SpaceX executive Patricia Cooper recently testified to the Senate on SpaceX plans to build a satellite-based broadband mesh network covering the globe. Key points from her testimony include:
- SpaceX plans for a network of 4,425 satellites operating between 1,110 and 1,325 km in altitude. The first satellites will be tested in 2017 and early 2018. The full system will be deployed between 2019 and 2024.
- The system will have latency of approximately 25ms (current satellite broadband is ~600ms). They anticipate “fiber speeds” — although users will be able to buy different data rates at different prices.
- Users will receive a small, laptop-size base station for communications
- SpaceX is also planning another 9,000 satellite program at lower altitudes.
SpaceX is not alone in designing and deploying low earth orbit (LEO) broadband systems. OneWeb plans to launch 648 satellites in 2019-2020. LeoSat has ambitions for 108 satellites. Boeing is also interested.
Facebook has also been working on satellite programs to support broadband in rural Africa. Unfortunately its first satellite blew up on the SpaceX launchpad in August 2016. Facebook hasn’t announced further satellite launches at this point.
There have been many false starts with satellite internet and data companies (Iridium, Globalstar, Teledesic…) — yet today technological progress and lower launch costs are ushering in new and consequential opportunities.