SpaceX could soon provide in-flight WiFi to airline passengers via its Starlink satellite internet service, The Verge first reported on Wednesday.
Elon Musk’s space company was in talks with commercial airlines to beam Starlink internet to their airplanes, Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s vice president of Starlink and commercial sales, said during the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit on Wednesday, per the Verge.
“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.”
SpaceX plans to use airline antennas, which work in a similar way to existing user terminals but have “obvious enhancements for aviation connectivity,” Hofeller said. The company would design and build tech specific for aircraft, he added.
SpaceX would start connecting each Starlink satellite with laser links that don’t need to bounce off ground stations. This would mean airplanes flying over remote areas, such as oceans, can still offer in-flight internet.
“The next generation of our constellation, which is in work, will have this inter-satellite connectivity,” Hofeller said during the summit, per The Verge.
Hofeller said that low-Earth orbit satellites, including Starlink’s network, would outperform existing geostationary satellites.
“It’s going to be up to the individual airline whether they want to be responsive to that, or if they’re okay with having a system that is not as responsive to their customers’ demand,” he said.
SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment about which airlines they were in talks with.
In March, the space company requested in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it connect moving vehicles, including planes, ships, and large trucks, to Starlink, a constellation which could have up to 42,000 satellites in orbit by mid-2027.
“No longer are users willing to forego connectivity while on the move,” SpaceX director of satellite policy, David Goldman, said in the FCC request.
This is no surprise considering the rate at which SpaceX are launching satellites into orbit via its Falcon 9 rocket. The company have blasted off 16 Falcon 9 rockets this year with a maximum of 60 satellites per launch.
Elon Musk’s space firm has currently more than 1,500 satellites in orbit and aims to get up to 42,000 up there by mid-2027.
Find Starlink allows space fanatics to check when they can next see Starlink satellites pass over their location
For those who are interested in spotting Starlink satellites, Find Starlink can give you a good idea of when SpaceX’s spacecraft will be visible in your location.
Users can choose from a multitude of cities across the world to check out when and where to look for Starlink satellites.
The creator of Find Starlink, who prefers to remain anonymous online, told Insider he launched the website two years ago for himself, his brother, and a friend living in different parts of the world.
“Find Starlink was created three days after the first Starlink launch (24 May, 2019) because I wanted to see the Starlink train and none of the existing websites tracked Starlink at that point,” said the creator.
“I saw some unbelievable images of the Starlink train from the first Starlink launch, and wanted to see it with my own eyes,” he added.
The website, which he made in one evening, got half a million requests within its first five days of launching, the creator said.
He has received emails from people who helped build on Apollo rockets and those who have requested ruling out UFO sightings, he said.
After selecting a location, a list of dates and times appear advising you where to look to spot Starlink satellites
Once you have typed in your location, the site will show timings with good, average, and poor visibility around that area. It tells you which direction to look in, how long the satellites will be noticeable for, and the elevation.
Find Starlink warns users that the timings are not 100% accurate as the orbit of the satellites can change.
“I prefer to keep user expectations and hype low, so I’d say ‘try it at your own risk,’ and ‘don’t blame me if you waited outside in the cold and saw nothing,'” the creator said.
The website is accurate four to five days after SpaceX launch a new batch of Starlink satellites, he said, adding that he receives a lot of emails about successful sightings on a daily basis.
One week after the launch, it’s tricky to predict where the satellites will be because they are assigned to their level orbit where they are less reflective and more difficult to see from the ground, the creator said.
This is called “rolling behaviour,” when SpaceX reduce the brightness of the satellites between 300 km to 550 km altitude to not disturb astronomers, he said.
You can also choose specific coordinates to check for Starlink satellites
If your area isn’t listed, you can type in the longitude and latitude of the location to check when Starlink satellites will zoom overhead.
The live map shows where the Starlink satellites are in real time
So, how does it work?
After collecting some calculations off the Reddit SpaceX community, the creator said he put a simple program together to predict timings of the Starlink satellites. From this, he made Find Starlink.
The website tracks the “leader” of each Starlink satellite train and predicts its path as all the other satellites will follow behind.
Every minute of the first five days after the launch, the site calculates a triangle between the Sun, the satellite and the location to calculate how good the visibility is going to be in that area, the creator said.
The website then ranks the predicted visibility into “good”, “average” and “poor” based on the calculations.
Starlink satellites are becoming less visible as SpaceX has darkened them to avoid disrupting the night sky
Astronomers have become increasingly frustrated with Starlink satellites as their bright lights jeopardize astronomical research by obscuring the stars and leaving bright streaks across their images.
This means it’s harder for Find Starlink to track the satellites.
A few weeks after a SpaceX launch when the satellites are assigned in orbit, a pop-up may show on the website saying that Starlink satellites aren’t visible at the moment as SpaceX has “reduced [the satellites’] brightness to avoid disturbing astronomers.”
But once SpaceX blasts another batch of satellites into orbit, Find Starlink says they’ll be much easier to spot in the first three to four days.
If someone in France wants to sign up for Starlink, they put their address in the box and the next page will tell them when they can expect the service to be available in their area. Currently, it says Starlink will arrive in France between mid to late 2021, but subscribers can pay a €99 deposit to secure the service – around $120.
Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and areas of the US where Starlink isn’t live yet also provide the option of preordering the internet service in exchange for a deposit.
Musk tweeted in February the cost of Starlink is “meant to be the same price in all countries. Only difference should be taxes & shipping.”
Since Starlink’s “Better Than Nothing Beta” test launched in October, the service has amassed more than 10,000 beta testers globally and has blasted over 1,350 satellites into orbit. The company’s goal is to have up to 42,000 satellites in orbit by mid-2027.
The most recent Starlink launch was on Tuesday when SpaceX sent 60 satellites into orbit via its reusable Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-internet service has raked in more than 500,000 orders and deposits from customers, the company said Tuesday.
“To date, over half a million people have placed an order or put down a deposit for Starlink,” said Siva Bharadvaj, a SpaceX space operations engineer, during a broadcast of SpaceX’s latest launch of Starlink satellites. “With every launch, we get closer to connecting more people across the world.”
SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the exact figure.
Starlink aims to use its fleet of more than 40,000 satellites to beam high-speed internet down to rural and remote areas where traditional service is poor or not available. SpaceX also plans to deliver internet to ships, planes, cars, and RVs.
The company on Tuesday launched 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit using one of its Falcon 9 rockets, completing its 10th Starlink mission of 2021 and its 26th mission overall. The latest launch brings the total number of Starlink satellites sent into orbit to somewhere around 1,500, though some of those have been deorbited.
SpaceX began offering Starlink as a beta service in October and has since amassed more than 10,000 beta testers, according to a February filing with the Federal Communications Commission. Starlink is currently available to a limited number of users in a given area, and customers can place refundable, $99 deposits to join a waitlist.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday approved SpaceX’s request to fly satellites for its Starlink internet service at a lower orbit – but only under certain conditions.
Company rivals including Amazon, Viasat, Hughes Net, and OneWeb previously criticized SpaceX’s request to fly more satellites at a lower orbit. But they told Insider that the FCC’s conditions address their main concerns.
The approval means that SpaceX can eventually lower 2,814 satellites from 1,100 kilometres to 550 kilometres, although these satellites are not yet in orbit. The company already had permission to operate 1,584 satellites at this lower orbit.
Under the approval conditions, SpaceX must record how many times Starlink satellites come close to colliding with other spacecraft, and report it to the FCC every six months. Elon Musk’s aerospace company also must disclose the number of Starlink satellites that re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
All of these rivals are working to build satellite internet networks from low-Earth orbit satellites, geostationary satellites, or a mix of both. SpaceX currently has more than 1,350 satellites currently in orbit – the most of any of the companies. Amazon’s Project Kuiper hasn’t launched any satellites yet, but plans to have a fleet of 3,236 in total.
Competitors had filed various responses to SpaceX’s request for a modification to its licence. Amazon’s Project Kuiper said in January that the change of satellite position would interfere with their own satellites and “smother competition in the cradle.”
An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to Insider that the FCC’s decision was a “positive outcome” because it “places clear conditions on SpaceX.”
The FCC’s conditions “address our primary concerns regarding space safety and interference, and we appreciate the Commission’s work to maintain a safe and competitive environment in low earth orbit,” the spokesperson said.
Viasat, which plans on putting 288 satellites into lower orbit by 2026, was particularly concerned about the number of satellites that SpaceX was blasting into space.
Launching more satellites could lead to a greater chance of collision, resulting in more space debris, which could be a “doomsday scenario for space,” Mark Dankberg, ViaSat’s executive chairman and co-founder, told Insider on April 15.
Viasat was pleased the FCC confirmed Starlink satellites must be “reliable and safe,” John Janka, the company’s chief officer of global regulatory and government affairs, told Insider in a statement on Tuesday.
Viasat was also happy that the FCC recognized the need to monitor collision risk that Starlink’s constellation raised, Janka said.
In the filing, the FCC dismissed Viasat’s concerns about the collision risk of Starlink satellites and wrote “SpaceX’s debris mitigation plan is consistent with the public interest.” Viasat said in its statement that it was disappointed with the FCC on this point.
UK satellite company OneWeb, which has 182 satellites in orbit so far, also previously argued that SpaceX’s licence approval would create interference with other satellites.
OneWeb said in a statement to Insider that the FCC’s approval was “a totally different deployment to their original licence,” but it “looks forward to continuing amicable and close in-flight coordination with SpaceX.”
A spokesperson from Hughes, another satellite company that argued against SpaceX’s licence, told Insider the company was still reviewing the FCC order.
McLaughlin told The Journal that Starlink’s engineers said they couldn’t do anything to avoid a collision and switched off the satellite’s autonomous collision-avoidance system. They did this so OneWeb could maneuver around the Starlink satellite without interference, McLaughlin said.
SpaceX fired back in its ex-parte FCC filing Tuesday, saying OneWeb itself had requested that it turn off its collision-avoidance system temporarily so that it could move its satellite.
According to SpaceX, OneWeb made this decision because OneWeb satellites need more time to coordinate and plan their maneuvers than Starlink satellites require, and the two companies were in communication throughout.
The two companies were working together “in good faith” and OneWeb “chose to publicly misstate the circumstances of the coordination” in The Journal’s article, SpaceX said.
OneWeb did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
SpaceX added that “the probability of collision never exceeded the threshold for a [collision-avoidance] maneuver, and the satellites would not have collided even if no maneuver had been conducted.”
SpaceX said its collision-avoidance system “was and remains fully functional at all times,” and that its satellite had conducted many similar maneuvers in the past in conjunction with OneWeb, “with no issues.”
At the meeting between FCC, OneWeb and SpaceX representatives on Tuesday, the two companies “agreed that they had conducted a successful coordination,” according to SpaceX.
It added that OneWeb offered to retract its previous statements.
Out of all the companies, Starlink is the one that has launched the most satellites into orbit.
Elon Musk’s space venture currently has more than 1,350 satellites in orbit, with plans to launch up to 42,000 by mid-2027. Eventually, Starlink — a subdivision of SpaceX — wants to wrap thousands of satellites around the Earth to build a global network.
Starlink’s “Better Than Nothing Beta” test went live in October and has since gained over 10,000 users across six different countries.
Starlink’s business model directly connects customers to the satellites — there are no telecommunications companies involved in between.
Users sign up to Starlink via its website. When the service is up and running in the area, subscribers receive an email to buy the kit. Starlink may even offer users $99 preorders, like it did in Australia, Mexico and parts of the US, where the network isn’t live yet.
Not everyone is fully on board with Starlink’s dominance. Local internet service providers in the US say Starlink is using “unproven” technology with its satellite constellation. They have asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to look into its application for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, for which Starlink was awarded $885 million.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper
Project Kuiper, a subsidiary of Amazon, came to light in 2018 when government filings revealed the tech giant was going ahead with building a global space-based internet service.
The project aims to blast 3,236 satellites to 630 kilometers in orbit, very close to Starlink’s satellites at 550 kilometres.
50% of its satellites should be operational by July 30, 2026.
It’s not yet clear what Project Kuiper’s satellites will look like or which rocket they will be launched on, but Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin could send them into orbit via its New Glenn rocket.
Sources told Insider in 2019 that Project Kuiper’s headquarters are a few miles from Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington.
The UK’s OneWeb
OneWeb is a British-owned satellite broadband provider that currently has 146 satellites at 1,200 km in orbit and plans to have 648 satellites in total to offer a global network.
The firm was rescued from bankruptcy by the UK government and India’s Bharti Group in November and now pledges to invest $1 billion in the company.
OneWeb wants to provide internet to the whole of the UK by June. Its most recent launch on March 25 will deliver internet coverage to the top of the globe down to the 50th degree latitude, covering countries such as Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia, the Nordic countries, and northern Europe.
The UK firm offers a business-to-business model, whereby it provides satellite internet to telecommunications companies, which then distribute the service to customers.
Chris McLaughlin, chief of government, regulation and engagement at OneWeb told Insider the company has had discussions with the government about becoming part of the UK’s $6.9 billion Project Gigabit — just like Starlink.
OneWeb and Starlink satellites almost collided into each other in orbit on April 3 that could have sent thousands of debris pieces flying around space, adding to the space junk crisis.
McLaughlin told Insider on Monday it was “no one’s fault but a big challenge” to avoid this from happening.
Hughes Net, the biggest satellite internet provider in the US, relies on satellites positioned 22,500 miles away in geostationary orbit to beam internet back down to Earth.
The main difference between the low-Earth orbit satellites and the bigger geostationary (GEO) satellites is that the latter are much further away in orbit and as a result can cause second-long delays in video calls and other technology.
But GEO satellites are in a fixed position, so unlike LEO satellites, they don’t move around in orbit and target their internet service in one specific area.
Hughes, with more than 1.5 million subscribers, has six satellites in orbit, which cover various parts of North and South America and Canada, including Mexico, Brazil, and Chile.
Hughes Net spokesperson Sharyn Nerenberg told Insider the company is purely focused on providing internet to the Americas.
The last satellite Hughes launched was in June 2018 and it’s aiming to send another one into orbit, named Jupiter 3, in the second half of 2022. Nerenberg said Jupiter 3 is going to be the largest commercial satellite ever launched.
Those who sign up for Hughes Net receive a kit through the post and get it installed by an outsourced company.
Costs for Hughes satellite service range from $59.99 to $149.99 per month for 25 Mbps download speeds. The kit is priced at $249.99 with a $199 installation charge, taking the total purchase price to $449.98 — $50 cheaper than SpaceX’s Starlink.
Nerenberg also said Hughes offers community WiFi hotspots via its satellite network to small rural areas in Latin America for those who can’t afford a subscription.
Telesat, headed by Dan Goldberg, already has 15 GEO satellites more than 35,000 km (22,200 miles) above Earth.
The Canadian company is also planning a LEO constellation called “Lightspeed” — the first batch of 298 satellites, built by Thales Alenia Space, are expected to be launched by early 2023. The goal is to provide full global service by 2024.
Goldberg confirmed during the Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum on April 6, per Space News, that Lightspeed would cost $5 billion. This much cheaper than SpaceX’s and Amazon’s projects which exceed the $10 billion mark.
He told Reuters on Sunday that Telesat is “in the sweet spot” with pricing.
In 2019, Telesat signed a launch deal with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to use its rockets, such as the proposed New Glenn, to blast its LEO satellites into orbit.
David Wendling, Telesat’s chief technical officer, told Reuters the company has three other launch deals in the pipeline.
Californian-based ViaSat operates five GEO satellites around 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth.
It’s adding to this constellation at the start of 2022 by putting three “ultra-high capacity GEO satellites” into orbit, which will give global coverage by 2023, a ViaSat spokesperson told Insider.
ViaSat is also planning on putting 288 satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) by 2026.
Mark Dankberg, ViaSat’s executive chairman and co-founder, told Insider on Thursday that having both GEO and LEO satellites complement each other.
He said ViaSat are trying to create a “multiorbital constellation where you use GEO satellites and LEO satellites in a way that look seamless to users.”
Dankberg gave an example of the benefits of using different orbital satellites for videos online: The LEO satellites can offer the latency — the delay between a user’s actions and the internet’s response — and the lower cost bandwidth from GEO satellites.
In December, Viasat asked the FCC to study the potential environmental impacts of Starlink. In response, Musk tweeted: “Starlink ‘poses a hazard’ to Viasat’s profits, more like it.”
Dankberg said it’s common for companies to become “frenemies” in the space industry. Despite having a launch contract with SpaceX, ViaSat is concerned about the thousands of satellites SpaceX is putting into orbit.
Launching more satellites leads to a higher chance of collision, resulting in more space debris which could be a “doomsday scenario for space,” according to Dankberg.
Eutelsat is a European satellite operator that has 39 GEO satellites positioned at 46,000 kilometres away in orbit.
The company currently provides internet to parts of Europe, Africa, and parts of the Middle East and plans to launch another satellite called Konnect VHTS, which will cover the rest of Europe.
Michel Azibert, Eutelsat’s deputy CEO, told Insider on Friday: “Konnect VHTS will be a game-changer, enabling Eutelsat to provide powerful connectivity seamlessly to the end user at a price comparable to those of terrestrial operators.”
Prices for Eutelsat’s satellite company range between €30 and €70 per month for speeds between 30 and 100 Mbps, with an upfront fee between €49 to €149 depending on the market, Azibert said.
He said the pricing was “well below Starlink’s and very well adapted to the rural markets that we are targeting in EMEA.”
Eutelsat’s satellites “are a reliable solution to cost-effectively address areas and regions where fiber will remain too costly to deploy,” he added.
Eutelsat, founded in 1977, sends its satellites into space from Vienna. The first satellite it launched was in 1983.
Starlink, a satellite-based internet service and division of Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX, is currently in its beta-testing phase. But some users can sign up to preorder the internet service, which aims to provide “high-speed, low latency broadband internet” globally.
Enter your email and address to find your service area.
See when Starlink estimates it will provide service to your location.
Pay a $99 deposit upfront that will be deducted from the monthly fee of $99, the $499 hardware cost, and shipping.
The site disclaims that there are limited spots available and that the spots will be filled on a “first-come, first-served basis” for preorders.
The $99 deposit payment gives consumers a “priority position” in the queue for Starlink services in their region, and the amount will be applied to an eventual purchase. The terms and conditions for preorders state that Starlink can’t guarantee when or if service will be available, saying “service delivery is dependent on many factors, including various regulatory approvals.”
Insider reported in February that customers in several countries, including the United States, Mexico, and Australia, had successfully pre-ordered the Starlink Kit, containing a router, antenna, power supply, and mount.
In October 2020, Insider reported that Starlink beta tests in the Pacific Northwest showed promising results and extremely high download speeds. However, concerns about crowding, affordability, and international licensing still present challenges for the venture.
Musk has previously said that Starlink plans to go public once cash flow can be predicted “reasonably well.”
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell on Tuesday said the aerospace company has reduced the cost of each Starlink terminal from $3,000 to $1,500 each.
Starlink customers have to pay $499 for the kit, which includes the user terminal -also known as “dishy” – indicating that SpaceX is covering the remaining cost of $1,000 for each one it produces.
SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment but industry experts told Insider in December it’s not possible for the company to make each terminal for under $500. They said it could actually cost SpaceX nearly $2,000 on each one.
Shotwell confirmed on Tuesday during a virtual panel discussion for the Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum that the company had to pay $3,000 for each terminal, before reducing the price to $1,500.
“We’re not charging our customers what it costs us to build those terminals,” she said, adding that SpaceX has “made great progress on reducing the cost” of each Starlink terminal by half the original amount.
At, present Starlink costs users $600 upfront for the “Better Than Nothing Beta” test – that includes a $99 monthly subscription and $499 for the kit, which customers set up at home. It comes with a tripod, WiFi router, and terminal which connects to the Starlink satellites.
While it’s not confirmed how many terminals have been sent out to the beta test subscribers, SpaceX noted in February that Starlink had more than 10,000 users in the US and abroad.
The company also “just rolled out a new version two that saved about $200 off the cost” and is expecting the price of each terminal to reduce to “the few hundred dollar range within the next year or two,” according to Shotwell.
He added that Starlink is “a staggeringly difficult technical & economic endeavor” but if it succeeds, the cost for users would improve each year.
Starlink’s 10th mission this year blasted off on Wednesday, sending a batch of 60 satellites into orbit to expand SpaceX’s ever-growing constellation. The aerospace company has more than 1,350 satellites in orbit and plans to launch 42,000 by mid-2027.
Across the Atlantic, SpaceX is planning exactly the same thing. The only difference is that Musk’s company is way ahead of OneWeb. It currently has around 1,300 satellites at 550 kilometres in orbit and plans to launch 42,000 by mid-2027.
OneWeb plans to have 648 satellites at 1,200 km in orbit to provide a global service. The company’s most recent launch on March 25 took it up to 146 satellites.
“We’re beginning to think less is more,” said Chris McLaughlin, chief of government, regulation and engagement at OneWeb.
He told Insider that the main issue in the space industry right now is “the sheer number of satellites that Musk and Jeff Bezos want to put up.”
Amazon-founder Bezos hasn’t launched any satellites yet but aims to get a fleet of 3,236 in orbit in the near future for its Project Kuiper.
“[Musk and Bezos] both want to put them up in the same place at 550 km and have nobody else in their way,” McLaughlin said.
Thursday’s launch was the second out of five OneWeb launches this year to deliver internet coverage to the top of the globe down to the 50th degree latitude, according to McLaughlin. This includes Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia, the Nordic countries, and northern Europe.
The fifth launch will be in June, when OneWeb aims to provide broadband to the whole of the UK. By mid-2022, areas down to 21 degrees latitude will be covered, McLaughlin said, including the rest of Europe and parts of Africa.
Put in comparison with Starlink, which operates across six countries worldwide, OneWeb seems to lag behind. But the London-based company says its tactics are deliberately slower.
“Do you want the low Earth orbit completely messed up because of collisions between two billionaires satellites?” McLaughlin said. “Or would you prefer a more gradualist approach, like OneWeb is doing?”
The way that the big space companies are launching thousands of satellites is “not a responsible way forward for the next generations to be able to benefit from space,” according to McLaughlin, who added that OneWeb is “adopting a more responsible use of space.”
How OneWeb’s technology works
OneWeb works around a business-t0-business model – it delivers internet service to existing telecommunications companies who then distribute the internet to homes and businesses. OneWeb will leave the pricing for the telecom firms to set because “they know their customers best,” McLaughlin said.
Musk’s SpaceX, on the other hand, targets consumers directly with its satellite internet. So far, it’s gained more than 10,000 users and already plans to connect moving vehicles, such as trucks and planes, to Starlink. Users can set up the $499 Starlink kit, including a tripod, a WiFi router, and a terminal, from their own home
“We are not going down the ‘send you a box and tell you to install it’ route,” said McLaughlin. Instead, OneWeb users may have a wifi antenna mounted on their house, rather than a satellite dish.
Like Starlink, OneWeb could be part of the UK’s government’s $6.9 billion Project Gigabit internet plan, which aims to provide faster broadband to more than 1 million homes and businesses in rural areas of the country. SpaceX reportedly took part in discussions with a UK minister on March 22.
McLaughlin confirmed that OneWeb is also included in the plans for Project Gigabit and has “held ministerial and other discussions.”
Neil Masterson said in an interview with CNBC on March 25 that the company “has been speaking to various elements of the government” and other organizations in the UK.
Now that the UK is joining the likes of Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and Canada’s Telesat, McLaughlin said it’s exciting for the British economy to have a slice of the space industry too.
“Who knew that Britain was in the space business?” he said.