Not content to rest on his many laurels, Elon Musk is powering ahead with a plan to create a low cost global network that would provide every person on earth with 1 mbps internet access. SpaceX has applied to the FCC for permission to launch up to 800 satellites that would cover the US, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. To cover the entire world would take a total of 4,425 of the 850 lb satellites, each one of which would cover an elipse about 1,275 meters wide. They would orbit between 700 and 800 miles above the earth.
According to the SpaceX filing with the FCC, “The system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental and professional users worldwide.”
That seems like a lot of satellites, doesn’t it? In fact, it is. When fully completed, the SpaceX system would triple the total number of satellites in orbit around the earth. The whole internet in space idea first came up as part of Musk’s original Mars colonization proposal back in 2011. At the time, the estimated cost was $10 billion. The latest filing contains no cost projections. SpaceX says, “Once fully deployed, the SpaceX System will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service.”
SpaceX is the first company to successfully recover a rocket used to launch a satellite for potential reuse at a later time. That capability is said to reduce launch costs by 30%. Putting 4,425 satellites into orbit is going to take a lot of launches, so reusing rockets would be critical to making the scheme financially viable.
SpaceX is not alone in the quest to build a space based internet. OneWeb — a venture backed by Airbus, Virgin, Bharti, and Qualcomm — and Boeing have also filed applications for access to portions of the electromagnetic spectrum for satellite based internet systems of their own. Facebook, Google, and Microsoft all are pursuing plans to build their own internet ventures using drones, high altitude balloons, or laser beams.
While all of this sounds very Flash Gordon like and is super exciting for techies to contemplate, a thoughtful person might reflect for a moment on what effect all this internet connectivity might have on the human race. On the one hand, uniting billions of brains in a sort of global consciousness might unleash unimaginable new discoveries that will benefit the species. Nine billion brains have to be better than one, right?
On the other hand, the recent US presidential election could be seen as an example of how the “splinternet,” as some now like to call it, can be an instrument disseminating previously unimaginable levels of stupidity far and wide. Do we really need to globalize fake news and compartmentalized thinking that divides us into groups that loathe each other? Do we need a global internet to deliver mind numbing content 24/7 to all the world’s citizens?
Perhaps we should all go back and re-read Neil Postman’s brilliantly prescient book Amusing Ourselves To Death. At the very least, we should keep in mind Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Be careful what you wish for, Elon. You just might get it.
Source: Hacker News