Will Elon Musk revolutionise satellite broadband the way he did with electric cars and battery systems? The USA’s Federal Communications Commission’s chairman appears to think he may be on a winner.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has its sights set on developing a satellite system delivering low-latency and superfast broadband services across the world, including the most remote regions on the planet.
Apparently called Starlink, the constellation will consist of thousands of small satellites to ensure global coverage – but first it needs relevant approvals here on Earth.
Earlier this week, US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said he believed the agency should approve an application by SpaceX to provide satellite broadband services in the USA.
“Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach. And it can offer more competition where terrestrial Internet access is already available,” he said.
“Following careful review of this application by our International Bureau’s excellent satellite engineering experts, I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans.
Chairman Pai said that if the FCC gives the green light, it would be the first approval given to an US-based company to provide broadband services using new generation low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.
SpaceX reportedly plans to launch two experimental satellites for the Starlink service on a Falcon 9 rocket on February 18 from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California..
According to Wikipedia, the full constellation of satellites would operate at two levels. The first 4,425 satellites would operate at altitudes of between 1,110 kilometers and 1,325 kilometers. A further 7,518 satellites would operate at even lower altitudes. That’s nearly 12,000 satellites, nearly 7 times the total number of satellites orbiting the Earth today.
Looking further ahead, a version of the satellite communication system could also be used on Mars. Reaching the red planet with a manned mission is another of Mr. Musk’s goals, and given his track record to date; he may achieve it.
SpaceX isn’t without competition on its satellite broadband goal – OneWeb, whose investors include entrepreneur Richard Branson, has its eyes on the prize with a plan to “bridge the digital divide” by 2027. SpaceX is also shooting for the mid-2020’s.
Unlike OneWeb, SpaceX has said little publicly about Mr. Musk’s goal of “rebuilding the internet in space” – so we’re all just going to have to wait for the finer details.