Even when its sights set on Mars, SpaceX still has great focus on Earth. The Elon Musk company outlined its plan to put a network of internet-providing satellites around the Earth. The company said in a Senate hearing on broadband infrastructure that it wanted to start sending the SpaceX into space in 2019, before the full network comes online in 2024.
Patricia Cooper, vice president of SpaceX, said the company was aiming to get a prototype satellite into space this year, before launching another in the first few months of 2018. Said prototypes will be used to show that the custom- built craft are capable of providing internet access for Earth dwellers. Should the tests go successfully, SpaceX plans to start building the network properly in 2019.
The company said it will launch more satellites in phases until 2024, after which Cooper said the network should have reached full capacity, with the craft operating on the Ka- and Ku-band frequencies. SpaceX will also be utilizing its own Falcon 9 rockets to get the satellites into low-earth orbit. The said measure is expected to help the company save costs and ensure it's not dependent on the launch scheduled of other spacefaring firms.
Cooper said the plan is to place 4,425 satellites into orbit around the Earth, operating in 83 planes, at fairly low altitudes of between 1,110 kilometers and 1,325 kilometers. The company also plans to support its network with ground control centers, gateway stations, and other Earth-based facilities. For now, there are only an estimated 1,459 satellites in orbit around the Earth while the SpaceX strategy would launch thrice that figure, with the potential of cluttering up the space around Earth that could make future launches possibly difficult and dangerous.
While the plan may result to a more cluttered space junk, the possible good news as it could also potentially make it easy for everyone to get relatively fast internet access back on Earth. Cooper elaborated that using a space-based network meant companies would not have to install, rip up, and reinstall cabling in order to provide a service. It also means that the common challenges associated with digging trenches, laying fiber, and dealing with property rights are alleviated through a space-based broadband network.
SpaceX also said that system updates will give way for the network to stay relevant and can keep pace with technological changes- hopefully ensuring that humans will not end up with a mass of useless satellites in low orbit a few years after the launch. The network will also be able to adapt to need, providing resources to specific areas during busy times, and avoiding interference with other systems. Customer terminals are expected to be the size of a laptop.Speeds should be somewhere between current cable and fiber-optic options, with latencies of around 35ms.