Musk now wants to “build a second Internet” in space, and eventually use the system to connect people on Mars to the Web. For us Earthlings, this new network would increase the flow of data on the Internet, thus providing low-cost, high-speed Internet services to billions of people with poor access.
As Musk told Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “The speed of light is 40 percent faster in the vacuum of space than it is for fiber. The long-term potential is to be the primary means of long-distance Internet traffic and to serve people in sparsely populated areas.” In this way, Musk would realize his dream of creating a “global communications system” that would be larger than anything we currently have and would connect billions of people in ways we may not be able to conceptualize now.
Musk has not yet named his newest space venture; however, it will be one of his most ambitious projects to date. The headquarters of this new Space Internet venture will likely be in SpaceX’s new Seattle Office, and Musk believes the project will employ up to 1,000 people in the next few years. Approximately 4,000 satellites will orbit 750 miles above the Earth’s surface (a lower height than traditional satellites, which orbit at altitudes of up to 22,000 miles) in order to ensure faster Internet service. Instead of requiring land routers and networks, Internet data packages would be sent into space and would bounce off of other satellites until the data reaches a satellite closest to the terminal destination, after which the signal would return to Earth.
Musk estimates that $10 billion will be needed to launch the project.
Importantly, Musk sees this project as a stepping-stone and told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that the project is not expected to happen sooner than five years from now, but it is ultimately seen as a “long-term revenue source for SpaceX to be able to fund a city on Mars.”
However, Musk is not the only entrepreneur trying to “hack the Internet.” Earlier this week, Greg Wyler announced his own effort to connect billions of people via the Internet, a venture he calls OneWeb. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Wyler hopes to “fill the skies with hundreds of satellites that will beam their signals down to low-cost, solar-powered rooftop antennas.”
Already Qualcomm and the Virgin Group have been named as early investors and the venture is expected to cost around $2 billion. As well, Wyler’s venture should be ready by 2017 and a team of 30 engineers is already working to develop the software and hardware necessary to make this a reality.
Musk says that the two systems — his own and OneWeb — will be competing systems, though Virgin chief Richard Branson tells BusinessWeek that Musk would likely be successful if they worked together rather than separately.
Still, Musk is not focused on competing for customers at the time being. “We’ll start by building satellites that address the specific application that we are working on, and then we will be more than happy to sell to other people.”
(Photo courtesy of NASA)