One can say a lot of things about Elon Musk, but no one can deny that the man has vision and imagination. Confirming in public, at least to the Internet, a rumor that has been floating around since Saturday, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO revealed that his space-faring company is indeed working on small-sized satellites. Unlike the more ambitious goal of propelling humans into space, this endeavor has a more philanthropic bent, aiming to bring Internet to more people. Kind of like Google’s Project Loon, but with satellites.
Of course, saying that you are “in the early stages of development” is one thing, actually coming out with a finished product is definitely a whole different game. The micro-satellite that Musk envisions will definitely be another engineering and manufacturing feat like many of his ideas that have now become reality. The goal is to create a satellite that weighs less than 250 pounds/113 kg and costs less than $1 million to make, significantly less than what present day satellites require. It was said that Musk wants to make a whole fleet of these, 700 in total, though that number has not been confirmed.
But that’s only one part of the dream. Like with his Tesla EV’s, part of the challenge will be where to make such satellites, and so a factory is once again part of the discussion. Like the gigafactories that will produce batteries for the electric vehicles, the location of the factory that will build this 700-strong satellite army is still hush hush, though Colorado and Florida have been named. Wherever it happens, we might know in 2 or 3 months when Musk makes the formal announcement.
Bringing Internet service to parts of the world that could not be reached otherwise is definitely a laudable goal, though considering the challenges that SpaceX needs to first overcome, it might not happen for quite a while. The project is also a bit ironic, if you stretch your imagination far enough. A fleet of Internet-connected and interconnected micro-satellites might just be the staging ground needed for an Artificial Intelligence doomsday that Musk himself fears.