Most people have probably heard of Elon Musk's spacefaring company Spacex. But lets be honest, aside from lofty goals such as someday going to Mars or building colonies on the moon, what does this company actually plan on doing in the near future that's a little more relevant to us now? What's a more short term incentive for spending all of this money to do what NASA has already been doing since the 60s?
Well, for one, Mr. Musk feels like he can do the job much more cost effectively than what NASA has been able to do up until the present day. Its pretty well known that when launching a 'traditional' rocket into outer-space, most of it is discarded during its journey, as the gigantic boosters fall off after helping catapult the shuttle or satellite into orbit. One of Spacex's major tenets is that it will reduce the cost of putting stuff into space by re-using rockets instead of treating them as multi-million dollar disposables as they currently are. For Spacex rockets, a single vessel launches and comes back in one piece, landing pointing standing straight up just as it did when it left Earth.
We've been launching satellites into space for a while now for things like GPS (Global Positioning Satellites). — and its some pretty cargo. "A small launch vehicle such as the Pegasus XL rocket can lift 976 pounds (443 kilograms) into low-Earth orbit for about $13.5 million. That works out to be almost $14,000 per pound." [source: science.howstuffworks.com] Spacex's "Falcon 9 launch costs an average of $57 million, which works out to less than $2,500 per pound to orbit. [source: www.airspacemag.com]". That's a pretty drastic cost reduction. As the company works to competitively reduce the costs associated with launching rockets to Earth's orbit, that figure will only drop further.
A Starlink Satellite
The Great WiFi in the Sky
Spacex will probably be able to have an extremely profitable service in launching all types of satellites into Space, but aside from that, its got its own project involving a gigantic array of internet service providing satellites known as Starlink. The Idea is, instead of using our current wired Internet connections to link each land mass on the planet to the World Wide Web (yes believe it or not, we currently use enormously long wires that go through the Oceans.) — "Ninety-nine percent of international data is transmitted by wires at the bottom of the ocean called submarine communications cables. In total, they are hundreds of thousands of miles long and can be as deep as Everest Is tall" [source: www.mentalfloss.com]. — We would be able to have reliable, fast Internet connectivity even in remote areas of the globe without having to drag these ridiculously long cords with us.
submarine communications cables [source: manoa.hawaii.edu]
Its definitely worth noting that there are probably some unknown serious environmental impacts to having all of these super long cables running throughout our oceans. Switching our reliance over to wireless satellite technology could help us reduce the amount of underwater cables necessary and mitigate negative impacts to aquatic life and the ecosystem.
Aside from being more green, how could this change improve daily life for us? Well, maybe subscribers of this service could have cheaper internet service while on flights. Land travelers could have an increased sense of safety when hiking or exploring the wilderness. Maybe it'll also allow for easier exploration into the less hospitable areas of the planet like Antarctica. Most importantly, people who live in places where laying the infrastructure for Internet carries prohibitive cost could finally take advantage of the rapidly dropping costs of smartphones and computers and join the rest of the world in being connected to our beloved repository of information.
Could it be Free for Everyone?
That's kind of the trillion dollar question here as Spacex could certainly stand to make an enormous financial gain by disrupting the Communications Industry by offering cheaper and more reliable Internet service than is currently available from companies like AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Charter Communications, Verizon, etc. However, as humankind progresses into the future, there could be much more for the company to gain by offering free Internet access to the masses. At first, it may seem kind of counter-intuitive, but when you think about how such a drastic improvement to the world's communication infrastructure could stimulate the use of other products and services Spacex and Tesla could sell, it could very well be more than worth it for them. At this point, its still too early in the project to know what the cost of the service would be if any, and its likely that its initial use would be more for commercial purposes than for the average consumer, but it definitely seems like a step in the right direction towards technological progression for the human race.
For more information on the specs of the Starlink satellites, check out the official webpage at www.starlink.com