Elon Musk wants to build space Internet that would one day service Mars


The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has announced a new US$10 billion plan to beam Internet from space.

Here’s news that makes the prospect of moving to Mars in the distant future far less scary – by the time we get there, it may already have Internet access.

Elon Musk has announced plans to build a network of space-based Internet-beaming satellites, and he believes they’ll form the basis for a connection on Mars, as he told Ashlee Vance from Bloomberg Businessweek.

The idea behind the ambitious project is that having a network of communication satellites orbiting Earth would make Internet connections cheaper, faster and also more accessible to those in even the most remote regions.

In his plan, hundreds of satellites would orbit Earth from a distance of around 1,200 kilometres – which is far lower than the communication satellites we currently use. But they would still be able to transfer data much faster than ground-based cables.

As Vance writes for Bloomberg Businessweek:

“In Musk’s vision, Internet data packets going from, say, Los Angeles to Johannesburg would no longer have to go through dozens of routers and terrestrial networks. Instead, the packets would go to space, bouncing from satellite to satellite until they reach the one nearest their destination, then return to an antenna on Earth.”

He’s not the only one with the goal of bringing Internet to the two-thirds of the world who still aren’t connected – Facebook and Google both have their own impressive projects in the pipelines.

But Musk – the man who has designed a train that takes you from New York to China in two hours – is the only one who’s taking the Internet to outside Earth’s atmosphere.

“The speed of light is 40 percent faster in the vacuum of space than it is for fibre,”Musk told Vance.

And, conveniently, by having the satellites in space, he’ll be ready to service Mars by the time humans get there – something that NASA has already announced it hopes to achieve by 2018.

“It will be important for Mars to have a global communications network as well,” he explains in the interview. “I think this needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else doing it,” Musk told Vance.

The ambitious project would cost around US$10 billion, and five years to get started, but SpaceX is already getting started on building the satellites and rockets to set up the system.

The only potential issue is the fact that a company called OneWeb has already announced its plans to do a similar thing, which means that effectively the race for space Internet has now begun.

The competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing though – imagine how much better being a first settler on the Red Planet would be if you could use Facebook. And if it’s at a competitive rate? Even better.

 

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