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With Dish Network Challenge, Starlink for Small Planes Might Be Closer than Ever

The worldwide coverage and high throughput of the system makes it a natural.

With Dish Network Challenge, Starink for Small Planes Might Be Closer than Ever

With the recent successful testing of the SpaceX Starlink satellite network on Delta aircraft, is it possible that general aviation will be next in line? 

In an application to the Federal Communications Commission, Starlink has requested a blanket license that would authorize the operation of earth station deployments with a designation of Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM).  This would specifically cover aircraft and other moving vehicles such as vessels and automobiles. 

Starlink is currently working on refining the design of their Starlink terminal (antennas) to make them smaller and lighter, including a hardened version that can withstand the extreme temperatures and hostile environments that are seen at the flight levels.

Elon Musk’s Starlink division of SpaceX is also seeing challenges from other satellite internet providers to restrict the use of Starlink terminals in any moving vehicle. These challenges, most notably from competitor Dish Network, are in full defense mode as those providers want to use the same spectrum (12 Gigahertz) for launching their ground-to-ground version of 5G services. 

With the FCC still evaluating the assignment of spectrum and determining what would be in the best public interest, SpaceX is continuing to move forward with the testing of its satellite broadband solution for the commercial aviation market.

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If the testing proves successful and Starlink can overcome the objections of its competitors with a favorable ruling by the FCC, then one could logically expect to see this technology filter down to the general aviation community, similar to how other technologies, such as airborne telephone communication have done in the past.

While there are airborne satellite internet solutions currently in place such as Gogo and Echostar, those services are primarily designed for the Part 121 commercial airline/business jet crowd and are limited due to cost, complexity, and antenna size from being directly transferrable to the GA world.  The Starlink technology has the promise to be more cost-efficient, have higher data throughput, and a simpler approach by comparison to installation in general aviation aircraft, which would make it a logical choice for internet access in GA aircraft.

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