Elon Musk Details $10 Billion Plan for Space Internet
As Musk told Bloomberg Businessweek, “Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date.” The short-term goal is to provide fast, low-cost Internet to people who currently have little to no access to online services. However, the ultimate goal is to connect future Mars colonies to the web.
A Space Internet for Everyone
Over three billion people around the world have little to no access to the Internet. Musk’s plan is to launch a large network of communication satellites into Earth’s orbit, somewhere around 1200 kilometres above the planet. These satellites would be much closer to Earth than traditional communications satellites, which are typically over 35,000 kilometres in altitude. By significantly reducing the distance between Earth and the satellites, information can be sent between the two much faster, as there would be less physical distance to travel. Such a network would not only speed up the flow of data online, but would also provide high-speed, low-cost Internet services to those without Internet access.
Just how fast would this type of Internet be? Consider the way most of the Internet works right now. Data packets have to be sent through dozens of routers and terrestrial networks before they reach their destination. But with a space Internet, packets would be sent to space, travel from satellite to satellite until they reach a satellite nearest the destination on Earth, and then travel down to Earth. By eliminating the lag of ground networks, this type of space network could rival fibre optic Internet speeds. “The speed of light is 40 percent faster in the vacuum of space than it is for fiber,” says Musk. While providing Internet access for under serviced communities, the space Internet could also save Americans from crippling Internet speeds due to the near-monopolistic power companies like Comcast and AT&T have.
The project will be based in SpaceX’s Seattle Center, and Musk wants nothing short of “top engineering talent of all kinds” working in the office.
“We want the best engineers that either live in Seattle or that want to move to the Seattle area and work on electronics, software, structures, and power systems.”
However, Musk has no clear deadline or estimate for when the project will be complete. “People should not expect this to be active sooner than five years,” said Musk. As expected, providing the planet with ultra-fast, space Internet won’t be cheap either, and Musk estimates the project will require around $10 billion to build. Furthermore, the space Internet won’t just be limited to Earth. If you’re going to build an Internet network in space, you might as well extend it to other planets. SpaceX plans to set up a human colony on Mars in the coming decades, and “it will be important for Mars to have a global communications network,” says Musk. While this will be a very expensive and ambitious project, Musk sees it as a long-term revenue source for SpaceX to fund Mars colonisation.
“I think this needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else doing it.”
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