The aerospace company's application, filed on Friday, seeks a "blanket license authorizing operation" of Starlink user terminals, known as Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM). The new application is much broader than SpaceX's previously requested authorization from the FCC. Last year the company sought to conduct experimental testing for a period of up to two years on five user terminals mounted to a private Gulfstream jet and 10 terminals on up to 10 vessels, including two autonomous spaceport drone ships used to land rocket boosters at sea.
SpaceX's ESIMs are "electrically identical to its previously authorized consumer user terminals" but have mountings that allow them to be installed on vehicles, vessels and aircraft. The new terminals will communicate with SpaceX satellites that are visible on the horizon above a minimum elevation angle of 25 degrees. Unlike Starlink’s current user terminals, which are installed by the customer, the ESIMs will be set up by "qualified installers."
The filing adds that the 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 director of satellite policy David Goldman wrote,
The days of having "to forego connectivity while on the move, whether driving a truck across the country, moving a freighter from Europe to a U.S. port, or while on a domestic or international flight," could be coming to an end added Goldman.
Beyond constant connectivity, Goldman noted that this new plan could "enhance the security of mobile platforms" and "allow operators and passengers to access services that enable increased productivity."
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk clarified in a tweet on Monday that small passenger vehicles will not be included as part of the license.
"Not connecting Tesla cars to Starlink as our terminal is much too big," Musk said. "This is for aircraft, ships, large trucks & RVs."
Starlink has launched over 1,000 satellites into orbit and has over 10,000 users in the United States and abroad since its "Better Than Nothing" beta launched domestically and internationally in October.
Preorders for Starlink's service became available in February for $99. The company’s website emphasizes that the preorders are "fully refundable," but notes that "placing a deposit does not guarantee service." The pre-orders will be fulfilled on a first-come, first-serve basis. For some locations entered on the website, SpaceX says coverage won’t be available until "mid to late 2021," while other areas won't have service available until 2022.
The full Starlink kit costs $499 and includes a mountable dish antenna, Wi-Fi router, and power supply. The service will be offered first in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Musk teased last month that Starlink internet speeds will double to about 300 megabits per second later this year, while latency -- the time it takes to send data from one point to the next -- will drop to about 20 milliseconds.
Musk said in February that Starlink could potentially launch an initial public offering once SpaceX can "predict cash flow reasonably well."
"SpaceX needs to pass through a deep chasm of negative cash flow over the next year or so to make Starlink financially viable. Every new satellite constellation in history has gone bankrupt. We hope to be the first that does not," Musk said. "Starlink is a staggeringly difficult technical & economic endeavor. However, if we don’t fail, the cost to end users will improve every year."
SpaceX recently completed a funding round of $850 million at about $419.99 per share, sending the aerospace company's valuation skyrocketing roughly 60% to about $74 billion, according to reports. The company previously raised $1.9 billion at a valuation of $46 billion in August, its largest funding round to date.
SpaceX will launch its latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites Tuesday evening from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. A live stream will begin 15 minutes prior to liftoff, which is currently targeted for 9:58 p.m. Eastern time.