SpaceX is planning to send 4,425 satellites into space to create a high-speed, global internet network. Their first step towards this goal? Filing an application with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch a "non-geostationary orbit satellite system in the Fixed-Satellite Service."
In their application, SpaceX notes the “system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental and professional users worldwide.”
The plan is to first launch 800 satellites intended to widen US and international internet coverage. Once all the satellites are in orbit, they will have the capacity to provide up to 1Gbps of bandwidth per user. Each satellite, weighing 386kg, will be launched in blocks of up to 50, at different orbital heights, with a distance of about 175 km (109 mi) from each other. Over time, as deployments continue, the company will build a constellation of internet satellites, with each one offering internet coverage of about 2,120 km (1,317 mi).
4.2 Billion People Offline
A space-based internet network is necessary in order to give 4.2 billion people access to the internet. Addressing their need for connectivity however, will require sending a record number of satellites into orbit.
Right now, based on statistics given by the Union of Concerned Scientists, we have 1,419 operational satellites in orbit, on top of 2,600 defunct satellites just floating around in space. In fact, NASA estimates there are more than 500,000 pieces of debris currently floating at speeds of up to 28,162 km/h (17,500 mph) around the Earth. These even have a tendency to crash land sometimes. Add to that the more than 4,000 that Space X wants to launch, and it's starting to seem a little crowded up there.
The company still has to get approval for operations from the FCC and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) however. But once they do, and once all the satellites have been deployed, "the SpaceX system will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service.” SpaceX said.