- Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
- SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, hopes to launch nearly 12,000 satellites in the coming years.
- The proposed satellite constellation network would provide high-speed internet to most if not all of the world.
- Ajit Pai, chairperson of the Federal Communications Commission, endorsed the project on Wednesday.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX, fresh off the successful launch of the world’s most powerful rocket, won an endorsement on Wednesday from the top US communications regulator to build a broadband network using satellites.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the approval of an application by SpaceX to provide broadband services using satellites in the United States and worldwide.
“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,” Pai said in a statement.
SpaceX told the FCC in a letter on February 1 that it plans to launch a pair of experimental satellites on one of its Falcon 9 rockets. That launch, already approved by the FCC, is set for Saturday in California.
The rocket will carry the PAZ satellite for Hisdesat of Madrid, Spain and multiple smaller secondary payloads.
Pai said after a staff review that he is urging approval for SpaceX.
“It would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies,” he said.
Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said satellite internet service shows great promise.
“They will multiply the number of satellites in the skies, creating extraordinary new opportunities,” Rosenworcel said. “The FCC should move quickly to facilitate these new services while underscoring our commitment to space safety.”
On February 6, SpaceX launched its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket from Florida. The 23-story-tall jumbo rocket carried a Tesla Roadster from Musk’s private collection, and it’s now bound to fly in a loop beyond Mars orbit and back toward Earth. Musk called for a new space race after the launch.
SpaceX was not immediately available for comment on the satellites.
Musk’s plan to launch nearly 12,000 internet satellites
- Dave Mosher/Business Insider
SpaceX is looking to win an increasingly competitive race to establish fast, pervasive, and affordable internet access. The company thinks such a market is worth tens – if not hundreds – of billions of dollars per year and will only grow as more people get online.
Musk said in a speech in 2015 in Seattle that his satellite-internet plan, informally known as Starlink, would help fund a future city on Mars. He explained that SpaceX wanted to create a “global communications system” that Musk compared to “rebuilding the internet in space.” It would be faster than traditional internet connections, he said.
The plan is audacious: In the coming years, the company hopes tolaunch 4,425 interlinked broadband-internet satellites into orbit some 700 to 800 miles above Earth, plus another 7,500 spacecraft into lower orbits. That is a total of nearly 12,000 interconnected satellites – nearly three times more spacecraft than currently orbit the planet today.
Banketing the Earth with high-speed internet access would represent a vast departure from dish-based internet providers today, but SpaceX is not alone in its push to reinvent the web in space. Over the past year, the FCC has approved requests by OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat to access the US market to provide broadband services using satellite technolog. The FCC said the technology “holds promise to expand Internet access in remote and rural areas across the country.”
The approvals are the first of their kind, the FCC said, for “a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems.” It said it is also processing similar requests.
In January, Telesat launched a satellite operated by the Indian Space Research Organization to deliver “high-performing, cost-effective, fiber-like broadband anywhere in the world” and will conduct trials this year. The initial deployment will consist of approximately 120 satellites by 2021. Telesat is a privately held company, principally owned by Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board and Loral Space & Communications Inc.
The US government is also working to try to bring high-speed internet access to rural areas that lack service. About 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million Americans on tribal lands lack mobile broadband even at relatively slow speeds.
SpaceX hopes to achieve 1 Gbps broadband speeds with Starlink. The global average internet speed in late 2015, according to Akamai’s “State of the Internet” report, was 5.6 megabits per second – about 1/180th the speed of SpaceX’s target.
This story was originally published on Wednesday at 11:49 a.m. ET and updated with new information.
Reuters reporting by David Shepardson and Munsif Vengattil; editing by David Gregorio