SpaceX to launch 4425 satellites

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Elon Musk, well known as the CEO of Tesla Motors, yesterday applied for a license with the US Federal Communications Communications (FCC), to be allowed to send 4425 satellites to orbit the planet and provide high speed internet service to people around the world.

SpaceX to launch 4425 satellites

You have to admire people like Elon Musk. They are the modern day visionaries who think money is just an end to achieving something much more important.

According to the detailed and very long filing on the FCC website, the satellites would not be as big as the typical satellites we know that can be as big as commuter buses and can weigh several tons.

Elon Musk’s satellites would be as large as a small car weighing about 400kg. The size of the satellites is what makes the project very feasible. Because having over four thousand bus-sized satellites floating above the earth in addition to the other satellites already circumnavigating the earth is clearly a recipe for a massive disaster waiting to happen.

SpaceX to launch 4425 satellites
A satellite orbiting the earth

For the records, according to the stats and reports on active satellites, there are 1419 satellites moving above the earth. In addition to that, there are a further 2600 satellites floating above the earth that are no longer in active service.

So adding Musk’s satellites would more than double the amount of satellites in space.

Another feature that makes this project not too dangerous is the altitude at which the satellites would orbit the earth. At about a maximum height of 1275 km above the surface of the earth, they would be far lower than the heights the larger, older satellites operate from.

For the bigger satellites, the average height is about 35000 km above the surface of the earth. Which is a considerable distance from Musk’s planned satellites. So the issue of having too many satellites is somewhat avoided.

But still, four thousand is still a lot of satellites.

SpaceX to launch 4425 satellites
Elon Musk, spearhead of the project

The project is expected to be launched in two phases. The first phase would see about 1600 satellites launched into space. The second phase would comprise a total of 2825 satellites launched into space at different altitudes.

According to the FCC filing:

With deployment of the first 800 satellites, SpaceX will be able to provide widespread U.S. and international coverage for broadband services.

Once fully optimized through the Final Deployment, the system will be able to provide high bandwidth (up to 1 Gbps per user), low latency broadband services for consumers and businesses in the U.S. and globally.”

Let’s put 1 Gbps of Internet speed per user into context: according to this report, the average internet speed per user around the world is 5.1 Mbs. That means that Space X would supply about 200 times the speed the world is now using per user.

For somebody in an internet backward country like Nigeria, that sort of speed is very hard to process. But Space X must know what they are saying and doing, right?

SpaceX to launch 4425 satellites
Expected coverage area of a single satellite

Space X is not doing this just because Elon Musk thinks it is something that had never been done before.  The ultimate aim is to make sure most of the world, including poor regions, gets affordable high speed Internet.

We have heard if this ‘affordable Internet for poor communities’ before. Facebook’s Project Aquila is one such project. Another is Google’s Loon Project where they hope to surround the planet with balloons slowly floating above the stratosphere beaming high speed internet signals to various locations around the world.

Incidentally, Google and another firm had invested $1 billion dollars into the project. So it is safe to assume that as far as space-based internet signals goes, Google is not putting all their eggs in the Loon Project basket.

It was just two months ago that a Space X rocket exploded while it was being prepped for launch. The explosion destroyed the Amos-6 satellite that Facebook already invested of money.

The Amos-6 was to be used to beam free internet signal to some countries in Africa.

Space X are yet to release a timeline for the launch of the satellites that would cost at least $10 billion.