May 16, 2019 07:54 AM EDT
SpaceX plans to provide the entire world with affordable broadband internet and they are closer than you think to accomplish that goal. Elon Musk's rocket company will try to deliver a batch of 60 satellites into low-Earth orbit, the first for a mega constellation of satellites that SpaceX is calling Starlink.
The launch is planned for Thursday evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was scheduled to take off Wednesday night, but rough winds in the upper atmosphere caused a one-day delay, according to the SpaceX webcast host.
Standing down today due to excess upper level winds. Teams are working toward tomorrow's backup launch window, which opens at 10:30 p.m. EDT — SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 16, 2019
The launch is a small part of towards SpaceX grand plan. Eventually, there will be a group of thousands of satellites spinning over Earth to provide low-cost internet for a substantial percentage of the world's population that are not yet connected to the internet.
If SpaceX is successful tonight, the launch would mark the largest test yet for any company attempting such a project. It could even set SpaceX up to beat out competitors like Amazon and SoftBank-backed OneWeb, which each want to form internet constellations of their own.
However, the project is still in its infancy. Musk told reporters during a conference call Wednesday that the satellites in the first batch will be virtually identical to the mass production version. The only feature they lack is the ability to communicate with each other while in orbit. "There is a lot of new technology here, so it's possible that some of these satellites may not work," Musk said, adding that there is a "small possibility" that none will work.
SpaceX will need another six missions, he said, before Starlink can provide consistent internet coverage for small parts of the world. "It will take 12 launches before the company can provide coverage for a significant portion of the world's population," according to Musk.
Getting the full collection up and running will likely cost billions of dollars, and Musk has acknowledged that such efforts have destroyed other companies, like the satellite operator Iridium. But when asked about SpaceX's funding, he said the company has "sufficient capital" to meet its goals. He added that SpaceX's latest funding round attracted "more interest than we were seeking." In April, the company sought to raise about 400 million dollars.
The biggest problems with satellite-based internet service are that it's too pricey for common consumers, and the satellites are so far from Earth that they have frustrating dial-up era lag times. SpaceX is one of several companies that want to overhaul internet delivery. The idea is to put up tiny satellites that stay in orbit much closer to home. In low-Earth orbit, though, satellites blaze across the sky extremely quickly - which is why a massive "mega constellation" is needed, so as to blanket the lower altitude and avoid service interruptions.
However, SpaceX is seeing competition from other largely funded companies. OneWeb and Amazon are the most notable, but there are also smaller companies, like LeoSat and Telesat. Amazon revealed its Kuiper Project plans last month. And rival OneWeb, which has drawn billions in investment from companies including SoftBank and Qualcomm, already has the first six satellites of its constellation in orbit.
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