SpaceX founder Elon Musk aims to develop rockets for a variety of clients, from the US military to commercial satellite companies. SpaceX has been working on this project since at least 2017 but is likely to be delayed by the merger with Tesla, which requires more focus.
StarLink satellites will be able to provide internet service that is faster than most cable connections, and the 60 satellites are designed to provide global coverage by 2026 or 2027. NASA and Google are already using internet satellites in orbit, and SpaceX is working on bringing broadband internet access to undeveloped areas of the world via low-Earth orbit satellites.
If SpaceX can offer speeds of 10 Gbps to every human on the planet, it could make a fortune, charging $10/Mbps for the privilege. With the fiber optic cables we ‘kill’ at work we get a speed of 35 Mbps (=35000 Kbps = 35 MB/s). That's not even 1% of what Musk's satellites can do, and the speed is a little bit higher than what you can get from an ADSL line in Germany. But in Germany, you would need to pay about 50 € per month for that. If Musk can deliver all that he promises, he would be able to charge 10 times as much and make a hell of lot of money.
Though constructing Starlink could cost over US$10 billion, there’s evidence that SpaceX expects Starlink could earn it US$30 billion each year by 2025. Starlink’s success could therefore be pivotal for Elon Musk’s plans to go to Mars. But space is a harsh environment, and there are many technical challenges to be overcome. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), about 40 satellites have been launched in total, but only 24 remain in orbit.
There are lots of hurdles to overcome. Launch costs could be massive since launching 60 satellites alone would cost US$1 billion or more. And then SpaceX will have to fix connectivity issues, including ensuring there’s enough bandwidth for everyone who wants to use the service. It is not clear how that would work, since you can’t just select ‘Netflix HD Video’ when you want it; it has to work all the time and everywhere you’re located.
Why is SpaceX getting into ‘space internet’?
“Elon Musk plans to put around 12000 new satellites into low orbit, each carrying 4-8x the bandwidth capacity of what is currently available in a quarter million geosynchronous (GEO) satellites in orbit today. That should give him the bandwidth he needs for his Martian colony, as well as for everybody else on Earth.”
As explained above and as mentioned in his proposal to the FCC, Mr. Musk's plan is to use Starlink to create a global wireless internet network that would reduce or eliminate service fees for customers in its first few years of operation.
The main question is: Does Mr. Musk have the technical expertise and financial resources necessary to pull off such a huge undertaking?
As far as the former goes, SpaceX has been making headlines for a while now with its impressive record of launching rockets into space. (Let's just say that you would probably pay a lot to get into the rocket club at your high school.) But its partnership with Boeing could be a turning point for the rocket maker. The merger with Boeing could possibly turn Musk's Tesla electric car company into an auto manufacturer capable of competing with global leader General Motors (NYSE: GM ).
Under Musk’s leadership, SpaceX would be able to offer internet access using billions of dollars worth of its satellites orbiting at about 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface.
For now, Musk is waiting for the FCC to approve its plans. That should happen by the end of the year. If all goes as planned, SpaceX will become a global internet service provider—one that could make a fortune from selling internet access to customers around the world. And Tesla and Musk would be on their way to becoming an auto giant.