SpaceX is setting its eyes on providing global internet coverage to every country in the world. The rocket company plans to do this by launching 60 satellites into space at the same time. This week. If successful, everyone around the world will be able to access cheap broadband internet regardless of where they are on planet Earth.
According to SpaceX CEO and founder, Elon Musk, the launch of the batch of 60 satellites would have taken place earlier last week. But this was postponed by just one day due to atmospheric disturbances in low-Earth orbit where the satellites will be stationed.
However, on Thursday, the company tweeted that the satellites launch will be postponed by another one week. This they said is to enable them update the software powering the satellites and triple-check that everything is fine.
It is now expected that the said launch should occur at a time to be announced this week.
Up To 12,000 Satellites May Be Launched To Provide Worldwide Internet Access
This initial launch of 60 satellites cannot deliver satellite connectivity around the world from space. An estimated 12,000 satellites in space will be required to achieve that. But the initial launch of 60 satellites will set the pace for other upcoming launches. It must however be noted that SpaceX is not the first company to attempt this lofty feat.
Amazon and OneWeb among other major competitors are also launching their own satellites to provide the same global internet service. LeoSat, Qualcomm and Telesat are also doing the same. OneWeb is heavily funded by SoftBank and Qualcomm already has six of its communication satellites up in space.
During a news conference earlier last week, Elon Musk told reporters there is no assurance that things will go perfectly right with the satellites. He said the entire batch of satellites was mass-produced, and since they are mostly new technology, some may not work perfectly or even function at all. He said his company is calling the mega-constellation of satellites in space, Starlink.
Following this initial launch, 12 similar launches will still occur before Starlink becomes fully operational to provide global internet coverage. The remaining launches will be achieved via six more rocket missions.
Internet Costs Are Prohibitive Because of the Location of Satellites in Space
The entire operation is estimated to cost billions of dollars. In fact, Musk said a few other companies who attempted are now bankrupt. A case in point here is Iridium, a satellite operating company. He clarified SpaceX has sufficient capital to fund its plans. And that the company’s attempt to raise about $400 million in April yeilded “more interest than we were seeking”.
Many rural and improverished communities cannot afford access to internet connections, leaving them cut off. This is largely because internet is largely delivered to homes and workplaces via underground cables or wireless cell towers. Satellite-based internet access is out of the question for many since it is very slow, unreliable and expensive. One of the reasons it is slow and unreliable is because the satellites are located too far away from Earth.
But with satellites stationed in low-Earth orbit, internet access is faster with little chances of service disruptions.
Analysts Question the Economic Wisdom of Internet Access in Uninhabited Areas
While the efforts will connect almost the entire planet to the internet, analysts question the benefits. Shagun Sachdeva, an analyst with Northern Sky Research, questions the economic wisdom of sending thousands of satellites into orbit. She finds it wasteful that SpaceX would provide full internet coverage over the oceans and other uninhabited areas where it won’t be used.
She thinks the company may come to a point where they find the costs of launching satellites outweight their economic benefits.
But in areas where coverage is assured, the economic benefits of solid internet access to people and businesses cannot be imagined. Businesses will soar and developmental progress will boom. Education will be easier and communication will be established at the press of a button. People will be better connected to those outside their regions and global connectivity will make the world a truly global village.