Elon Musk says he’s worried SpaceX could be biting off more than it can chew with its plan to provide satellite-based internet to any point on Earth.
The billionaire founder of SpaceX discussed the plan at the annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Boston this morning.
"We want to be really careful about how we make this thing work, and not over-extend ourselves," Musk said. "I don't want to overplay or overstate at this early stage.”
Nonetheless, SpaceX plans to explore using 4,000 satellites placed in low-Earth orbit to provide high-bandwidth, low-latency internet for the entire world. These satellites will use the Ku band satellite spectrum, which is what ISS uses for communication.
Musk seemed visibly excited about the prospect but said the company is proceeding with caution, especially considering that late last month, the company had its first mission failure during an ISS resupply mission.
Image: Alex Pearlman
“We’re still in the early stages of the constellation communication idea and we’re hopefully going to launch a test satellite next year,” Musk said to the audience of nearly 700 researchers, scientists and at least one astronaut (Cady Coleman, who has been on two shuttle missions and spent 159 days aboard the ISS, was in the front row).
Musk said that the satellites will send signals to a flat receiver no larger than a pizza box, which will work as long as it can see the sky. These receivers will likely be used to connect underdeveloped parts of the world.
The satellites will likely be launched by the Falcon 9 rocket, one of which broke up late last month while attempting to deliver a load of supplies to ISS. Musk referred to the mission failure as “a real downer.” There is still no official news on why the rockets failed, but Musk did say he would be able to say more by the end of the week.
In order to launch such a large array of satellites, Musk has said that it’ll be necessary to fly each Falcon 9 rocket multiple times—the company has been working on making each one reusable to cut down on costs. While reusability is important, the company has to first return to flying safely after last month’s disaster.
Musk has some competition in the internet-providing satellite arena from OneWeb, which announced last month that it had struck a partnership with ArianneSpace to launch some of its satellites.
Musk said he’s optimistic about the future of satellite internet.
“I think the long-term potential of it is pretty great,” he said, and noted that Space X’s “communications technology will be substantially more advanced” than previous satellite internet endeavors.