On Saturday, Elon Musk participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) forum on Reddit in which he answered questions pertaining to about SpaceX’s latest rocket, the “BFR,” as a follow up to his IAC 2017 talk. One user put forth the idea of internet on Mars, asking, “Does SpaceX have any interest in putting more satellites in orbit around Mars (or even rockets) for internet/communications before we get feet on the ground? Or are the current 5-6 active ones we have there sufficient?”
Musk, who was expertly playful and comical throughout the AMA, responded, “If anyone wants to build a high bandwidth comm link to Mars, please do.”
The concept of an internet connection on Mars is kinda awesome. You could theoretically make an internet protocol that would mirror a subset of the internet near Mars. A user would need to queue up the parts of the internet they wanted available and the servers would sync the relevant data. There could be a standard format for pages to be Mars renderable since server-side communication is impractical.
This exploration of the concept prompted Musk to simply reply, “Nerd” — which the user it was directed at and others in the thread took as an ultimate sign of respect.
Of course, Musk also dug a little bit deeper, “But, yes, it would make sense to strip the headers out and do a UDP-style feed with extreme compression and a CRC check to confirm the packet is good, then do a batch resend of the CRC-failed packets. Something like that. Earth to Mars is over 22 light-minutes at max distance.” he continued, “3 light-minutes at closest distance. So you could Snapchat, I suppose. If that’s a thing in the future.”
This is not the first time that the idea of an interplanetary internet has come up. Back in 2015, Musk suggested the idea of placing hundreds of satellites 1,200 km (750 miles) above Earth to help accomplish this task. He even told Bloomberg Businessweek that, “Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date.” The theory of this plan rests on the fact that light travels faster in the vacuum of space than through Earth’s atmosphere.
Newsweek also discussed the topic last September with Josh Boehm, a former SpaceX employee. It seems as though, currently, the satellites and infrastructure necessary to make this a reality aren’t in place. But, since humans haven’t reached Mars yet or even begun the journey, there is still a few years to build a Martian internet.