Turning inner space into outer space

January 17, 2015

A ring of satellites will cover Earth — and Mars — with Internet

Anyone living in a remote area, wondering if they will ever have good Internet service, should get to know Elon Musk. He has a plan that would not only bring speed-of-light Internet to every corner of the world, but also to colonies on Mars.

Details are a little sketchy at this point, but the plan involves satellites and $20 billion.

If you’ve never heard of Musk, you’re probably thinking this is a pipe dream. If you know anything at all about him, you’re thinking it’s only a matter of time before he makes it happen.

Musk made his fortune with PayPal and has since moved on to start up Tesla Motors, which has made a success of designing, manufacturing and selling electric cars. He heads a space transport services company called SpaceX, which is making rockets to supply the International Space Station. And he’s working on a high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop, which would allow passengers to make the 570-kilometre trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes.

The Canadian-American entrepreneur, born in South Africa, has a way of turning science fiction into reality.

He reminds me of another man who dreams big — English businessman Richard Branson, who also believes in satellite Internet.

The Los Angeles Times has a good explanation of how the idea would work. Much hinges on cutting edge technology that is making satellites small enough that they can be built for about $350,000 each on an assembly line. That would be a big saving from the current process where satellites cost millions of dollars, weigh tons and take several years to build.

Branson is investing in a venture called OneWeb Ltd., which plans worldwide Internet service that would use 648 of these small satellites. Musk has the same idea, with a proposal to create what he calls micro-satellites. He hasn’t announced any involvement with OneWeb, but he has already shown that he can greatly reduce the cost of a rocket. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the benefits of Musk and OneWeb working together.

According to the L.A. Times:

More than half of the world’s population lacks Internet access, according to the International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the United Nations. And the success of a satellite venture providing Internet access at a fraction of the price would have broad implications, especially for the poor living in remote locations.

Science fiction sometimes brings us utopian visions of the future where everyone in the world lives in luxury. As it stands, this would be impossible. There simply aren’t enough resources.

But there is no shortage of innovation. It’s still possible to take our current resources and use them more efficiently so that everyone benefits. A powerful Internet reaching every nook and cranny of the globe won’t produce a world of opulence, but it would certainly level the communications playing field.