SpaceX has recently filed documents with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), requesting permission to operate a giant satellite network that will provide the world with high-speed Internet — functioning as an alternative to Earth-bound cables and fiber-optics.
Billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk first announced the project back in January 2015, which consists of 4,425 satellites and costs at least $10 billion.
Although the recent files don’t delve into the financials ($10 billion isn’t exactly pocket change), they do contain the project’s technical details. Each satellite, excluding solar panels, will weigh 850 pounds and amount to the size of an average car.
The project will begin with an initial launch of 800 satellites to an orbit ranging from 714 to 823 miles above the Earth (think: higher than the ISS but lower than current geostationary satellites), which would expand Internet coverage first in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“The system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, government, and professional users worldwide,” SpaceX said.
Once the first stage proves successful, SpaceX will launch its remaining satellites — including spare aircraft in the event of on-orbit failure. These will remain dormant until needed.
“Once fully deployed, the SpaceX system will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service,” SpaceX said.
Satellites’ advanced phased array beam-forming and digital processing technologies will make use of the KU- and KA-band spectrum, as well as create the flexibility to share that spectrum with other licensed users. “User terminals operating with the SpaceX System will use similar phased array technologies to allow for highly directive, steered antenna beams that track the system’s low-Earth orbit satellites,” the company wrote.
The system will also integrate gateway earth stations, which will generate high-gain steered beams to communicate with non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellites from a single getaway site.
No word yet on when the launches will occur, but Musk said testing could begin as early as next year.