June 27, 2015
Elon Musk is currently seeking government approval to begin testing on a project to broadcast the Internet from 4,000 satellites orbiting the Earth. He claims he wants to beam high-speed Internet to all corners of the world.
The plan would transform SpaceX from a company based solely on rockets and spaceflight into an Internet provider to rival the likes of Comcast, Verizon, and other telecom companies in a worldwide market thought to be worth over $2.1 trillion annually. Musk’s plan is to send his Falcon 9 rocket up into space, and then deploy a fleet of satellites around the planet.
He announced his plan earlier in the year, but it has just been released that SpaceX has made a formal request for permission from the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to begin testing next year. Musk wants to find out if the current antenna on his satellites would be strong enough to send the signals back down to Earth.
This isn’t the first time that a dot-com billionaire has dabbled in Internet satellites, and probably won’t be the last either. During the 1990s, a company founded by Bill Gates aspired to do something similar, but as costs spiraled out of control, the plan eventually collapsed. Even the Internet giant of Facebook has scrapped plans for a $500 million satellite to spread the Internet to the far reaches of the world.
But Musk is apparently fairly confident that he’ll be able to get 4,000 up and working. He claims that using lots of small machines that are both cheap and efficient will help his plans overcome previous problems of relying on larger satellites that are more difficult to replace if something were to go awry. And by manufacturing them all at SpaceX, he hopes to keep costs down and solve supply issues.
Grand as his scheme may be, and even if the FCC grant him permission to start his testing, the logistics of beaming high-speed Internet across the globe still make his chances of pulling this off fairly slim. Musk himself has already conceded that getting permission to operate in countries across the world would be “difficult, if not impossible.”
Main image credit: NVIDIA Corporation/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0