Edwards Air Force Base can be seen in California’s Mojave Desert in this photo taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is preparing to further test its Starlink satellite internet in a demonstration for the US Air Force, the company said in a recent inquiry to the Federal Communications Commission.
“SpaceX is trying to make minor changes to its experimental approval for additional testing activities with the federal government,” the company wrote on Thursday in a message to the FCC.
“The tests are designed to demonstrate the ability to send and receive information about (1) two stationary ground locations and (2) an aircraft in one location, and would include these (3) limited tests from a moving vehicle on the ground” said SpaceX.
Starlink is the company’s capital-intensive project to build an interconnected internet network of thousands of satellites, known in the aerospace industry as a Constellation, designed to deliver high-speed internet to consumers around the world.
SpaceX announced that it is partnering with Ball Aerospace, a defense and space company that will provide the antennas needed to connect Starlink satellites to an aircraft, for this test.
SpaceX found that Ball specifically manufactures “compliant antennas for tactical aircraft” – that is, military jets.
Musk’s company also found the Starlink test is being conducted as part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI) program, a $ 9.7 million contract for the Ball in August received. SpaceX highlighted that the FCC previously approved Starlink experimental tests, including previous Air Force tests dating back to early 2018.
“The commission previously granted SpaceX experimental clearance for activities conducted with the federal government to demonstrate SpaceX’s capability [non-geostationary orbit] System for sending and receiving information between fixed locations on the ground and airborne ground stations on board moving aircraft, “the company said in its filing with the FCC.
SpaceX, Ball Aerospace, and the Air Force Research Laboratory did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
The Air Force experiment begins with ground tests near SpaceX’s Starlink manufacturing facilities in Redmond, Washington. The test for a “surface-to-air scenario” will then be relocated to Edwards Air Force Base in California.
“An antenna terminal is being built into an aircraft. SpaceX is designing a special installation kit that consists of mechanical plates for the low-profile antennas and a windproof fairing to reduce the impact on the aircraft for this installation,” SpaceX said in the FCC filing.
While SpaceX has not identified a target schedule for the tests, the company anticipates “testing will take four to six months”.
SpaceX deploys 60 Starlink satellites in orbit.