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Tesla and SpaceX tycoon Elon Musk launches internet satellites project

Mon 10 Nov 2014

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has announced his next venture into space satellites with the aim of delivering global internet access, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Musk is planning to work with former Google executive Greg Wyler, founder of WorldVu Satellites, which already owns a large block of radio spectrum.

The venture is looking to launch a fleet of around 700 satellites into low-Earth orbit. According to sources familiar with the proposed project, each satellite will weigh less than 250lbs (113kg) and cost under $1mn (£629,000).

Similar to Musk’s past ventures, including his affordable spacecraft project SpaceX Dragon and his electric vehicle company Tesla, the internet satellite business seems extremely ambitious – with current satellites weighing around 500lbs, and costing millions of dollars each. Currently, the largest constellation of satellites, managed by Iridium Communications, is ten times smaller than Musk’s planned collection.

As such industry officials are suggesting that the project will run into financial, logistical and technical complications, with some experts noting that an additional $1bn will be needed to fully develop the project.

According to the WSJ report, Musk and Wyler are already in discussion with the states of Colorado and Florida regarding the construction of a factory. It is thought that SpaceX is likely to launch the satellites using its Falcon 9 rockets.

However, building the factory and testing the satellites will be a long process, and WorldVu will need to get the approval of other operators to be able to use the spectrum. Depending on capacity, SpaceX may be unable to launch the satellites for another five years or so – a pressured timeframe as WorldVu risks losing its operating spectrum.

In addition to Musk’s funding, WorldVu are reportedly on the lookout for satellite specialist partner to help support the project. Musk’s project will face hefty competition from tech giants Facebook and Google who have announced similar plans to deliver internet access to under-served areas using satellites.

Google is investing $1bn into satellite development to bring internet to remote communities. Facebook has also invested heavily in research into solar-powered aircraft and infrared technologies to improve connection speeds.



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