New details have emerged about SpaceX’s ambitious plans to launch a huge constellation of micro-satellites designed to provide internet service here on Earth. What is the next step in this giant endeavor?
CEO Elon Musk first announced the effort last fall, amid a boon in attention to satellite internet from major Silicon Valley companies—despite a broad history of busts in the business from tech and communications moguls of all stripes. Now, Google and Facebook are out of the internet space race, but entrepreneur Greg Wyler’s OneWeb is still pushing ahead, as is Musk’s SpaceX.
The satellites will orbit at an altitude of 650 kilometers, about 150 km closer to Earth than most other communications satellites, which is one way that SpaceX hopes to reduce the lag between data transmission and reception. The company forecasts spending about 10 minutes of every day conducting test link-ups with the satellites, which can transmit both video and telemetry data.
Should the tests planned for next year get approved and then succeed, the company would still face several challenges when it comes to deploying a fully functioning satellite internet network. It would need to secure usage rights to the appropriate satellite spectrum, for starters, as well as build, launch, and operate what could be the largest satellite constellation ever.
But Musk has high hopes, reportedly telling a group of potential employees at an informal presentation that he wants the network to handle as much as 10% of internet traffic in densely populated areas. And, as always with Musk, there is a Mars angle: There would, after all, need to be more communications infrastructure in space to support a future colony on the red planet.