Solstar plans give space payloads access to the internet

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SAN FRANCISCO — Early next year, Solstar Space plans to demonstrate the first commercial internet link in space by connecting experimental payloads traveling in Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital capsules with researchers on the ground.

NASA is covering the cost of flying Solstar’s Schmitt Space Communicator (named for former Apollo astronaut and U.S. Senator Harrison Schmitt) on two New Shepard flights in 2018 through its Flight Opportunities Program, an initiative to support commercial technologies by giving them rides on commercial suborbital vehicles. Solstar, a small business based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has completed ground testing of the Schmitt Space Communicator with the New Shepard crew capsule.

Solstar is developing a line of products to provide internet connections and wireless internet access for people, payloads and machines in commercial and government spacecraft.

Tourists traveling on commercial suborbital flights might someday pay a fee for wireless internet access the same way airline passengers do today, Brian Barnett, Solstar president and chief executive, told SpaceNews. Solstar plans to relay communications from spacecraft through a commercial satellite constellation in low Earth orbit. Barnett declined to name the constellation.

In addition to the Schmitt Space Communicator, Solstar is working under a NASA Small Business Innovative Research grant to design the Slayton Space Communicator (named for Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton) to provide commercial internet access for the International Space Station.