SpaceX has always been one to challenge the boundaries, and this became evident when documents recently became available revealing CEO Elon Musk is making strides with his project to bring the Internet to space.
Apparently, the firm has quietly been meeting with the FCC for months to advocate for the project. Of the last two recent meetings, one was with a wireless advisor and the next was with Chairman Pai himself. The same two topics came up at both meetings.
The first was a stalled proposal concerning the easing of regulatory demands on commercial space launches. The second, was far more ambitious and the topic of discussion for today, about a license for a global satellite network, which would provide terrestrial Internet into space.
Elon Musk did not attend either of the meetings, though the president, Gwynne Shotwell was there to represent him.
Elon Musk has originally proposed it as a method of connecting with SpaceX Martian colonists. In the short term, the system may be adapted so that it can deliver easy access to the base stations around the planet and provides connectivity to remote communities.
A proposal done in November demonstrated actual feasibility. Here, 4425 satellites would travel in non-geostationary orbit traveling in a choreographed path 700 miles above the earth. One satellite would be kept 40 degrees above the horizon at nearly every spot on the globe.
Previous attempts and failures
This is not the first time that firms are toying with the idea of a satellite network delivering data to the individual devices or even the small base stations.
During the 90s mobile firm, Motorola backed a project known as Iridium. However, it became divided between the spiraling investment costs and the decreasing consumer interest, so the project became bankrupt nine months after being launched.
It was a colossal failure considering the firm was bought by investors at a valuation of 35 million dollars after running up development costs worth $6 billion dollars.
Globalstar, which was a similar project under Qualcomm, met similar circumstances. Therefore, this is not the first time that such an idea has been endeavored, especially by corporations that are worth their salt in the market, only to fail horribly with consequences that are still being felt to date.
That being said, the dream of a globe-spanning network is looking feasible, and considering 5G technologies are a matter of time which promises new demand for data and new device technology to match it. Of course, the business risks of building such a network by SpaceX are significant.
The constellations are going to cost at least $6 billion dollars with the costs growing as each project scales up. Not to mention, they are at least five years from operation, and a number of observers have the perception that it is unlikely all of the three firms are going to go the distance when it comes to funding or even regulatory support consolidating around one that could pull it off the best.
If the resulting winner becomes a crucial part of the cell network, then it is easy to envision how they would make money back, but it is also easy to imagine the project collapsing on itself. Then there is the FCC. With the traditional enthusiasm of the FCC when it comes to market competition, observers expect permissive ruling and invite the corporations to use a relevant spectrum but asks the bidders to work together.
Even after the ruling, the FCC is going to play a regulatory role by stepping in if the talks between companies break down, and also by setting deadlines. There is no indication at the moment if the chairman wants to pick winners in the space race for Internet installation.
Against this backdrop, the meeting between SpaceX and the FCC takes on a lot of significance. Similarly, Elon Musk has gotten criticized because of his ties with President Trump in the past, but as the firm prepares for one of the largest scale projects in history, friends such as the commander–in-chief, allows for quite a bit of mileage.