New Space Race
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The Space Race
Half of the world's population doesn't have Internet access. That's more than three billion people. Companies have taken notice. They're competing to bring the Internet to all those people, some of whom live in some of the world's most remote places. But providing service to every corner of the globe won't be easy. It could be expensive and messy.
More than a dozen companies have asked U.S. regulators for permission to set up satellites that would bring the Internet to those who don't have it already. If they succeed, the effects could be life-changing. Not having the Internet makes it difficult or impossible to apply for many jobs, to do homework, and to participate in the global economy. In the case of people in remote areas, add getting medical care to that list.
Enter the satellites. Satellite Internet is already a thing. But currently, it's not an ideal way of spreading the Internet around the world. It involves huge, expensive satellites that are 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) from Earth. Service is costly and limited. The companies that now want to enter the Internet market are using or plan to use smaller, cheaper satellites that are closer to Earth. In theory, signals would travel faster. Applications that need instant responses, like online gaming, would work better.
But here's the expensive part of that plan: Those smaller satellites require more dishes and antennas than the bigger ones. They'll take time and money to set up. When companies pay big, they usually pass the costs onto customers. Since satellites can provide Internet to a huge band of customers, the cost can be spread out more. But even then, will Internet service be cheap enough for people in remote rural areas?
Then there's the messy part: With all those new satellites, many people are concerned about the growth of space junk. Bits and pieces could crash into each other. They could even set off a chain reaction of collisions that make orbit "no longer usable," according to NASA. SpaceX is already building its satellite constellations. And it says it's trying to avoid adding to the junk layer. SpaceX is moving satellites to prevent crashes and designing them to burn up in the atmosphere when they're used up.
The space companies have laid out their plans to avoid debris with U.S. regulators, but critics say more needs to be done. They want an air traffic control system for space.
Clearly, it'll take some work before there's Internet for everyone.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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