With SpaceX’s successful launch of an initial array of broadband-internet-carrying satellites last week, and Amazon’s surprising posting of numerous satellite engineering-related job openings on its job board this month, one might well be asking if the next-generation internet space race is finally getting going. (I first wrote about OneWeb’s satellite internet plans it was concocting with Airbus four years ago.)
This new batch of satellite-driven internet systems, if they work and are eventually switched on, could provide broadband to most places, including previously internet-barren locations, such as rural areas. That would be good for high-bandwidth, low-latency remote-internet of things (IoT) and increasingly important edge-server connections for verticals like oil and gas and maritime. Data could even end up getting stored in compliance-friendly outer space, too. Leaky ground-based connections, also, perhaps a thing of the past.
Of the principal new internet suppliers, SpaceX has gotten farthest along. That’s in part because it has commercial impetus. It needed to create payload for its numerous rocket projects. The Tesla electric-car-associated company (the two firms share materials science) has not only launched its first tranche of 60 satellites for its own internet constellation, called Starlink, but also successfully launched numerous batches (making up the full constellation of 75 satellites) for Iridium’s replacement, an upgraded constellation called Iridium NEXT.
Potential competitor OneWeb launched its first six Airbus-built satellites in February. It has plans for 900 more. SpaceX has been approved for 4,365 more by the FCC, and Project Kuiper, as Amazon’s space internet project is known, wants to place 3,236 satellites in orbit, according to International Telecommunication Union filings discovered by GeekWire earlier this year. Startup LeoSat, which I wrote about last year, aims to build an internet backbone constellation. Facebook, too, is exploring space-delivered internet.