INTERNATIONAL – Elon Musk’s SpaceX has made a business out of launching satellites for commercial customers, Nasa and the US military.
The company’s launch of the Falcon 9 rocket with 60 satellites this week is a key step toward creating a space-based constellation that beams broadband to under-served areas across the globe.
It’s a bet Musk is banking, along with fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, on bringing in revenue as an internet provider from outer space. Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 with a goal of colonising Mars.
In a phone call with journalists, Musk sounded cautious but excited. “It’s possible that some of these satellites may not work,” said Musk. “I do believe we will be successful, but it is far from a sure thing.” The first 60 operational satellites for SpaceX’s project, called Starlink, are slated to launch aboard one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets. Roughly one hour and two minutes after lift-off, the Starlink satellites will begin deploying at an altitude of about 440km above Earth, SpaceX said. Each satellite is equipped with a navigation system that allows SpaceX to precisely position the satellites, track orbiting debris and avoid collisions. Musk said SpaceX plans to launch roughly 60 satellites at a time as it builds out its constellation.
Noting it is a “multibillion dollar endeavour,” he said that SpaceX has enough capital for the time being. About 4 billion people – the vast majority of whom are in Africa and Southeast Asia – aren’t online and lack affordable, reliable access to the internet.
“Starlink will afford broadband data access to the disconnected 4 billion much sooner than most would forecast,” Steve Jurvetson, a long-time SpaceX director, tweeted on Sunday. SpaceX’s plan for roughly 12000 satellites far exceeds the 1957 satellites orbiting the Earth now, according to a tally by the Union of Concerned Scientists.