SpaceX promises internet for all, with a little help from 4,425 satellites
Elon Musk’s private rocket enterprise SpaceX has filed a request to launch a vast satellite network into space, as a means to bring high-speed internet to the entire planet.
SpaceX made the application this week with the US Federal Communications Commission (FFC), for a project involving no fewer than 4,425 satellites. That’s more than the entire amount of satellites currently orbiting the earth (around 4,256, in case you were wondering, with only a fraction of these currently active).
Musk has been talking about creating a global communications system for some time, but the FFC filing offers a more precise glimpse into the technical details of the project. It seems that SpaceX plans for the satellites to orbit in 83 orbital planes, at altitudes ranging from 1,110 to 1,325km. Each satellite will weigh 850 pounds (386kg), and be around the size of a small car.
Musk has previously said it would cost about $10 billion (£8 billion) to make the project happen, although there’s nothing in the filing about potential costs. Nor is there information about dates for launches, although the filing does say it will begin with a launch of 800 satellites to cover the US, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“With deployment of the first 800 satellites, SpaceX will be able to provide widespread U.S. and international coverage for broadband services,” SpaceX wrote. “Once fully optimised through the Final Deployment, the system will be able to provide high-bandwidth (up to 1Gbits/sec per user), low-latency broadband services for consumers and businesses in the US and globally.”
SpaceX’s forward march hit a setback in September this year when a rocket exploded. Launches have been put on hold since then, although the company is intending to resume flights next month.
“Once fully deployed, the SpaceX system will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service,” the company said.
SpaceX isn’t alone in its ambitions to create a global internet system. OneWeb is planning to launch around 648 satellites for this purpose as soon as 2019, while both Facebook and Google have invested in this area – with solar-powered drones and Project Loon respectively. Competitors aside, there’s also the issue about whether doubling the number of satellites in orbit will create an unwieldy amount of space litter.