As several other Internet providers reveal plans to provide the world with Internet, Virgin joins them, announcing plans for Internet satellite constellations.
Despite only having been around for two decades, the Internet has already massively impacted our lives. For some it has provided fame and fortune, for others it has provided jobs and friendship and for everybody else it just gives them a way to binge watch TV (Netflix!) when they have a bit of free time.
But as the world becomes more Internet focused than ever (kitchen appliances are already being hooked up to the net, for example) some people risk being left behind. Not only that but for those in remote areas or for those in poor, rural communities, the Internet could offer them a new source of livelihood. Unfortunately though, with them being unable to trump up the cost for fibre optic (or slower copper wired broadband) they haven’t got a chance.
This is something that Sir Richard Branson’s company, Virgin, would like to remedy. Off the back of his galaxy spanning Virgin Galactic program (which takes people to space and lets them float about in zero gravity conditions) they have now announced plans to work with a startup called OneWeb to launch “the world’s largest ever satellite constellation”.
Branson says that Virgin Galactic will “help make… frequent satellite launches (possible) at a much lower cost and greater reliability.” This will work by sending the Launcher One 51,000 feet into space via the WhiteKnightTwo cargo aircraft where it then releases a sub-500 pound device into a near-Earth orbit. This strategy, along with the fact that the launch uses much less fuel than conventional rocket launches, makes it ideal for putting together an Internet satellite constellation on the cheap.
With the lofty goal of 648 satellites, Virgin hopes to deliver Internet and phone reception to “billions of people” the world over. However, there are clear issues with this already. For one, the Virgin Galactic program has been going though some issues lately including the crash of SpaceShipTwo which killed a pilot and threw up questions of Virgin Galactic’s safety. At the time Branson assured people that Virgin Galactic is safe and that all the necessary precautions were taken but there are doubts nonetheless. There’s also the question of just how people in remote areas will be able to access these phone and Internet connections as presumably, if they’re remote enough to be off the grid then it’s likely that they’re remote enough not to own a smartphone or a laptop either.
And on top of this, Internet satellite programs have been attempted before. Iridium tried it in the mid-90s before failing (though they are looking to try again this year), while a Bill Gates backed program called Teledesic was officially suspended in 2002. That doesn’t bode well for Virgin’s chances but we’ll keep you posted once we know more.
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