Telecommunications

SpaceX outlines plans for 2019 launch of space-based broadband

SpaceX outlines plans for 2019...
Under the proposal, the 4,425 satellites would be launched on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, like the one used in this communications satellite launch back in March
Under the proposal, the 4,425 satellites would be launched on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, like the one used in this communications satellite launch back in March
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Under the proposal, the 4,425 satellites would be launched on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, like the one used in this communications satellite launch back in March
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Under the proposal, the 4,425 satellites would be launched on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, like the one used in this communications satellite launch back in March

Fifty seven percent of the world's population, some 4.2 billion people, is currently without internet access. This was one of the statistics offered up by SpaceX's Patricia Cooper this week, as she fronted the US Senate to outline the company's plans to plug the gaps using a network of internet-beaming satellites.

SpaceX's plans for satellite-powered broadband internet have been bandied about for a while now, as far back as 2015 when Elon Musk first spoke about the idea publicly. The service is expected to cost US$10 billion, involve 4,425 individual satellites and provide speeds on par with that of optical fiber. In November last year, SpaceX filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate this gigantic satellite constellation.

In a senate hearing on Wednesday, Cooper, who is SpaceX's vice president of satellite government affairs, revealed further details about the bold plan. And it is bold, considering the total number of satellites orbiting the Earth is currently 1,459, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Cooper made a point of highlighting the current gaps in internet coverage and difficulties connecting users in rural regions.

Citing figures from the FCC, Cooper said that 34 million American lack access to 25 mbps broadband service, and that there is a big disparity between those living in urban and rural areas, where more than 39 percent of people lack access to "advanced telecommunications capability." Looking to level the playing field, SpaceX plans to launch high-speed, reliable and affordable broadband internet to users in the US and around the world.

Under the proposal, the 4,425 satellites would be launched on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and operate on 83 separate orbital planes at altitudes between 1,110 and 1,325 km (690 and 823 mi). Using the Ka- and Ku-Band spectrum, the constellation would also be capable of redirecting broadband capacity to areas where it is needed most, and steer it away from areas where it might interfere with other systems.

Cooper also revealed that SpaceX will begin testing the satellites and even launch one prototype before the end of the year, followed by another in the first months of 2018. Once it has been successfully demonstrated, SpaceX plans to kick off a launch campaign in 2019, which would see the satellites fired into orbit in phases through to the year 2024, at which point the system would reach full capacity. That's if it is given the green light, of course.

Source: US Senate

5 comments
habakak
Hmmmm.....the math does not make sense. $10 billion for 4,425 satellites comes out to about $2.5m each. Launch cost alone is $60m+ per Falcon 9. Now, possibly they can accommodate multiple satellites per launch (I have no idea how big these things are), and let's say they can fit 10 satellites per launch AND get them into their proper orbit. That would be 443 launches at $60m per launch which still gives us over $26 billion. And that does not factor in the actual cost of building the satellites. Now, a launch most likely does not cost SpaceX $60m, that is just what they charge. But since they have made so many few launches, the capital and development costs for their rockets has not been paid off yet, so I'm sure their true launch costs could very well be in excess of $60m.
Daishi
Spectrum auctions are expensive and they will need to obtain license to the spectrum they are going to use. T-Mobile just spent $8 billion on the slice of spectrum they purchased in the 600 MHz range. Spectrum in the Ka and Ku bands are much cheaper but there is some competition there from mobile providers using it for micro-cell 5G networks. A communications satellite is just a cell tower that's really high in the air and reaches a lot of people. The people communicating with it have to share the spectrum available which is why mobile providers are moving in the opposite direction of going with many very short range antennas in 5G. They will need another set of frequencies to trunk back everyone's data to ground stations and they have to buy all of that physical connectivity to those ground stations to boot. You can't share a satellite with a million people and have everyone get 1Gbps symmetrical because you share the available bandwidth on the spectrum it's using. They /may/ be able to trunk data with a satellite to satellite laser. It would be interesting to see a detailed white paper on it and I'm sure a lot of details are still in the air. I think the idea could have worked great like 15 years ago before people were streaming 4k videos to 3-4 devices at a time but now bandwidth demands have grown so much we need smaller cell sites and we are replacing direct run copper with direct run fiber. This idea will not achieve the bandwidth needed to meet demand 5 years from now.
Derek Howe
How good would it be if you were in a steel building? Cell phones typically drop 4G in a steel building...I'm curious if this would do the same.
ezeflyer
Global problems are caused by ignorance. The Internet is the best educational tool ever devised to fight ignorance with information and communication. Kudos to Elon Musk and Space X for creating a better world.
Daishi
@Derek Howe Lower frequencies generally have lower attenuation (they travel farther) and better penetration (going through walls and buildings). The downside there is less frequency available in the lower ranges so people have to operate with very small slivers of spectrum and longer range = more people sharing that spectrum. Think 2Ghz vs 5Hhz wifi as an example. Satellites get away with using high frequency bands because they are line of sight to the receiver without the need to penetrate objects. The Ka band they are targeting for this is in the 26.5 to 40Ghz range meaning you would likely need an antenna with a clear view of the sky to receive it. You won't have much luck inside buildings unless you plug the antenna/dish into a WiFi router.