SpaceX Explores Starlink Maritime Drone Ship Gateways


SpaceX is venturing into new territory by considering the use of its drone ships as ‘gateway’ stations to improve Starlink’s internet coverage across maritime environments.

Elon Musk’s company has sought a temporary license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct tests involving up to 12 “earth station” antennas mounted on these autonomous vessels, reports PCMag.

While the initial application did not explicitly mention Starlink, it specified that the antennas would communicate with SpaceX’s satellite network, hinting at their intended use.

Further clarification came from a SpaceX lawyer on Tuesday, highlighting the connection to the Starlink Maritime service. The lawyer’s communication with the FCC, revealed by a user on X, shed light on the objectives behind this experimental initiative.

“The purpose of the test is to assess the earth stations’ ability to serve as gateways in a maritime environment using test traffic,” the SpaceX representative stated, indicating a significant step towards leveraging drone ships beyond their original role as rocket landing platforms.

The experiment will involve connecting the drone ship antennas to both first and second-generation Starlink satellites. The focus will be on evaluating these earth stations’ capabilities in managing and routing non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service (NGSO FSS) traffic, and supporting local networks at sea.

This development is particularly noteworthy as it explores alternative means of enhancing satellite internet service coverage in areas where traditional ground stations and their fiber network connections might not be readily available.

Starlink’s current system operates by transmitting data between satellites and ground stations, utilizing a laser system for inter-satellite communication when direct ground station links are not possible. This mesh network approach has proven effective, with the laser system facilitating the transmission of over 42 million gigabytes of data daily.

SpaceX’s exploration of using drone ships as part of the Starlink network could significantly boost coverage for maritime users, building on the success of Starlink Maritime, which was introduced in 2022 and is now serving over 10,000 vessels. The outcome of this experiment could herald a new era of satellite internet connectivity at sea, pending FCC approval for the proposed tests.