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Elon Musk, co-founder of companies such as Paypal and current CEO of SpaceX, has asked the United States Federal Communication Commission for permission to begin testing a project that would deliver internet from space via satellite.  The plan would entail sending 4,000 satellites, which the Washington post described as ‘small and cheap’ into space.  These satellites would in turn beam internet back to Earth, and Musk is quoted as saying that this “would be like rebuilding the Internet in space.”  Testing for this project should begin next year, with ambitions that the project should be operational within five years.

If successful, this project would have a worldwide impact.  Not only would it bring the internet to those few remaining unconnected remote places around the world, but it could also offer Space X as an alternative ISP in those countries where there a few monopolistic companies control all internet access.  No one as of yet has answered the question of how countries that want their citizens to have limited access to information will react to this plan.

Though seemingly novel, plans similar to Musk’s have actually existed in many incarnations over many years.  Richard Branson of Virgin supposedly has a similar project currently in the works. Bill Gates is said to have toyed with a similar idea in the 1990’s.  Another firm, LightSquared, abandoned this project a mere three years ago.  More recently, Facebook has given up on a similar plan that differed from Musk’s by involving the construction of a single $500 million satellite.  This project proved to be more ambitious than the company could handle, and Facebook killed the project off before they ever even announced it.  Time will tell whether Musk’s plan to build a multitude of satellites will prove more effective (although it certainly seems more logical).


Will this project succeed, or is this just more bravado from Elon Musk?

Matthew Campanella

A firm believer that technology is making the world a better place who hopes to share the revelation with other. Professional tramp, amateur writer. Huge nerd, occasional gamer.

  • mrwizeass

    Planning for when humanity colonizes space, are we?

  • Domhnall

    There’s already satellite-based internet service, isn’t there? It’s not particularly popular among gamers, from what I hear, because of the increased signal time, by necessity, of bouncing a signal all the way up to a satellite and then all the way back down to Earth.

  • There is several orders of magnitude of a difference in performance as to what’s up in space now, and what’s possible to do.

    It’s possible to reduce latency with low orbit satellites, instead of high orbit, and the equipment itself is drastically better. Beyond that, we don’t currently use high speed satellite to satellite connections in space whichs allows for point to point optics without the interference of atmosphere

    Imagine fiberoptic internet without the slowdown of running through glass

  • Domhnall

    I’ll be honest, all I really understood from that is, “They can make it faster.”

    That’s good. They should probably do that.

  • Crizzyeyes

    None of them have this much coverage, though. Imagine the ubiquity of GPS in the form of internet; you can literally access it anywhere on the globe, no matter what.

    I didn’t know about Facebook’s $500 million satellite project — that just seems silly to me, I have no idea why you would only make one satellite for that sort of project. It’s just not enough coverage.

  • Ben

    Both SpaceX and OneWeb (Richard Branson + Qualcomm Start up) are buying up launch slots and 100-300 kg minisats to make their own massive satellite formations, SpaceX wanting to build a formation ~4000 satilites wide (OneWeb will have 648) chances are good that at least one of them will pull through an make a world covering network. From the the middle of Zimbabwe to North Korea there will not be a meter of earth’s surface where you won’t be able to be connected: for the developing world this could change everything! Goverment control of infromation will be weakened even more, just as we are seeing the rise of ideological and corporate control of information.