Google invests $1 billion in SpaceX (Is satellite internet in our future?)

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Space transportation company, SpaceX, announced on Tuesday that it has raised $1 billion in new funding from Google and Fidelity, confirming earlier reports that the Mountain View, California-based tech giant was looking to invest in a partner for satellite-based Internet project.

According to TechCrunch, the Elon Musk-led startup will grant an ownership stake of just below 10 percent to their new investors. Reports published earlier this week by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) indicated that Google had placed a valuation of $10 billion on SpaceX, and that their interest in the company was linked to their desire to make Internet service more accessible globally.

“If Google completes the deal, it would be the Internet company’s latest effort to use futuristic technology to spread Internet access to remote regions of the world, alongside high-altitude balloons and solar-powered drones,” the WSJ explained in its report. “By extending Web access, Google increases the number of people who can use its services.”

Project Loon

Project Loon is Google’s ongoing initiative to use hot air balloons to help bring online access to remote regions of the planet. As of November, balloons used in the project had collectively flown over three million kilometers (1.86 million miles). This is roughly equivalent to circumnavigating the globe nearly 75 times, or traveling to the moon and back on four occasions.

While the Project Loon balloons are now able to fly 10 times longer than they did in 2013–with some remaining airborne for more than 100 days–Google clearly continued to explore other options to help bring underserved countries onto the Information Superhighway. This lead to the investment in SpaceX, which The Information said was made to support a satellite project designed specifically to help broaden Internet availability at the latter’s newly opened Seattle office.

“Google has been considering satellite-based Internet service for more than a year,” the WSJ said. The search-engine giant hired satellite-industry veteran Greg Wyler in late 2013, and at one point he reportedly had 10 employees working under him, but he departed Google last summer.

Is satellite internet imminent?

Last week, Musk “described a general concept for SpaceX to launch hundreds of satellites into relatively low orbit to deliver Internet access across the globe,” the Journal added. He told the media that the project could cost as much $10 billion and would likely take at least five years to complete, but offered no specific details about his firm’s funding or manufacturing plans.

Reports indicate that Musk has been looking for ways to expand SpaceX’s rocket and spacecraft operations and to enter the field of satellite development and manufacturing. While it will likely take several years for the program to take off, industry insiders told the WSJ that it would benefit from its experiencing building navigation and flight-control systems for its vehicles.

“One big technical and financial challenge facing the proposed venture is the cost installing ground-based antennas and computer terminals to receive the satellite signals. That issue has bedeviled some earlier Internet-via-satellite projects and threatens to complicate Google’s efforts,” the Journal reported.

“Another unanswered question is how SpaceX plans to transmit Internet signals to Earth. The company isn’t believed to control rights to radio spectrum,” it added. Musk “has discussed using optical-laser technology in his satellites,” sources told the newspaper, “but lasers wouldn’t be a reliable way to deliver Internet service to Earth because they don’t easily pass through clouds.”

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