Elon Musk: Internet Satellite Network Could Fund Mars Colony
SpaceX CEO and CTO Elon Musk doesn't seem to run out of big ideas, and his latest one is a doozy: an Earth-circling network of hundreds of small satellites that would not only provide Internet service to the billions of people currently without it but generate enough revenue to pay for the development of a city on Mars.
According to an article Monday in The Information, that plan could help SpaceX win financial backing from Google, which itself is exploring novel ways to bring Internet connectivity to under-served parts of the world.
Musk is also behind such ideas as using pneumatic tube-like technology to connect cities with a high-speed "Hyperloop" transportation system and, in his role as CEO of Tesla Motors, revolutionizing the auto industry with a new line of electric cars. He first hinted at his plan for a micro-satellite network in a Tweet last November.
The Tweet stated, "SpaceX is still in the early stages of developing advanced micro-satellites operating in large formations. Announcement in 2 to 3 months." That hint, however, included no mention of a Martian colony.
A Crowded Field
Musk is hardly the only tech entrepreneur who sees promise in a satellite network for global Internet service. Google is backing a similar effort through its support for O3b Networks -- O3b stands for "the other 3 billion," the global population still without Internet service -- and is also exploring a balloon-based system called "Project Loon" for network connectivity.
Facebook, too, is looking into the possibility of bringing Internet service to the world's underserved population using unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones.
O3b Networks was founded by Greg Wyler, who worked briefly with Google after the search giant acquired his firm in 2013. Wyler since went on to establish WorldVu Satellites, which -- now operating under the name OneWeb -- has just received financial backing from The Virgin Group and Qualcomm.
Earth and Beyond
In an article published Friday, Bloomberg quoted Virgin CEO Richard Branson as saying that Musk lacks at least one thing that's needed to make a micro-satellite network a reality: the rights to the spectrum across which those satellites could beam their connections. Wyler, Branson added, has those rights.
WorldVu -- now OneWeb -- in 2014 acquired the rights to a portion of the radio spectrum formerly held by a satellite-focused company called SkyBridge.
Musk, however, told Bloomberg that SpaceX's satellite ambitions are "an order of magnitude more sophisticated than what Greg wants." If those satellites -- some 700 are proposed for the network, with an estimated total cost of $10 billion -- can be deployed and begin serving up Internet traffic, such a service, Musk said, could provide "a long-term revenue source for SpaceX to be able to fund a city on Mars."