SpaceX Faces Daunting Challenges if it’s Going to Win the Internet Space Race

The LA Times has a long article by Samantha Masunaga on SpaceX’s Challenges

Elon Musk and SpaceX have staked their legacy on a spaceship capable of carrying a hundred passengers to Mars. But to pay for that dream, the Hawthorne company is banking on a project that is ambitious in its own way: selling broadband internet service delivered by more than 1,000 small satellites.

Chief Executive Musk has mused to reporters about the technological hurdles facing SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, including antennas that track the satellites as they move through the sky and laser communication systems that allow the spacecraft to talk to each other. Last month, SpaceX launched the first 60 satellites of its planned constellation.
But industry experts say the company’s biggest challenge is financial. SpaceX must drive down the cost of sophisticated hardware and software to the point where it can deliver fast, reliable internet service at a price point that competes with cable or fiber-delivered broadband services, while finding enough underserved markets to provide scale.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell hasn’t been shy about the hurdles Starlink faces.
“This is probably one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, project we’ve undertaken,” she said during an onstage conversation at a TED conference last year. “No one has been successful deploying a huge constellation for internet broadband. I don’t think physics is the difficulty here. I think we can come up with the right technology solution, but we need to make a business out of it.”

Here’s a look at what Musk and SpaceX must overcome:

Finding a market

SpaceX previously said its broadband coverage would be aimed at customers in the U.S. and around the world, “including areas underserved or currently unserved by existing networks.” In mid-June, Musk seemed to narrow the scope, telling shareholders of Tesla Inc. — Musk’s other high-wire venture — that the broadband plan’s main value was in providing internet access to “rural or semi-rural areas, places that don’t have connectivity right now.”

In 2017, more than 26% of people who lived in rural areas in the U.S. were not covered by terrestrial broadband internet service, according to a May report from the Federal Communications Commission. Industry experts have estimated that only 10% to 20% of the Earth’s land area is covered by terrestrial cell towers.

“It’s probably able to serve 3% to 5% of people in the world, but it’s actually not ideal for high-density cities,” Musk said. “It’s really to serve the unserved or poorly served.”
If successful, Starlink will be a major boon for SpaceX’s business and would diversify the company’s revenue streams beyond rocket launches. During a call with reporters last month, Musk estimated that, with a successful Starlink service, SpaceX could grab at least 3%, or $30 billion, of a $1-trillion global internet connectivity market.

That’s important since Musk said the company’s launch revenue probably “taps out” at about $3 billion a year.

Continues reading HERE.


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