Elon Musk is gearing up for something big again. The CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX plans to disrupt the Internet services sector by offering a faster, more reliable way for consumers to access the web.
The aeronautics company plans to launch a fleet of 4,000 satellites into space. Each pod will have the ability to beam high-speed Internet signals to specific regions.
This technology would be extremely useful for remote locations (think deserts, mountains and rainforests), where digital infrastructure is lacking. If successful, the service can help communities in rural areas connect with their friends and family in other parts of the world.
“The speed of light is 40 percent faster in the vacuum of space than it is for fiber,” said Musk.
To get the ball rolling, SpaceX filed an application seeking for permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move forward with the project.
The first phase of the project includes two microsats that will be sent into orbit through the Falcon 9 rocket. Using high-frequency Ku-satellite spectrum, the floating machines will communicate with SpaceX hubs located in Los Angeles and Redmond, Washington, as well as Tesla Motors in Fremont, California.
Both microsats will be positioned roughly 150km closer to Earth than most satellites currently in space. This could help boost the transmission and reception of data, greatly reducing lag. SpaceX uses a laser-based system that is accurate and reliable for heavy operations. Other companies in the field rely on radio spectrums to link satellite activities.
Surprisingly, Musk isn’t the first tech pioneer to attempt such a challenging feat. Bill Gates tried and failed in the 1990s. Facebook recently abandoned its plans to launch a $500 million telecommunications satellite that was designed to provide Internet access to developing countries. The social media giant had issues with funding, even with a budget of $1 billion.
Google Is in on It Too
Earlier this year, Google was reportedly finalizing a $1 billion investment in SpaceX for the satellite Internet services project. Back in January, the news didn’t receive much attention. But now that Musk filed for approval from the FCC, it’s all starting to come together.
Prior to the investment, Google was knee-deep in a very similar project with ex-employee Greg Wyler, who is now owner of OneWeb (previously WorldVu Satellites Ltd). The business received funding from Qualcomm Inc and Virgin Group, and also aims to provide Internet access using satellites. Both investors are on the company’s board of directors.
SpaceX vs. Airbus
The nascent satellite service industry is attracting large, global establishments worldwide, including Airbus. The leading aircraft manufacturer recently announced a partnership with OneWeb. It will build 900 satellites for the company’s space-based Internet project.
Wyler plans to release 700 space pods by 2018, each weighing roughly 330 pounds. The remaining 200 satellites will be used for reserves, in case some of the machines malfunction or need immediate replacing.
According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, Airbus was awarded the contract over the following businesses: Thales Alenia Space, Space Systems/Loral, Lockheed Martin Corp’s Space Systems and OHB of Germany.