Elon Musk's SpaceX is making big waves in the space travel business. Not only was it the first private company to make a delivery to the International Space Station, it's slated to carry astronauts in 2017 and it's getting very close to the dream of reusable rockets.
Now Musk is targeting another project that takes advantage of space: worldwide Internet. Yep, it's the same goal that fellow billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic is chasing, along with at various times Facebook, Bill Gates and a company called LightSquared. So, what makes Musk confident he can succeed?
Musk's plan is to launch 4,000 low-cost satellites into low Earth orbit. Most satellite Internet systems rely on a few large expensive satellites much farther away.
With 4,000 satellites, not only can Musk bring them closer, which means less lag in your Internet connection, he can provide coverage across the entire surface of the Earth. Imagine high speed Internet far out at sea, at the South Pole or in your back yard. That many satellites also means that the failure of just a few units won't cause any major outages.
Of course, as I said, this has been tried before. Back when Bill Gates gave it a shot in the '90s, he had to give up when the cost spun out of control to $9 billion. Facebook's proposed $500 million satellite went nowhere, and LightSquared ran into trouble when it was found that its signals interfered with military radar.
Elon Musk has a few advantages. The first is that unlike the other companies, he owns the rockets that will be used to launch the satellites, which means less cost. If SpaceX succeeds in getting the reusable part of its rocket plan working, then the launch cost will be substantially less than any time in history.
Using smaller satellites in low orbit also means the rocket can carry more satellites at once. The satellites themselves should also be much less expensive than current models. Musk also has the backing of Google and Fidelity to the tune of $1 billion, which should help get things off the ground, literally.
The FCC has already given the go-ahead for a trial run next year. SpaceX will boost a handful of satellites into orbit and run tests to see what kind of signal and Internet speed they can provide.
If that works out, you can expect to see the entire system go online in about five years. Musk, naturally is optimistic.
As reported by the Washington Post:
In January, at a private event to recruit engineers to work at a new satellite design and manufacturing plant in Redmond, Wash., Musk predicted that SpaceX’s system would reach remote regions and handle up to 10 percent of Internet traffic in urban and suburban regions, “where people are stuck with TimeWarner or Comcast.”
Do you think his plan is going to work? What impact would cheap worldwide Internet have on the planet? Let me know in the comments.