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Internet from outer space

Peter Dahl
January 20, 2015

Google has secured a 10 percent stake in the private space exploration company SpaceX along with another investor. Reports suggest the money is aimed at hooking up far-off areas with Internet access from outer space.

SpaceX Dragon
Image: Reuters

The most remote, barren corners of the globe may soon have Internet access.

SpaceX, the private space exploration company backed by Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk, said Tuesday it had raised $1 billion (860 million euros) from two new investors, Google and Fidelity Investments.

Collectively Google and Fidelity will own just under 10 percent of the company, SpaceX said.

Earlier this week, a report in The Wall Street Journal suggested the money would go toward developing SpaceX satellites capable of beaming an Internet signal to billions of people cut off from the World Wide Web - and in turn, Google's services. Roughly two-thirds of the global population does not have Internet access.

"Space-based applications, like imagine satellites, can help people more easily access important information, so we're excited to support SpaceX's growth as it develops new launch technologies," a spokesman for Google said.

SpaceX has said the funding will be used "to support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing."

"Beam internet to people from the sky"

In 2013, Google launched Project Loon, which sent Internet-beaming balloons into the stratosphere. Last June, Google said its balloons had successfully connected a school in Agua Fria, Brazil, to the Internet for the first time.

Last year, Google also bought drone maker Titan Aerospace, whose solar-powered, high-altitude drones - called "atmospheric satellites" - are also part of CEO Larry Page's vision to truly provide Internet access worldwide.

The Google-Vision - Total networking

At around the same time, rival Facebook announced its bid to "beam internet to people from the sky," launching the Connectivity Lab as part of its internet.org initiative. The social network also looked to the sky to deliver on CEO Mark Zuckerberg's vision to "make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world," with the purchase of solar-powered drone maker Ascenta.

Multibillion-dollar vision

The SpaceX deal would reportedly value the private space exploration company at more than $10 billion.

Earlier this month, Musk told Businessweek that the space Internet venture would take at least five years to complete and carry a price tag of $10 billion. His vision? "Hundreds of satellites would orbit about 750 miles (1,207 kilometers) above earth," rivaling fiber optic cables on land, the business daily wrote.

“Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date,” Musk said in the interview.

It remains to be seen how the satellites would deliver Internet service to Earth in practice. The Wall Street Journal noted that SpaceX "isn't believed to control rights to radio spectrum," adding that using optical-laser technology - which Musk has previously discussed - would not be a reliable way to beam Internet signals.

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