Nov 12, 2019 - Science

SpaceX, Amazon and others plan constellations of internet-beaming satellites

Starlink satellites ahead of deployment in space. Photo: SpaceX

Starlink satellites ahead of deployment in space. Photo: SpaceX

Despite an uncertain market, companies are moving forward in their plans to launch thousands of internet-beaming satellites to low-Earth orbit — and some are already facing setbacks.

Why it matters: SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb and others are betting big on these global broadband constellations in the hopes that the fleets of small satellites will help tap them into underserved markets and increase their bottom lines.

  • However, it's not yet clear which companies will be able to gain a foothold and actually make their plans profitable.

What's happening: On Monday, SpaceX launched its second batch of 60 Starlink satellites to orbit.

  • The company expects to be able to provide Starlink coverage to people in Canada and the northern parts of the U.S. as early as next year, with full, global coverage to follow after about 24 launches.
  • OneWeb announced the delay of the launch of a clutch of its satellites from December to January in order to further test the spacecraft.
  • Another company, Telesat, is now expected to choose a manufacturer for its broadband constellation in early 2020 instead of this year as initially expected.
  • For its part, Amazon’s Project Kuiper has filed with the FCC to get going with its own constellation.

Yes, but: While analysts agree there are millions of people around the world who could benefit from better access to broadband, it's not yet clear that these constellations will be the best way to deliver it.

  • Safely flying hundreds or even thousands of satellites in tandem is technically difficult, and it's unclear how expensive the broadband service provided by these constellations — which will likely cost billions of dollars to build — will be for consumers.
  • "We don't know how big the market is for consumer broadband, but it may not be much bigger than we have today," technology consultant Tim Farrar told Axios.

Go deeper: Satellite startup snags funding for "cell towers in space"

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