TECH

Elon Musk Wants Satellites To Swarm The Skies So Earth Can Have Better Internet

The project would help finance SpaceX's plans for a colony on Mars.

18/11/2016 4:52 AM IST | Updated 18/11/2016 5:05 AM IST
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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk speaks after unveiling the Dragon V2 spacecraft in Hawthorne, California in May 2014.

On top of building a self-sustaining Martian colony of a million people, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, has its sights set on supplying high-speed internet coverage to the entire globe.

The California-based company, owned by billionaire business magnate and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, filed an application Tuesday with the Federal Communications Commission seeking permission to launch a network of 4,425 satellites ― each the size of a car ― into low Earth orbit.

If you’re wondering just how many that is, there are currently 1,419 active satellites orbiting Earth, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

“The system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental and professional users worldwide,” the company wrote in a technical document attached to the filing. 

Ultimately, the internet project, which was first announced last year and which Musk estimates would cost between $10 and $15 billion, is part of the billionaire’s greater goal of putting people on the red planet. 

“This is intended to generate a significant amount of revenue and help fund a city on Mars,” he said of the project during the 2015 opening of SpaceX’s Seattle office. “So in looking in the long term and saying what’s needed to create a city on Mars, well, one thing’s for sure: a lot of money. So we need things that will generate a lot of money.” He added that he hoped to have the system operational by 2020, with full capability in 12 to 15 years.

Each satellite in the system would weigh 850 pounds and be about the size of a vehicle, Reuters reports. They would orbit at altitudes ranging from 690 to 823 miles above the Earth

SpaceX would begin by launching 800 satellites to provide widespread service in the contiguous U.S., Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to documents. After that, the company would expand services internationally. 

The application also touches on SpaceX’s plans to mitigate space debris and minimize accidental explosions. Each satellite is designed to function for five to seven years, after which time the company would “dispose of satellites through atmospheric reentry at end of life.”

Musk hopes to eventually make humans a “multi-planet species” by building a massive “Interplanetary Transport System.” Like something out of a science fiction film, giant spaceships would shuttle upward of 100 people, plus luggage and other cargo, to and from Mars. The trip takes six to eight months using current technology; Musk hopes to reduce it to 80 days or less.

Musk has said his main motivation for accumulating assets is so that he can make the biggest contribution possible toward becoming interplanetary. 

It would be an incredible adventure,” he said in September. “I think it would be the most inspiring thing that I could possibly imagine. And life needs to be more than just solving problems every day, you need to wake up and be excited about the future. Be inspired and want to live.”

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