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Why Satellite Internet Is the New Space Race

Why Satellite Internet Is the New Space Race


In an article by Nathan Hurst of PC Mag:

There's a theory (or perhaps a cautionary tale) among astronomers called the Kessler Syndrome, named for the NASA astrophysicist who proposed it in 1978. In this scenario, an orbiting satellite or some other piece of material accidentally strikes another and breaks into pieces. These pieces whirl around the Earth at tens of thousands of miles per hour, destroying everything in their path, including other satellites. It starts a catastrophic chain reaction that ends in a cloud of millions of pieces of non-functional space debris that orbits the planet indefinitely.

Such an event could make an orbital plane functionally useless, destroying any new satellites sent into it and possibly preventing access to other orbits and even all of space.

So when SpaceX filed a request with the FCC to send 4,425 satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) to provide a global high-speed internet network, the FCC was reasonably concerned. For more than a year, the company responded to questions from the commission and petitions by competitors to deny the application, including filing an "orbital debris mitigation plan" to allay fears of Kesslerian apocalypse. On March 28, the FCC granted SpaceX's application.

Space junk is not the only thing the FCC is concerned about—and SpaceX isn't the only entity trying to build the next generation of satellite constellations. A handful of companies, both new and old, are leveraging new technology, developing new business plans, and petitioning the FCC for access to the parts of the communications spectrum they need to blanket the Earth in fast, reliable internet.

Big names are involved—from Richard Branson to Elon Musk—along with big money. Branson's OneWeb has raised $1.7 billion so far, and SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell estimated a $10 billion price tag for that company's project.

There are big challenges, of course, and a history not exactly favorable to these efforts. Good guys are trying to bridge the digital divide in underserved regions even as bad actors slip illegal satellites onto rocket rideshares. And it's all happening as (or really, because) demand for data has skyrocketed: In 2016, global internet traffic exceeded 1 sextillion bytes, according to Cisco, kicking off the zettabyte era.

Read more ...

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July 31, 2018


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