SpaceX relies on satellite Internet. In vain?

The Internet access was so widespread in the United States and Western Europe that has spawned an entire dependence on the Network. And yet roughly half of the world’s population, this level of connectivity unimaginable. Over the past three months, nearly 4 billion people were online — and the UN a very low threshold of presenting someone an Internet user — and so they miss many social, economic and educational benefits of connecting to the Internet.

Entrepreneurs from Silicon valley and quickly realized that the connection around the world represents a huge opportunity for business, if you wrap it in pleasant to the touch the wrapper of the humanitarian mission. Balloons and drones, giving Internet, was not the best idea. But there was another thought, equally bold and perhaps more realistic: Internet satellites. Thousands and thousands of them.

Last week, SpaceX had to run 60 Internet satellites into low-earth orbit, however, postponed the launch. They will be the first members of the satellite mega-constellation Starlink. Read how it will work. 226-pound “flat” satellites will be sent to a height of nearly 450 miles above the Earth on a Falcon 9 rocket, after which employ on-Board ion engines to reach their final orbital altitude of 550 kilometers.

The Starlink project: how Internet satellites SpaceX?

These satellites are still at the stage of “industrial design”. They will not include many of the planned functions, including the laser cross-links that allow satellites to communicate with each other in orbit. But they represent the first big step to a long-term plan of the company. To 2027году SpaceX plans to deploy 12 000 satellites in orbit and to distribute high-speed Internet to tens of millions of users across the globe.

However, the history of satellite Internet is complete of failures, including one of the largest corporate bankruptcies in history. It was a reality that Elon Musk openly admitted to reporters. “Nobody has ever been able to establish a viable orbital communications constellation the first time,” said Musk. “I really believe that we will succeed, but it’s not for sure.”

Failure may come in different forms. SpaceX will face tough competition from other satellite operators and providers of terrestrial broadband, huge regulatory hurdles, but in the end it may be that the demand for satellite Internet is not so great. In short, to market satellite broadband is a big risk. And yet, SpaceX has no other choice. Musk has made it clear that the ultimate mission of SpaceX is to send humans to Mars, but the price will be astronomical. A NASA study in 2014 estimated the cost of the mission to Mars at $ 220 billion. Income from SpaceX alone contracts for the launch, which, according to the Mask, is about $ 3 billion annually, hardly enough for the delivery man to the Red planet.

In the forecast of revenue from 2016 SpaceX has indicated that by 2025 its launch services will bring approximately 5 billion dollars in revenue, far less than the $ 30 billion projected in the form of revenue from Internet services Starlink. The company has not published any details about the structure of prices for their Internet services or about how much will cost ground station users. But the fate of past efforts to launch Internet satellite constellations, as well as likely future developments suggest that SpaceX may have to adjust their optimistic expectations.

In the US, broadband satellite Internet, for the most part, supplied by two companies: Hughes Network Systems and ViaSat. Their satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, that is, never change position relative to the Earth’s surface. Although according to various estimates, in the US there are 15 to 18 million unserved and underserved homes, Hughes and ViaSat are only about 2.5 million customers satellite Internet.

The reason why Hughes did not attract a large customer base tied to productivity and efficiency, says Paul Richard, Executive Vice President of Hughes. At Hughes, there are only two broadband satellite offering in the United States, and to attract more number of customers it plans to add another satellite to its fleet in 2021. But a more serious problem is the prohibitive cost of services.

In the United States satellite Internet primarily attracted to rural households not serviced by fibre or cable connection. Internet service from geosynchronous satellites is subject to a large delay because the signal has to travel thousands of kilometers of empty space and back, which can lead to a delay of up to half a second.

What is better satellite Internet or 5G?

Starlink and its competitors such as OneWeb, Telesat and Project Kuiper from Amazon took a new approach to satellite Internet. Instead of having to place several large satellites in geosynchronous orbit, these companies want to place thousands of broadband satellites in low earth orbit. These satellites are only a few hundred kilometers above the Earth, so you can reduce latency up to 20 milliseconds, from the point of view of the ordinary user will be barely noticeable.

At SpaceX, as the operator of the satellites, the big problem will be how to stand out from other satellite constellations which will work in low earth orbit, says Roger rush, President of TelAstra, a consulting company which advises investors of the satellite industry. In addition to Starlink the intention to create a broadband satellite constellation in Leo also said OneWeb and Telesat — they will bring 650 292 and the satellite. In February OneWeb launched the first batch of six satellites. Shortly after Amazon announced the project “Ice”, in which Leo will receive 3236 satellites broadband Internet.

Conclusion satellites into orbit is perhaps the easiest part of creating a satellite of the mega-constellations. All the hard stuff stays on the Ground. In April, SpaceX has received FCC approval for the creation of one million ground stations to be used by clients to communicate with the satellites passing overhead. In contrast to the stationary satellite antennas used for communication with geosynchronous satellites, which must specify only one part of the sky, the SpaceX antenna phased array to track satellites as they pass overhead.

These types of antennas are likely to be expensive for customers, rush said. Given that affordability is already is one of the biggest barriers to the introduction of the Internet, it can become a serious obstacle for SpaceX. SpaceX will also have to cover significant costs of construction and launch of satellite gateways which in fact are the large switching stations at which satellites are connected to the Network. In April, SpaceX received permission from the FCC to build four satellite gateways in the US, but few such stations would also have to build and abroad.

This raises the question of whether there will be enough market to support one, not to mention about the four mega-constellations by several billion dollars. Although Starlink, Telesat, OneWeb Project and Kuiper are trying to connect the whole world, in the world may not be enough people who can afford their services. “Is there enough in the world demand for these capacities, which will appear online over the next 10 years? No one knows,” says Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium, the satellite company of communications, which develops voice and data transmission. “Investment markets are clearly concerned, so new markets slowly get funding.”

SpaceX will also have to compete with terrestrial Internet service providers. Even if SpaceX can reduce the latency up to 20 milliseconds and correspond to the average Internet download speed in the United States (around 93 megabits per second), the emergence of 5G could undermine her business. 5G promises to increase the bandwidth to 10 gigabits per second on the phone. Considering that Starlink will not unfold until 2027, even at the slow pace of development we will see 5G sooner.

Of course, Musk has never been afraid of great challenge. He has created companies that openly challenged all the agreements in the banking, automotive, and aerospace industries. It was he who made possible what was considered impossible ten years ago. The space has never been easy.

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