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It’s crazy enough to work.
The ambitious initiative would begin next year pending formal approval and would beam Internet to earth via a collection of 4,000 small satellites.
The plan would move SpaceX from rocket company to internet provider, a massive pivot that would take direct aim at some of the largest and most loathed companies in the world: the likes of Comcast, AT&T, and other service providers.
SpaceX would not be the first company to rain down internet from space; Dish Network and DirecTV have satellites that provide access to specific regions of the United States. The swarm of satellites from SpaceX, however, would remain in low orbit and would bounce signals to one another to provide connection stability. The plan would also reach currently underserved areas, giving it a potential reach of billions who have yet to connect to the not-so-worldwide web.
Logistics and cost prohibitiveness have prevented other companies from succeeding at a similar plan, but Musk believes his plan will avoid previous pitfalls. The decision to use a net of small satellites instead of several large large ones makes the devices cheaper and easier to replace, for example.
Facebook recently abandoned a plan to build a satellite with the intentions of providing internet access to the developing world. The $1 billion project was scrapped due to costs. Google, too, has toyed with the idea of beaming the Internet from space but has eased back from its investments in the potential plan.
The request filed to the FCC further marks SpaceX’s attempts to diversify its business model. Last month, the company achieved certification from the U.S. Air Force to launch satellites for military use. The approval, following a since-dropped lawsuit against the USAF, gives SpaceX the ability to bid on military contracts for future space-bound projects.
If all goes will with SpaceX’s testing, the space-based internet service could go live as early as 2020. Until then, just cross your fingers and hope SpaceX isn’t actually building Skynet.
AJ Dellinger is a seasoned technology writer whose work has appeared in Digital Trends, International Business Times, and Newsweek. In 2018, he joined Gizmodo as the nights and weekend editor.