WASHINGTON — SpaceX plans to begin testing its Starlink satellite-to-cell service with T-Mobile this year, an executive of Elon Musk’s company said Monday.
“We’re going to learn a lot by doing — not necessarily by overanalyzing — and getting out there,” Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX vice president of Starlink enterprise sales, said on a panel at the Satellite 2023 conference in Washington, D.C.
The market for space-based data services that go directly to devices on the ground, such as smartphones, is widely considered to have lucrative potential, with a variety of satellite companies partnering with terrestrial mobile network operators, or MNOs, and device makers to fill in coverage gaps across the Earth.
SpaceX and T-Mobile announced their partnership in August, vowing to “end mobile dead zones.”
SpaceX has launched about 4,000 Starlink satellites to date, and recently rolled out its more powerful “V2 Mini” satellites, which it says have quadruple the capacity of the previous generation.
Hofeller said Monday that SpaceX is manufacturing six satellites per day at its facility near Seattle and that he believes the company is no longer manufacturing its previous 1.5 series of Starlink satellites. The company is also producing “thousands” of user terminals per day, he said.
While SpaceX plans to make even larger second-generation satellites, and has “made a few” so far, Hofeller emphasized that launching those is “tied very closely to Starship,” the company’s towering rocket that has yet to reach space.
SpaceX has “well over” 1 million Starlink users, Hofeller said, having passed that milestone in December. The company recently announced that its Starlink business “had a cash flow positive quarter” in 2022, and it is aiming for the unit to “make money” in 2023.