I’m sure most of you have heard plenty about Elon Musk. He is the famous creator and CEO of Tesla and is widely considered to be the most innovative entrepreneur of our generation. Besides creating the futuristic electric car company in Tesla, he was also one of the founders of PayPal and currently owns SpaceX and Solar City. All of his companies have the common theme of attempting to completely change the way humans live and operate within our biosphere. He wants to greatly enhance our plants climate through the extensive use of his Tesla cars and household energy systems from Solar City. However, his company SpaceX takes a different approach to the damage humankind has done to our own planet. Many scientists believe that if we keep up our carbon emissions at the same rate then our planet will be uninhabitable in the not so distant future.
In 2002, Elon Musk put the responsibility on himself to figure out a Plan B for mankind if there were to ever come a time where planet earth could no longer sustain human life. He created a company called SpaceX, which is an aerospace manufacturing and space transport company that is headquartered in Hawthorne, California. The company’s ultimate goal is to bring humans to Mars by colonizing the planet and creating a sustainable society for them to live in. They hope to begin regular transportation from Earth to Mars within the next decade. For now, SpaceX mainly functions as a launch services company in which they manufacture their own rockets and launch satellites attached to the top that are made by other telecommunications companies or government entities and place these satellites into orbit. They have also become the first company to successfully launch, land, and reuse the first stage of the rocket (the part with all of the massive engines on it), which would previously be ditched into the ocean and be unable for use again. This has been able to save the company hundreds of millions of dollars per launch by being able to reuse the most expensive part of the rocket. SpaceX is also commonly thought to be a competitor of NASA because they are involved in space exploration, but, in fact, they currently have a $1 billion contract with NASA to send materials to and from the International Space Station, because NASA has actually ended their Space program.
It will take a monumental amount of money for SpaceX to fund these future Mars missions, so they’ve been looking for ways to help generate large amounts of revenue to provide capital for the mission. One way they are hoping to do so is through a project that is in the developmental stage right now, in which they’re going to launch 4000 satellites into low earth orbit in order to create a space based internet communication system. I was fortunate enough to work as a finance intern at SpaceX this past summer and one of the main projects I worked on all summer was a pretty extensive market research report about the global broadband industry in order to see what the state of high speed internet is in many developing nations around the world.
The overall goal of this project isn’t just to provide capital for SpaceX’s mars missions, but also to provide high-speed internet access to every single inch of the earth at a very low price. The plan isn’t to provide wireless internet for your phones, but to give everyone in the world the opportunity to have in home broadband internet. By launching 4000 satellites, you will have the ability to be apart of their network as long as your home has a 30 degree vision of the sky. The engineering teams are developing silicon transmitters about the size of a pizza box that look similar to a solar panel that you can put on your roof, in your back yard, or wherever you want as long as, again, it has that 30 degree vision of the sky. This will essentially make your home a Wi-Fi hotspot and allow your computers and mobile devices to access internet speeds of over 100 mbps.
How it works is that these silicon transmitters send up signals to one of the 4000 satellites, which then send a signal down to a large ground internet transmitter in your region, which accesses the backhaul of the internet. These ground transmitters gather all the data you had requested via your computer and signals are then sent back up to the satellite, then down to your individual transmitter, all in the blink of an eye.
Currently, there’s over 3 billion people in the world that don’t have access to internet. Therefore, this would not only bring an immense amount of revenue for SpaceX by providing so many people with access to the internet, but it would also have a huge effect on society as a whole. By bringing affordable internet to places like sub Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, and South America, it will give these people a greater opportunity to educate themselves and could enhance these societies and economies very rapidly. If this project is successful it will also have a major impact on several social media companies. With 3 billion people lacking internet access, that is 3 billion people who do not have Facebook and Twitter profiles. By giving these people access to the internet they will have the desire to connect to the world, much like you and I, and it could have astronomical effects on the profitability of social media companies.
Right now, SpaceX is simply in the developmental stage of this satellite constellation, and it will take them a very long time to roll this out based on the fact that they have to make thousands of satellites. They’ve claimed that they can have it up and running by 2020, but after working there for a short time you realize they overestimate their timetables by a pretty large margin, so I don’t see it happening anytime soon. However long it may take, their ultimate plan for this project is to not only bring internet to remote regions of the world, but to also be a major internet provider here for us in the United States as well.