Elon Musk shares details of Internet satellite swarm dream

JC Torres - Jan 19, 2015
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Elon Musk shares details of Internet satellite swarm dream

“One giant global Internet service provider.” That is how Elon Musk, who seems to have a lot of time and money in his hands, describes his plans of building swarm of low-flying satellites that will carry the Internet anywhere and everywhere, daring to go where no Project Loon balloon has gone before. But Musk’s dream of building the world’s fastest and most expansive Internet network isn’t limited to just that. And in the long run, it isn’t going to be limited to Earth either.

Back in November, Musk already confirmed his vision of creating an army of satellites that will server as Internet carriers for any part of the world. While it might seem like crazy talk, the benefits such a system would bring definitely sounds desirable. Orbiting the earth at just an altitude of around 750 miles, it would be floating significantly lower than conventional communications satellites at 22,000 miles. This will lead to shorter travel distance for signals to travel and, therefore, a faster Internet. The system would rival fiber optic cables that are still in the process of being adopted around the world. Musk says that light travels 40 percent faster in space than inside those cables.

Of course, such an ambitious goal is not without its hurdles, with time and money probably being the least of Musk’s worries. It is a system that will take $10 billion to build and five years at the very least. That’s a lot of time to wait for a utopian Internet service but probably still shorter than if the still unnamed project were to start from scratch. The project will leverage the expertise of SpaceX but will also lend a hand to the company’s efforts. In fact, the project’s employees, which is estimated to grow up to 1,000 from an initial 60, will also work on SpaceX.

But one of Musk’s troubles might be harder to overcome, considering it is both technical and somewhat political. For an Internet service such as this, Musk will need to use a certain spectrum and either he buys his own or he leases. There just isn’t much spectrum to go around at that level and rights to that spectrum have already been bought by Greg Wyler and his OneWeb project. Musk and Wyler are well acquainted with each other, but fundamental differences in architecture and opinion have now made them rivals in that space. While Musk is open to and even wants to encourage competition, the Virgin Group, who has invested in OneWeb, claims there can’t be any competition because only Wyler has rights to the spectrum.

If Musk does succeed in overcoming all these and successfully implements this new system, the unnamed project will go a long way at helping Musk’s SpaceX efforts. Aside from simply providing revenue for SpaceX, it will also help propel its expansion into Martian soil. Yes, Musk plans on building a colony on Mars, and this system will serve both as a blueprint for a Martian communication network as well as a funding source for establishing that city in the first place.

SOURCE: Businessweek


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