SpaceX Pursues Elon Musk’s “Space Internet” Ambitions

March 23, 2017 - 2 minutes read

The big dreams of Elon Musk fascinate app developers worldwide, who admire the scope of his ambitions — and his ability to pull off so many of them. Fresh off the successful landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket last month, the company is now moving forward with another one of Musk’s pet projects: the “space internet.”

In the past few weeks, SpaceX has met with FCC officials twice to discuss two major topics: relaxing regulations on commercial space launches and acquiring a license to set up a network of internet satellites. The system SpaceX is proposing would send 4,425 satellites into orbit in order to bring broadband coverage to the entirety of the globe (and to colonists on Mars, eventually). To give app developers a better idea of the Musk-ian grandeur of this undertaking, there are just 4,256 satellites in orbit right now, only a third of which actually work.

Savvy app developers will note that the idea isn’t exactly new: starting in the late 90s, projects like Iridium, Globalstar, and Orbcomm attempted to launch satellite networks that stalled out due to high investment costs, mismanagement, technical issues, and a lack of interest from consumers. There was simply too much risk involved. But now that 5G is around the corner, backing the right big satellite constellation seems like a smart investment — so long as you pick the one most likely to become an essential part of the cellular network.

Of course, SpaceX is not alone in the “space internet” race. Boeing and OneWeb, whose satellites will be launched by the Bezos-founded Blue Origin, have similar aspirations. The companies have filed with the FCC for permission to use the airwaves and are still waiting on the commission’s ruling, although the expectation is that competition will be encouraged. San Francisco app developers will have to wait and see who emerges as a front-runner. No matter who takes the lead, it’s safe to say that many of the areas of the world with weak internet or no internet at all can expect that to change in the years to come.

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