarter of 2021, according to the report. Starlink’s average upload speed was 13.9 Mbps, roughly the same as in the prior quarter.

One problem for Starlink users is getting a line-of-sight connection to satellites in areas with tall trees or other obstacles. Satellite Industry Consultant Tim Farrar This Week he pointed than a SpaceX presentation shows that in most of the US, the satellite serving a customer will be at an elevation angle of less than 40 degrees about half the time. “That will mean significant dropouts due to clogged trees and the great need for professional installation,” he wrote.

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