It’s easy to take the internet for granted. From rural America to the most remote villages in Africa. There are still millions around the world either too poor or live too far away from cities to have easy access to Netflix and Facebook. Several companies are tackling this issue. Drones, balloons and satellites have all been pitched.
SpaceX wants to do what they do best. Launch satellites. On Tuesday, the private space company filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission to launch 4,425 satellites to cover the world in high-speed wireless broadband. That’s the final number. SpaceX will start with launching 800 satellites to provide up to 1 gigabit per second internet from more than 700 miles up.
Yep, you read that right. 1 gigabit. I’ll sign up for SpaceX internet in a heartbeat. My Comcast screws up on a sunny day. Cloudy weather? No problem. Same at night. But if it’s hot outside, I can forget about it. Thankfully, fall is here. Or as we’re calling it in Alabama lately, late summer. Seriously, it’s going to be 80 degrees here today.
You’re probably wondering how big each of these 4,000+ satellite are going to be. Each one measures 4 by 1.8 by 1.2 meters and clock in at 390 kilograms. That’s about 860 pounds for us Americans and the size of a small car.
The constellation of satellites will work on the ‘Ku’ and ‘Ka’ bands. With each one positioned anywhere between 1,150 kilometers and 1,325 kilometers above the Earth. Here’s a breakdown of where SpaceX wants to position all of the satellites:
– 1,600 satellites at an altitude of 1,150 kilometers with an inclination of 53 degrees.
– 1,600 satellites at an altitude of 1,110 kilometers with an inclination of 53.8 degrees.
– 400 satellites at an altitude of 1,130 kilometers with an inclination of 74 degrees.
– 375 satellites at an altitude of 1,275 kilometers with an inclination of 81 degrees.
– 450 satellites at an altitude of 1,325 kilometers with an inclination of 70 degrees.
An illustration from the request shows how much of an area each satellite could cover.
A constellation of more than 4,000 satellites would blanket the entire world in internet coverage.
Each satellite is expected to operate for five to seven years. After that, they’ll be disposed of through atmospheric re-entry.
“SpaceX anticipates that its satellites will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere within approximately one year after completion of their mission – much sooner than the international standard of 25 years,” reads the request. That will help keep nonworking satellites from clogging up potentially useful orbits. There’s already enough space trash up there.
The idea of lifting thousands of satellites into orbit isn’t a new one for Musk. He first announced the idea early last year. And his pitch earned several big-name investors including Google and Fidelity Investments, who pitched in $1 billion. Estimates for the complete project are around $10 billion.
SpaceX isn’t the only company with the idea to beam down the internet from space. OneWeb and Boeing are pursuing similar satellite systems. Plus, Google and Facebook are looking to the skies – but at a much lower altitude with balloons and drones.
We’ll see which solution wins out. I imagine it’ll be a combination of both. And SpaceX will be involved in some way whether it’s leading the charge or launching someone else’s satellites.