A new worldwide internet?
Increasingly, everything that matters either happens on the internet or is enabled by it. In the decades since the World Wide Web was launched the world has been changed almost beyond recognition along with people’s day to day lives.
However, there are issues with the Internet. In most developed there exists a small number of service providers which essentially operate a cartel-like system and control everyone’s access. In many under-developed parts of the world there is often very little internet access at all. The speed with which the internet has proliferated means that in many ways the global poor live in a totally different world to those with reliable internet access.
So what is the solution to this?
SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, has long been planning to bring super-fast broadband internet to the world via a meshed constellation of satellites which would provide coverage to everyone no matter where they are.
This has been something of a pipe dream since it was first mooted several years ago, but recent testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee from Patricia Cooper, SpaceX Vice President of Satellite Government Affairs, has confirmed more details and even suggested a start date for the project.
SpaceX is planning to launch 4,425 custom satellites into orbit beginning in 2019 with a projected date of 2024 for the full complement to be in the skies above the earth. Traditional internet satellites sit in high orbits in order to cover the maximum amount of the earth possible with the smallest number of satellites to save on cost.
SpaceX has the distinct advantage of being able to launch their satellites more cheaply than any competitor thanks to their in-house Falcon 9 rocket which is cost efficient thanks to its reusability. In addition, the SpaceX satellites will be launched into a lower orbit than other satellites which means that more can be sent up at one time.
It is estimated that there were fewer than 1,500 satellites in total orbiting the earth at the end of 2016, so the plan to launch another 4,425 by 2024 will almost quadruple that total. This is clearly a huge undertaking and there will be many issues to iron out, but the potential rewards are surely worth it.
Having a worldwide internet service in one system will allow load to be spread evenly as standard and services to be shifted around the world at peak times. The low earth orbit will also allow upgrades to be made and new satellites to be added to the system far more easily. Imagine a future where you could take your laptop anywhere in the world and have no trouble accessing the internet. Life would suddenly become a lot more connected and the pace of communication and innovation would accelerate rapidly.