The Internet’s Space Race

In October, we speculated Elon Musk would launch a new ISP. In December, we discussed the details of the plan, that his new company would use a network of satellites to bring the Internet from space. Now come two new stories that are big news for satellite Internet. The first is that another billionaire industrialist is starting a satellite-based ISP to compete with Musk’s SpaceX. And the second bit of big news comes from SpaceX itself. Rocket Man If there’s another modern entrepreneur to match Elon Musk’s drive and ambition, it’s Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. His Virgin brands are well-known, but it’s worth mentioning that his Virgin Galactic bills itself as the world’s first commercial spaceline. Its stated goal is “democratizing access to space for the benefit of life on Earth.” Not content with building craft to take the people from Earth to space, he now wants to bring the Internet from space to Earth. He’s teamed his Virgin Group with chip maker Qualcomm and satellite builder OneWeb to make this goal a reality, and it’s easy to see the role each will play in the venture. Qualcomm tech will provide the heart of nearly 650 OneWeb satellites, which will reach orbit aboard Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne launch vehicle. The satellite cluster will provide access via Wi-Fi, 2G, 3G and LTE networks, so users will be able to connect using an assortment of devices and mobile plans. OneWeb points out that the global reach will make the service especially useful to rural areas, and even to emergency responders in need of reliable communication lines. To Boldly Look at Cat Pictures Where None Have Looked Before Here on Earth, Musk’s satellite ISP will have some competition, but Musk’s ambitions aren’t limited to our planet alone. So naturally, his plan is to expand his satellite Internet all the way to Mars—really. There aren’t many customers on Mars yet, but he’s previously said he hopes to beat NASA to Mars with a manned voyage to the planet by 2026. Mars One, planning its own trip to Mars, estimates it will take seven months to reach the red planet, so astronauts will need something to do along the way. Once they’re there, communications will be important, too. And the good news is that light travels faster in a vacuum than it does through fiber optic cable, so all those cat pictures and videos of crazy Russian drivers should load exceptionally fast. That’s good because the huge distances involved mean a bare minimum of a six-minute delay, and possibly more, between the time you click a link and the time the server sends a response. Six Whole Minutes? For those used to fast connections here on Earth, that six minute wait will seem endless. But let’s keep some perspective: you’re traveling to Mars—Mars, people. If that doesn’t amaze you, go talk to your grandparents about the world they grew up in. After all, technology should be amazing. If you’re not saying “wow” every time you use the Internet, maybe it’s time you found a new plan. [zipfinder] Photo by Sweetie187/Flikr

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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