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Elon Musk launches massive effort to “rebuild the internet in space”

(Flickr/SpaceX)

(Flickr/SpaceX)

Elon Musk has certainly been busy over the past few months. The technological mind and founder behind Tesla also plays a major role in SpaceX, a company on a mission to colonize Mars. This time, the private spaceflight company is setting its sights on a more down-to-Earth technology: the internet.

SpaceX made headlines earlier this year when a failed prelaunch test resulted in an explosion that destroyed the unmanned Falcon 9 rocket. While the cause of the explosion is still a mystery, Musk isn’t letting that stop his efforts of getting to space. After seeking help and requesting all footage and pictures from the event, he’s moving on to his next project.

While colonizing Mars is still a goal of the private spaceflight company, the latest announcement is an extensive undertaking that will cost more than $10 billion. Musk outlined plans to launch more than 4,400 satellites into space, according to a filing with the Federal Communications Commission.

That amounts to more than three times the current number of satellites already in orbit. While Musk didn’t outline how he planned to fund the project, the goal was clear: provide incredibly fast internet speeds to the world.

“The system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, government and professional users worldwide,” SpaceX said in the FCC filing.

The initial launch would include just 800 satellites and aim to expand and boost internet connection speeds within the United States. From there, SpaceX would build the system to the point of optimization. The more than 4,400 satellites would weigh roughly 850 pounds each and orbit at altitudes between 715 and 790 miles above Earth.

Once fully optimized, the system would provide global users with internet speeds of over one gigabyte per second. Google Fiber comes close to matching SpaceX’s intended speeds with up to 1,000 megabytes per second but is still rolling out on a city-by-city basis.

For comparison, the average global internet speed comes in at less than six megabytes per second, according to the Akamai State of the Internet report. South Korea holds the highest average speed at 29 megabytes per second. The United States ranks at number 16 with an average connection speed of just 15.3 megabytes per second.

A one gigabyte-per-second connection speed would allow users to download a two-hour high-definition movie in under 30 seconds. The long-term goal for the SpaceX System would be to fund a colony on Mars through the revenue generated from customers.

“This is intended to be a significant amount of revenue and to help fund a city on Mars,” Elon Musk said in January 2015. “Looking at the long term, 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.”

Musk’s statement followed SpaceX’s move to a new Seattle-based satellite production facility. Satellite manufacturing has better financial incentives than private spaceflight operations.

SpaceX isn’t the only company with satellite-oriented plans though. Boeing filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission not long ago. OneWeb, backed by Airbus, has plans for such an undertaking as well.


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