Tesla CEO and founder of space craft maker SpaceX, Elon Musk, has confirmed plans to build 'micro-satellites' to deliver cheap internet access.
Beyond the vision of bringing space travel to earthlings, Musk wants to put SpaceX's engineering talents to the task of delivering low-cost internet by way of a large fleet of small satellites.
Musk confirmed the plans in a tweet on Monday, saying that SpaceX was "still in the early stages of developing advanced micro-satellites operating in large formations," though the official announcement was two to three months away.
He added later that SpaceX hoped to offer "unfettered" internet access for the masses at a "very low cost".
Musk's confirmation follows a report by the Wall Street Journal that SpaceX was in talks with satellite industry veteran Greg Wyler to launch around 700 satellites that weighed less than 250 pounds (113kg) each — around half the size of the smallest communications satellites in commercial use today. According to the report, the fleet would be 10 times the size of the largest fleet now in operation, managed by Iridium Communications.
Wyler, the founder of satellite internet backbone provider O3b Networks, had a brief stint at Google where he worked on a similar plan to launch low-orbit satellites to deliver internet access. The WSJ reported in September that Wyler left Google to work with SpaceX.
A key piece that Wyler brings to the plan is WorldVu, a company he founded that has acquired Ku band spectrum. According to the WSJ report, Musk and Wyler were in talks to build a factory to make satellites that SpaceX would ultimately launch.
Although SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets have carried a number of satellites into orbit, were such a project to take off, it would face similar challenges to those facing Google, with the report noting that building the SpaceX project could cost $1bn to build.
Despite Musk's confirmation, he also later said that the WSJ report was "wrong on several counts," though he didn't expand on what those were.
The SpaceX broadband initiative follows other projects seeking alternative methods to deliver internet access to underserved parts of the world, such as Google's Project Loon and a drone system proposed by Facebook.
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