Skip to main content
Move the World.
SpaceX Internet Is Coming
A launch in February put up to two demo satellites for the Starlink system. Credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has just gotten the green light to launch a nationwide satellite internet service. The FCC has signed off on the company’s plan to build a high-speed broadband service using swarms of cheap, tiny, low-orbit satellites. The service, called Starlink, is similar to how some airplane WiFi services work — but don’t worry, it’s the better kind of in-flight Internet, not the crummy air-to-ground services that have tortured frequent flyers for so many years.

The Big Idea: SpaceX has made waves recently with its enormous Falcon Heavy rockets, capable of orbiting huge satellites and hauling cargo literally to the moon, but the real breakthrough for satellite technology in recent years has been the rise of smaller, cheaper satellites that can be launched by the hundreds or thousands. They’re creating a new space race, and it’s making things possible that would never be remotely affordable before. In February, SpaceX launched a couple pilot satellites for Starlink.

The Ambitious Promise: SpaceX promises that the new service will be true high speed, as fast as cable or fiber on the ground, and it would be seamless, unlike current 4G networks or WiFi hotspots. You might not even need both home internet and a cell provider. They hope to have it up and running over big chunks of the country as soon as 2019, but first they want to get the network up to 800 satellites in orbit by next year. Ultimately, though, it will take over 4,400 links to give the country full coverage.

The Huge Implications: If SpaceX can pull this off, the disruption would be massive. First, it could bring millions of people who live outside the cable or 4G networks online essentially overnight. But the bigger impact would be the tidal wave of competition that would hit every wireless phone provider and cable company in every city in the country.

Most people currently only have one or two choices for broadband internet, at least on the ground, and this service could instantly transform monopolies into competitive markets, bringing down the price and forcing better customer service. It would also alleviate the need to build and maintain expensive, fixed fiber networks or costly (and ugly) cell towers. What’s more, if SpaceX can do it, and be profitable, so can anyone else — the technology is already out there — and that means more competition and new innovations could be right around the next corner, too.

Up Next

Health Care
Virtual Patients Help Doctors Improve Bedside Manner
virtual patients
Health Care
Virtual Patients Help Doctors Improve Bedside Manner
The Virti platform lets doctors and med students interact with computer-generated virtual patients so they can improve their bedside manner.

The Virti platform lets doctors and med students interact with computer-generated virtual patients so they can improve their bedside manner.

Genetics
This Databank of Mammalian Genomes Is the Noah’s Ark of DNA
mammalian genomes
Genetics
This Databank of Mammalian Genomes Is the Noah’s Ark of DNA
The Zoonomia Project is the largest database of mammalian genomes to date, and it’s already helping researchers study SARS-CoV-2 and extinction risk.

The Zoonomia Project is the largest database of mammalian genomes to date, and it’s already helping researchers study SARS-CoV-2 and extinction risk.

Viruses
We Can Now See a Virus Invasion in Real-Time
We Can Now See a Virus Invasion in Real-Time
Viruses
We Can Now See a Virus Invasion in Real-Time
Understanding how a virus infects and replicates in a cell is crucial to stopping them. Now, researchers can see an infection in real-time.

Understanding how a virus infects and replicates in a cell is crucial to stopping them. Now, researchers can see an infection in real-time.

Neuroscience
Left-Handed People are “Left-Out” of Brain Research
left handed people and brain research
Neuroscience
Left-Handed People are “Left-Out” of Brain Research
Left-handed people are systematically excluded from brain research, due to an archaic doctrine. These neuroscientists want that to change.

Left-handed people are systematically excluded from brain research, due to an archaic doctrine. These neuroscientists want that to change.

Prosthetics
How a Paralympic Swimmer Helps Advance AI Bionic Limbs
morgan stickney
Prosthetics
How a Paralympic Swimmer Helps Advance AI Bionic Limbs
Morgan Stickney shares about her experimental Ewing amputations and training for the 2024 Paralympics.

Morgan Stickney shares about her experimental Ewing amputations and training for the 2024 Paralympics.

Dispatches
Tiny Satellite “Constellations” Could Bring the Entire World Online
Tiny Satellite “Constellations” Could Bring the Entire World Online
Dispatches
Tiny Satellite “Constellations” Could Bring the Entire World Online
SpaceX is out in front, but the race for global satellite internet is getting crowded.

SpaceX is out in front, but the race for global satellite internet is getting crowded.

Dispatches
The First Private Moonshot Is Ready to Launch
The First Private Moonshot Is Ready to Launch
Dispatches
The First Private Moonshot Is Ready to Launch
The Israeli group's moon mission will be ride-sharing on a SpaceX rocket.
By John Horack

The Israeli group's moon mission will be ride-sharing on a SpaceX rocket.

Outer Space
Meet the Amateur Astronomer Who Found a Lost NASA Satellite
Meet the Amateur Astronomer Who Found a Lost NASA Satellite
Watch Now
Outer Space
Meet the Amateur Astronomer Who Found a Lost NASA Satellite
A $130 million satellite vanished. Over a decade later, a blogger/astronomer found it.
Watch Now

Amateur astronomer Scott Tilley made international headlines when he rediscovered NASA’s IMAGE satellite, 13 years after it mysteriously disappeared. In this interview with Freethink, Scott discusses his role in the satellite’s recovery, why he enjoys amateur astronomy, and how citizen scientists like him have contributed to our knowledge of space from the space race to the present day.

Dispatches
What We Learned from a Decade of Commercial Space Travel
What We Learned from a Decade of Commercial Space Travel
Dispatches
What We Learned from a Decade of Commercial Space Travel
Businesses have gotten to space; now what?
By Joel Wooten

Businesses have gotten to space; now what?