The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen at Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft on board Jan. 16, 2016 in California. Jason-3, an international mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will help continue U.S.-European satellite measurements of global ocean height changes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen at Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft on board Jan. 16, 2016 in California. Jason-3, an international mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will help continue U.S.-European satellite measurements of global ocean height changes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SpaceX push for satellite-based internet continues

The future of the internet could be in orbit if tech companies across the country are successful in their bids to send satellites into orbit.

George Foote is with the law firm Dorsey & Whitney and works with the Federal Communications Commission representing utility companies.

Many companies, including SpaceX — which has a Redmond office — Boeing, Apple, Google and Amazon, are either developing or have developed their own space programs.

Foote said there are around a dozen applications with the FCC seeking the right to use certain portions of the radio spectrum band utilized by satellites.

The basic idea behind space-based internet is a customer would install a satellite dish at their house that would relay either a laser or radio signal to a satellite. The signal could be transmitted to the other receiver and bounced back to the original sender.

This is in contrast to cell phone internet, which relays a signal to a nearby tower before the signal is sent to land lines and returned to the phone.

Foote gave an example of a rural user in Colorado who isn’t serviced by current fiber-optic ground cables.

“It’s pretty amazing, it’ll provide that kind of near instantaneous delivery of data in a way that you couldn’t get on a mountain top in Colorado today,” he said.

SpaceX is interested in sending most of its 12,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit around 500 miles above Earth.

This would allow information to be relayed very quickly, even over long distances, which is where they would initially be applied, Foote said.

“I think that their plans are to attack the long-distance transmission,” he said.

Hardwired internet currently relies on fiber-optic cables to transmit data, sometimes underwater across oceans, which over long distances can result in around 600 millisecond responses.

This may seem fast for most uses, but for some like online gaming or stock trading, it can mean the difference between scoring a point or making a successful trade, Foote said.

A cloud of satellites could reduce the latency to 20 or 30 milliseconds.

Sattelite-based internet could additionally serve rural areas in the U.S. and around the world.

The drive for modern satellites hasn’t been without hiccups.

In 2016, a SpaceX rocket loaded with a Facebook-sponsored satellite designed to provide internet to large parts of Africa and Europe exploded on the tarmac, according to The Guardian.

Other challenges include how to allocate the broadcast spectrum, which has a limited number of channels that can be used.

The FCC controls who can use what frequencies domestically and other countries like the China, India and the European Union have their own agencies.

Another major concern is the problem of space junk.

NASA is tracking tens of thousands of pieces of debris, which humans have already sent into orbit.

With SpaceX’s plans to send 12,000 satellites into orbit, as well as tens or hundreds of thousands more from other companies, China, the European Union and India, it’s likely that will increase dramatically.

Foote said of the satellites SpaceX will be launching, some 7,000 will be in a lower orbit that will pull them back into the atmosphere where they will burn up around five years following their launch.

However, it is not clear what the impact of launching tens of thousands of satellites into orbit will be in the long run.

Despite concerns, Foote is optimistic about the future of satellite internet.

“The sense of excitement about the coming satellite-provided internet is justified,” he said. “People have figured out how to do it, the business plans are there.”

SpaceX announced it was opening an office in Redmond in 2015 with an explicit goal of creating satellite-based internet.

According to CNet, two broadband test satellites were scheduled to launch from California on Wednesday but the launch was delayed due to high winds.

More in News

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to protesting nurses on April 24 at the State Capitol Building in Olympia. Inslee indicated he would sign the bill for meal and rest breaks into law if it passes both chambers. Photo by Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Lawmakers approve ‘nursing bill’ for mandatory meal and rest breaks

Nurses show up in Olympia to support bill, protest Sen. Walsh’s remarks.

Scott Barden stands next to the pit that will house the newest, and possibly final, section of the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill near Maple Valley. The pit is 120 feet deep, and around another 180 feet will be built on top of it over the next decade. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
King County’s landfill is going to get bigger

A ninth cell will be built, extending its life by another decade.

An aircraft is pictured at King County International Airport, also known as Boeing Field. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County wants to end deportation flights for ICE

Legal challenge expected from federal government.

April 2019 special election preliminary results

LWSD levy passing; Fall City fire merger and hospital bond coming up short.

King County Council gives the go-ahead for parks levy

Voters will be asked to decide whether to approve the levy on Aug. 6.

Toddler window falls are preventable

A demonstration provided parents with ways to protect children.

Jim Pitts stands on walkway overlooking filtration chambers at the King County South Filtration Plant in Renton. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Human waste: Unlikely climate change hero?

King County treatment plant joins effort to counteract effects of carbon dioxide.

Most Read