How Elon Musk Will Use Tesla and SpaceX to Make an Internet Satellite Empire

Elon Musk wants to harness the electric engine technology of Tesla and the rockets of SpaceX to create an enormous, but relatively cheap fleet of Internet satellites according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Musk and former Google satellite executive Greg Wyle are trying to convince officials in Florida and Colorado to help back their scheme to create an Internet satellite factory that could, according to WSJ's anonymous source, create 700 or so satellites at less than a million dollars each.

Not that anything will happen immediately, but Musk has a good track record for turning unlikely ideas into reality, and Wyler's experience with Google and then starting WorldVu Satellites after leaving hint that this isn't just a half-baked plan. The details of the satellites themselves sound pretty far advanced if the anonymous source is to be believed. At 250 pounds, the new satellites would be lighter than most of those currently in orbit, if not quite at the cutting edge of miniaturization. Still for that cost, millions of dollars less than the average, it may not matter. The 700 or so described as the goal number would also seriously outstrip the current record-holder, Iridium communications, which only has about a tenth of that number of Internet satellites in orbit.

Creating this new factory and its necessary components, not to mention the political and regulatory issues won't exactly scream economy and thrift. Estimates of $1 billion from start to completed factory sound about right, and it would be years until that opening day. But Musk's leadership of SpaceX and Tesla could help speed things up and keep costs lower than other groups since some of the technology and delivery system for the satellites would almost certainly be easier for him and his team to adapt compared to having to create it all from scratch. And the growing competition from small satellite makers all over the world might work its magic in speeding up the research for Internet satellites thanks to an overall greater investment in the technology. You only have to look at the current efforts by Google and Facebook to broadcast the Internet on their own to realize that investor money for projects like this won't be hard to get.

Of course, whether this new network will make it faster or cheaper to watch funny animal videos online is the real acid test it will have to pass before it can be called a success or not.


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