SpaceX is requesting permission from regulators to turn its ocean-based rocket landing pads into satellite ground stations.

First reported by Advanced Television, the satellite company has filed for permission with the FCC to test its Starlink antennas aboard its ocean-based rocket landing platforms, known as autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS).

SpaceX floating barge
– SpaceX via Twitter/X

The company has requested Special Temporary Authority to operate up to twelve Ka-Band earth stations operating aboard autonomous drone ships in US waters in the North Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. The east stations will communicate with SpaceX satellites.

“SpaceX would operate no more than four earth stations per vessel under this authorization at any given time,” the company said. “This experiment will enable SpaceX to test antennas onboard SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships in the Ka-band.”

The trial would run until June 29, 2024. A second SpaceX document added: “The purpose of the test is to assess the earth stations' ability to serve as gateways in a maritime environment using test traffic. For the purposes of this experiment, SpaceX seeks to connect earth stations with its first- and second-generation satellite systems in the Ka-band. During the test period, the earth station will only receive and transmit test traffic to assess the capability of these earth stations to route and switch NGSO FSS traffic and backhaul local networks in a maritime environment.”

SpaceX first announced plans for unmanned floating landing platforms back in 2014. The company’s reusable rockets launch from and land on the barges, and the platforms autonomously keep station using GPS. Current and former platforms used by SpaceX include Just Read the Instructions 1 and 2, Of Course I Still Love You, and A Shortfall of Gravitas. All are based on the Marmac series of barges from McDonough Marine Service.

Starlink has signed a number of connectivity deals in the maritime sector. Container ship companies including Fukujin Kisen, Hapag-Lloyd, Seaspan Corporation, Polembros Shipping, Columbia Shipmanagement, Costamare, Sun Enterprises, F. and Laeisz are Starlink customers.

Cruise liner firms deploying Starlink terminals include Ambassador, Cunard, Seabourn, Aqua Expedition, OceanGate Expeditions, Enesel, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Corporation, Windstar Cruises, Hurtigruten, SeaDeam, and American Cruise Line.