Elon Musk Plots Satellite Internet Venture

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is exploring the possibility of manufacturing smaller, cheaper satellites that could provide Internet access around the world.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Musk is apparently working with Greg Wyler, formerly of Google and founder of WorldVu Satellites, on the project, and the two have held talks with potential industry partners to add their expertise to the venture.

It is understood the plan is to launch 700 satellites, each weighing less than 113.4 kg – half the size than the current smallest satellites in use- and costing less than $1 million.

Elon Musk satellite Internet

It has been suggested that Musk’s SpaceX firm would launch these satellites, as the company has launched a dozen rockets in the past five years and is planning more than 40 launches before 2018. Additionally, it has also secured a $2.6 billion NASA contract to develop and fly space taxis for astronauts.

However the venture is still in its early stages and Musk’s participation is not confirmed. It is estimated that development would cost $1 billion and there are a number of technical and regulatory barriers to overcome, meaning a launch might not take place until 2020.

Then there is the issue of cost. The fleet of 700 satellites would be ten times the size of the current largest fleet, managed by Iridium Communications, which filed for bankruptcy protection nine months after launching in 1998. Few people were willing to pay $3,000 for a phone and $7 for a phone call and the company eventually re-emerged as a mobile data provider.

However there are a number of firms looking to improve Internet access using novel means. Google X’s Project Loon plans to provide connectivity through a ring of balloons in the Southern Hemisphere within a year, while Facebook is looking at drones and satellites to provide Internet access.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is heavily involved with Internet.org, which aims to provide Internet in remote areas of the world as part of a plan to connect the “next five billion” web users.

Musk has his fingers in many pies and recently bought solar panel maker Silevo, promising to deliver solar power cheaper than fracked gas. He has also released all of his electronic car manufacturer firm Telsa’s patents to the open source community.

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Steve McCaskill

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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