SpaceX looks to the skies to bring faster Internet – USA TODAY
We may soon be adding InternetÂ provider to the list of things SpaceX offers.
Elon Musk’s space company, best known for its ambition to privatize space travel, has asked the Federal Communications CommissionÂ for approvalÂ of its plan to launchÂ 4,425 satellites into orbit.
The goal of the satellites would be to provide Internet access for “residential, commercial, institutional, governmental and professional users” around the world, according to the FCC filings. The initialÂ deployment would see the launch of 1,600 satellites. After 800 satellites are launched the company would turn on the service, which could cover the “contiguousÂ United States, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” say SpaceX’sÂ filings, submitted earlier this week.
Once fully operational, the system would encompass “virtually all parts of the Earthâs surfaceÂ and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service,” the filings say.
The “constellation” of satellites would be 1,110-1,325 kilometers, or roughly 690-823 miles, above the earth. This would put them into low-earth orbit, similar to weather satellites and much closer to the earth than GPS satellites, which are approximately 20,200 km, or 12,550 miles, away.
By operating closer to earth, the system could theoretically offer faster speeds that would rival, or even surpass, the cable and fiber optic broadband speeds available today. Once fully deployed, SpaceX says the system would be able to provide speeds of up to 1 gigabitÂ per second.
In its latest “State of the Internet” report earlier this year, network provider Akamai Technologies found the average global Internet speed to be 6.1 megabits per second, exponentially slower than SpaceX’s potential service.
SpaceX says the satellites weigh about 850 pounds and are roughly the size of a car. Each satellite willÂ have an expected lifespan of 5-7 years, although no timeline was provided for when SpaceX would seek to launch the satellites.
This satellite broadband project is part of Musk’s $10 billion global broadband delivery plan, announced last year. Google and Fidelity have since invested a combined $1 billion, in part to help with the launch of the programÂ according toÂ The Washington Post.
SpaceX is just the latest company looking at aerial means of expanding global high-speed Internet coverage. Google’s parent company Alphabet has been exploring InternetÂ delivery through drones and balloons while airplane maker Boeing has been pursuing a similar satellite-based delivery system utilizing around 1,400 satellites.
OpenWeb, a group backed by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Qualcomm executive chairman Paul Jacobs, plans to launch its own, global high-speed satellite Internet service in 2018.
Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal