SpaceX Will Launch the First of Many Experimental Internet Satellites
SpaceX just had a big week, managing to successfully launch their gigantic Falcon Heavy rocket and the Tesla Roadster stored in the cargo hold. But they're already working on their next project.
Elon Musk's aerospace company are reportedly planning to launch two satellites, named Microsat 2a and 2b, on a Falcon 9 rocket this Saturday (the main payload is a Spanish radar satellite called Paz). What makes 2a and 2b significant is that they'll be the first prototypes in future web of near-Earth Internet-providing satellites that SpaceX hopes to set up.
Musk first announced these satellites a few years ago, under the name of "Starlink". And while we do already have satellites that provide Internet, those typically fly at 20,000 miles (about 322,000 kilometers) above the Earth. These SpaceX models would be much closer at 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) above Earth, which would make the Internet connections speeds much faster and allow for more bandwidth.
The downside is that when the satellites are that close to Earth, their range will be low, so you'd need a lot of satellites. And SpaceX is indeed planning for a lot of satellites, which is a feasible idea now that they've shown they can recycle rockets for new missions, as the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy can land themselves at the end of their missions.
Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete-targeting February 17 launch of PAZ from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 11, 2018
If these two prototype satellites work as intended, it could lead to a larger web of 800 Internet satellites not far above the Earth's surface. And if those eventually do well, SpaceX hopes they can eventually cover the world with a vast network of 4,000 satellites, but that's later down the line.
It could mean that more of the world would have Internet access, and faster Internet access at that. Which would be a slightly more practical use of the Falcon Heavy than launching a car into space, so here's hoping it works out.