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SpaceX inks 1st deal to provide Starlink internet service on planes

An artist's illustration of SpaceX's Starlink internet satellites in orbit.
An artist's illustration of SpaceX's Starlink internet satellites in orbit. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX just secured its first deal to provide inflight internet service on airplanes using its Starlink constellation of broadband satellites.

The service will be available later this year to customers of JSX, a charter airline company that plans to equip 100 planes with Starlink-provided inflight Wi-Fi.

"The service will be offered to all JSX customers at no charge, and will not require logging in or other complexities associated with legacy systems," JSX representatives said in an emailed statement on Thursday (April 21) that announced the new deal.

A JSX spokesperson declined to disclose the value of the contract when asked by Reuters. SpaceX has been in discussions with several airlines in recent months, the Reuters report added, but it's unclear who else might be willing to take the service in-air. 

Delta Airlines told the Wall Street Journal, however, that it recently conducted "exploratory tests" of Starlink's internet technology in a bid to potentially reach business users.

Related: SpaceX's Starlink satellite megaconstellation launches in photos

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Neither SpaceX nor its founder and CEO, Elon Musk, has commented on the JSX deal on Twitter to date, although Musk said in 2021 that SpaceX was targeting different airplane types for Starlink.

"Schedule driver there is regulatory approval," Musk tweeted on June 25, alluding to the Federal Aviation Administration that oversees the airline industry. "Has to be certified for each aircraft type. Focusing on 737 & A320, as those serve most number of people, with development testing on Gulfstream." 

JSX's Embraer ERJ aircraft were not on Musk's list from that time. The regional jets, however, cater to business users as they are low-volume (30 seats each) and fly point-to-point between several high-population cities, mainly in the western U.S. and Texas. JSX also offers valet service and a 20-minute check-in process in the airport, compared with the typical 90 minutes or more for domestic journeys.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches 53 Starlink satellites from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 21, 2022. It was the 12th liftoff for this Falcon 9 first stage.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches 53 Starlink satellites from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 21, 2022. It was the 12th liftoff for this Falcon 9 first stage. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Starlink is a great option for rural or remote customers frustrated with their existing internet options, SpaceX representatives have said. This client group could include airline business customers looking for better internet in-air, to continue their work on the go.

"Users can expect to see download speeds between 100 Mb/s and 200 Mb/s, and latency as low as 20ms in most locations," the Starlink home page states of its service to ground terminals. The page does not say what those speeds might be at 30,000 feet (9 kilometers) above Earth.

Starlink's rapid service relies upon a steady supply of satellites that SpaceX ferries to orbit on its Falcon 9 workhorse rocket. SpaceX has already launched more than 2,300 Starlink satellites and may eventually loft about 30,000. The megaconstellation's potential impact on astronomy, launch services and the space debris environment has drawn criticism from some scientists and other stakeholders.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.