Last month, Musk petitioned the government to launch up to eight prototype satellites into space. They would be equipped with antennas that would send an Internet signal back down to the earth’s surface.
SpaceX said it wants to start testing out the technology in 2016. The FCC declined to comment on the application because it is currently under review.
You can already get an Internet signal from above. But it requires special hardware. It’s spotty, slow and ludicrously expensive.
SpaceX’s equipment would be closer to the ground than typical satellites, orbiting at around 750 miles above the surface. That allows for tighter light beams and faster Internet than geosynchronous satellites. The downside is a much smaller coverage area.
Eventually, Musk & Co. plan to launch 4,000 satellites in order to serve a meaningful number of customers. To keep costs down, the satellites will be tiny, cheap and disposable.
The relatively close proximity to Earth means the satellites will have to combat gravitational forces with fuel, and when they run out in six months to a year, they’ll have to be replaced. But SpaceX sees that as an opportunity to frequently update the technology it hopes to use to deploy its Internet service.