Elon Musk has confirmed he still plans to launch his own satellite constellation for direct Internet access despite a rival venture having been backed by Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson.
Speaking at the opening of SpaceX’s new office in Seattle, Musk said there is room for another competitive system and that his satellites will be more complex than those envisioned by the Branson-supported project OneWeb.
Musk’s satellite network would consist of thousands of satellites and would provide direct Internet access to the three billion people around the world who are still off-line. Moreover, Musk said, the system would eventually provide Internet connection to the first settlers on Mars.
On Monday, technology blog The Information hinted that Google may be interested in Musk’s venture as it has a similar goal to its own Loon project. Neither Google nor SpaceX confirmed the speculation. According to The Information, Google may consider investing up to $1bn into SpaceX.
Google was previously working with Greg Wyler, the godfather of the OneWeb satellite constellation concept funded last week by Sir Richard Branson and Qualcomm.
However, Wyler left Google to pursue his vision independently, having previously secured rights to the part of the radio spectrum in which the satellites would operate.
SpaceX on the other hand, does not own such rights – a necessary prerequisite for launching and operating a telecommunication satellite network.
“I don’t think Elon can do a competing thing,” Sir Richard Branson told Businessweek. “Greg has the rights, and there isn’t space for another network — like there physically is not enough space. If Elon wants to get into this area, the logical thing for him would be to tie up with us, and if I were a betting man, I would say the chances of us working together rather than separately would be much higher.”
Musk maintained, however, the constellation could be up and running within five years.
The Branson-supported OneWeb has already completed the preliminary design of its satellites, which will be finalised after a manufacturer has been selected.
The company expects to launch first prototypes, weighing about 130kg each, in 2017. The primary launcher will be Virgin Galactic’s rocket LauncherOne, which is still under development.
The OneWeb fleet is expected to consist of 648 satellites roughly half the size of the smallest existing communications satellites in use.
Operating at the altitude of 1,207km above the Earth, the constellation would be ten times larger than the currently biggest satellite fleets in orbit.