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Starlink seeks link to planes, trucks and other moving vehicles

Even as Starlink pushes toward a commercial launch of its fixed broadband satellite service, its parent company, SpaceX, is also pursuing a plan to connect Starlink's network to trucks, planes, ships and other types of relatively large moving vehicles.

Starlink's mobile-facing interests were outlined in an application for blanket-licensed Earth Stations in Motion, or ESIMs, filed on March 5 with the FCC. SpaceX believes authorization for a "new class of ground-based components" that would expand the range of broadband options available to moving vehicles would serve the public interest.

"This application takes the next step by seeking authority for ESIMs that will enable the extension of that network from homes and offices to vehicles, vessels, and aircraft," David Goldman, SpaceX's director of satellite policy, explained.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk also clarified on Twitter that the ESIM terminals tied to the plan are too large for deployment on Tesla cars.

The filing, whose aim would seemingly encroach on the turf of terrestrial mobile networks, arrives as Starlink continues to push a beta version of a broadband satellite service that has surpassed 10,000 users. In addition to an upfront cost of $499 for the Starlink satellite dish and home router, beta users are paying $99 per month. SpaceX said it had launched more than 1,100 satellites at the time of the filing.

Northern Sky Research analyst Brady Grady told Space News that Inmarsat, SES and Intelsat are among the satellite players that could face disruption from SpaceX's mobile-facing plans.

SpaceX believes it can support moving vehicles without a huge overhaul of its technologies and platform, noting that each ESIM is "electrically identical to its previously authorized consumer user terminals" using mountings that could be installed on a wide range of vehicles. The company also promised to back up its deployments with "qualified installers."

SpaceX points out that its ESIMs will transmit in the 14.0-14.5GHz band and receive in the 10.7-12.7GHz band, holding that FCC rules "specifically contemplate blanket licensing for ESIMs operating in these frequency bands." SpaceX also stressed that it has engineered its low-Earth orbit (LEO) design to facilitate spectrum sharing with other authorized satellite and terrestrial systems.

Spacelink scraps with Viasat and Dish

Elsewhere in the regulatory realm, SpaceX continued to tangle with Viasat and Dish Network.

In a March 2 response to claims by Viasat that a SpaceX proposal to lower the orbits of nearly 3,000 Starlink satellites called for a review of the LEO platform's environmental impact, SpaceX argued that Viasat is attempting to "gaslight" the FCC about the threat posed by orbital debris generated by Starlink.

SpaceX argued that studies from the Commission and NASA show that operating at the proposed lower altitudes is actually safer. Viasat's contention that modifications to the orbits of Spacelink satellites raise the risk of collision with large objects is simply false, in part because of Viasat's use of "incorrect assumptions and selective data," SpaceX claimed.

In another scrum, SpaceX sought to address concerns of potential interference in the 12GHz band raised by Dish Network that could threaten to delay federal funding for Starlink from the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Dish's partial opposition came as Starlink seeks designation as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) to make good on the $855 million it secured following phase I of the RDOF auction.

In its response to the FCC, SpaceX called Dish's partial opposition, which did not object to having ETC status granted to SpaceX based on access to other frequency bands, a "baseless attempt" to impede the RDOF process. SpaceX also argued that this is all part of a broader effort by Dish, which sells satellite broadband via corporate cousin EchoStar/Hughes and is embarking on the buildout of a 5G network, "to hamstring a competitor and to commandeer valuable spectrum already being used to serve American homes and businesses."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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