When the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday night, it’ll be carrying 24 satellites. More importantly, it’ll be another critical step in bolstering SpaceX — and getting the company one step closer to fundamentally changing how your company connects to the internet.
SpaceX is best known for being led by billionaire Elon Musk. It’s also doing something special by making space missions private. Along the way, it’s trying to achieve two critical missions: getting to Mars and changing how the internet functions.
The SpaceX mission to Mars gets all the attention. And why not? It’s Mars. But it’s the company’s government contracts fund all of that. It’s the company’s Starlink satellite constellation that might just make the difference in establishing SpaceX as one of the biggest and most important companies in the industry.
Starlink is essentially a collection of 12,000 satellites all tied together in a constellation in low-earth orbit. Those satellites can be controlled from the ground and deliver their signals to different, heavily populated parts of the world on the fly.
When the satellites are up there, according to Musk and SpaceX, they’ll be able to beam internet signals down to the ground and give consumers and corporate users, alike, an alternative to traditional Internet connectivity.
If that sounds like a big deal, it’s because it really, really is — if it can work.
Internet connectivity has been relatively simple for the past decade. You can call up your local cable or fiber company and, before long, your company is connected. But the future could very well be mobile.
On the Earth side of things, we have 5G, an ultra-fast wireless Internet connection provided by wireless carriers that’s just starting to roll out. If all goes well, it’s possible that within a few years, 5G connections delivered to your over cell towers could be superior to what you get in traditional connections.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is looking to the sky. It believes that its cluster of 12,000 satellites beaming fast internet connectivity to the ground could be the way to go.
It’s going to take time. SpaceX sent 60 satellites in the Starlink family into space last month and plans to send many more up in the coming year. It likely won’t have all 12,000 Starlink satellites in the sky until the mid-2020s.
If and when that happens, it could be a viable alternative to existing internet connectivity. Better yet, if it can successfully beam internet connectivity to the ground of a planet, it could also be used on Mars.
Before any that can happen, SpaceX needs to keep getting its Falcon Heavy rocket launches right. It’ll have another chance of that on Monday. A success means that government contracts will keep flowing in, the Mars mission will move forward, and Starlink could expand.
Call me crazy, but I think space has a future in the corporate world. One day, we might have SpaceX to thank for that.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.