First two Starlink demo satellites, called Tintin A & B, deployed and communicating to Earth stations pic.twitter.com/TfI53wHEtz
-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 22, 2018
This small step into space is a big leap forward into a potentially different worldwide Internet experience. Here's why.
Access to high-speed internet, anywhere
Imagine you're hiking through the most desolate area of the world. When this array is live, not only could you text (already a big improvement) but you could also stream your favorite television. Shockingly capable wireless communications is what SpaceX intends to deliver worldwide. Over the next 5 years, SpaceX is planning a grid over the Earth of 4,425 main satellites boosted by a supplementary network of 7,500 low orbit satellites. Collectively, they'll deliver gigabit internet.
Almost 40% of Americans living outside of urban centers don't have access to broadband. Ajit Pai, the FCC chair infamous for slaying net neutrality, is a fan. In a release timed on Valentine's Day, he said, " . . . I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans. If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies." Beating the U.S. to the punch, OneWeb, Space Norway and Telesat are already approved by the FCC for low orbit broadband.
Taking on an industry badly in need of modernization
The second reason SpaceX's satellite array matters to you is that its race to Mars is forcing modernization on the U.S. space industry. The best of legacy U.S. space research is mating with the most ambitious in space gold rush entrepreneurship.
Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander, 45th Space Wing, recently shared his opinion-- "They have forced us -- and I mean forced us -- to get better, infinitely better, at what we do," he said. "We are adopting commercial business practices and becom[ing] more efficient and more affordable. Working with them, we have been able to reduce our main launch footprint by 60 percent and reduce the cost of a single launch by over 50 percent." He foresees a world of almost weekly Florida space launches.
Opening a window for other launch carriers.
The U.S. is back in the lead of the launch industry. Last year, the U.S. had 29 successful launches. Russia did 21. China had 16 successful launches. While SpaceX is in the fore, there are now more launch systems lining up, including a new one from NASA set for 2019 or 2020, Vulcan from the public-private United Launch Alliance, and New Glenn from Blue Origin.
With SpaceX going into the broadband business, some of its communications satellite customers won't want to go for the ride with the competition. That opens the door for other space launch companies. OneWeb, for example, has chosen Blue Origin to launch hundreds of communications satellites. Eutelsat chose Blue Origin as well.
Does SpaceX care? Likely not. It plans on fielding the best performing and possibly first worldwide internet platform. Wall Street Journal guesses the company plans to bring in $30 billion in revenue by 2025 with Starlink. These revenues are intended to substantially fuel the quest to colonize Mars. Never forget, the name SpaceX is short for the company's full moniker: Space Exploration Technologies.
The bottom line? The space race is picking up speed and it looks like your internet will too.