Earlier this month we heard about Google’s Project Loon, which was touched on in a leak back in May. Under the project, the company plans to offer inexpensive Internet in areas where connectivity is poor or unavailable, doing so at a reasonable rate. While its plans are certainly ambitious, another company has already taken the first step in its project to accomplish the same goal, launching the first four of a dozen small satellites into space.
This particular project is the brain child of Greg Wyler, a man who visited Rwanda back in 2007, growing frustrated at the lack of an adequate Internet network while there. As such, he formed the project known as O3b, which will eventually put 12 satellites into space, providing affordable Internet service to about 180 countries dubbed “underconnected.”
These satellites, called O3b Satellite Constellation, were sent into space on a Russian rocket called Soyouz located in French Guiana. Unlike satellites already in space for this same purpose, the O3b satellites are smaller and lighter at about 1400lbs rather than the 4 to 6 tons typical for these units. In addition, rather than orbiting at the 22,000 miles the current satellites are positioned at, the O3b satellites will orbit at about 5,000 miles.
As a result of these changes, the speed with which they transmit data will trump current offerings by a factor of four while allowing the overall cost on the consumer level to be 30-percent to 50-percent cheaper than what is presently available. Once another two satellites make their way into orbit, project O3b will be able to offer permanent Internet coverage to its designated areas.
The next round of four satellites are scheduled for launched some time in the next handful of weeks, and will represent the primary satellites. After that, another four will be sent into space in 2014, serving as backup satellites in case one of the primary ones goes down. Over time, O3b would like to have 12 primary satellites and 16 backup satellites. Several big-name companies are backing the project, including Google and HSBC.