DAILY TELEGRAPH (UK)
Mon 19 Jan 2015Updated 13 mins ago
Elon Musk Announces ‘Space Internet’ Plan
The billionaire technology entrepreneur Elon Musk
By Nick Allen, Los Angeles9:26PM GMT
18 Jan 2015
The billionaire wants to put up hundreds of satellites providing faster and cheaper Internet access for the whole world
Elon Musk, the billionaire technology entrepreneur, has announced plans for a space Internet project that would provide faster, cheaper access around the globe.
The $15 billion plan would use hundreds of satellites placed 750 miles above the Earth, far lower than existing communications satellites.
Doing so would speed up the transfer of data and give better coverage to three billion people who do not have it. The speed would be similar to that of fibre optic cables on land even given the distance the data has to travel between the satellites and Earth.
Mr Musk told Bloomberg Businessweek: “The speed of light is 40 per cent faster in the vacuum of space than it is for fibre. The long-term potential is to be the primary means of long-distance Internet traffic and to serve people in sparsely populated areas.
“Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date.”
Mr Musk announced the project at the opening of new offices in Seattle for SpaceX, his rocket company that has a contract to supply the International Space Station.
The billionaire said he will have 60 people working on the space Internet project initially and that could rise to 1,000 in a few years.
The project would also form the basis of a communications system with Mars if Mr Musk is able to achieve his stated ambition of establishing a human colony there.
He said: “It will be important for Mars to have a global communications network as well. I think this needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else doing it.”
He said it could take at least five years to get the first satellites ready.
Sir Richard Branson is already investing in a project called OneWeb which hopes to put up 648 micro satellites to provide high-speed Internet and telephone services from space. Sir Richard has said it will be “the world’s largest-ever satellite network.”
The OneWeb plan would see satellites placed in orbit by LauncherOne, a vehicle being built by Sir Richard’s Virgin Galactic.
Sir Richard said last week: “I don’t think Elon can do a competing thing. There isn’t space for another network, like there physically is not enough space. If Elon wants to get into this area the logical thing for him would be to tie up with us.”
Speaking on US television last week, Sir Richard said small satellites could now be built at a fraction of the cost of a decade ago.
He said: “The quantity of satellites will enable us to drive the cost down to an incredibly competitive level. We can literally take off every three or four hours.
“Imagine the possibilities for the three billion people in hard-to-reach areas who are currently not connected.”
Other big players in the race to provide worldwide Internet from the sky include Google. It is pursing Project Loon which would deliver access to remote areas using hot air balloons.
Meanwhile, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is exploring giant drones, satellites, and lasers as delivery methods.