Marsnet is already underway ...
We take the Internet and the possibility of a permanent connection on Earth as a matter of course, but as soon as we take a step into space, the devices begin to receive much less broadband Internet and many other types of connections. So, since we are looking into our future, when we have human settlements on Mars, will there be Mars-Internet, or Marsnet?
These questions were asked by SpaceX founder Ilon Mask, and he announced plans to expand connectivity in space, potentially in partnership with Google. But this will not only provide future colonists of Mars with access to their Netflix accounts. Like most initiatives in space, the infrastructure of the extraterrestrial Internet will provide great benefits for our daily life on Earth.
“Our goal is to create a global communication system that will be larger than any previously mentioned,” Musk said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek before announcing the creation of a SpaceX office in Seattle, WA. According to Mask, the first step will be to launch (using SpaceX rockets) an entire armada of satellites that will orbit the Earth at an altitude of about 750 miles. This altitude is much lower than the 22,000 mile geosynchronous orbit on which traditional communications satellites are located. Despite the difficulties, this height will speed up the connection, making it possible to “live” communication without malicious delays.
Currently, the geosynchronous orbit is too far to allow instant communication. In the end, we are still limited by the speed of light, and a signal path of 22,000 miles makes these orbits unsuitable, for example, for conversations in Skype or online games. If you lower the orbit of space-based Internet satellites to 750 miles, the delay time of a signal in space can be made shorter than the delay time of signals transmitted on Earth through optical fiber.
“The speed of light is 40% faster in the space vacuum than in fiber,” Musk said. “In the long run, this can be the main way of Internet traffic over long distances and serving people in sparsely populated areas.” Musk wants to do for the Internet what the satellites did for the first TV programs in the 1960s.
But, as with most of the great ideas of Mask, he sees no boundaries for his plans for the space Internet. In the end, he had already said that he wanted to build the first colonies on Mars, and it would be wrong if the first astronauts on the Red Planet would not have an Internet connection.
“Having a global communications network will be very important for Mars,” he said, “I think this needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else who would do it.”
To finance this idea of Mars-Internet, Musk hopes to direct the income from his terrestrial Internet system to investments in the greater idea of his “Marsnet” system.
In the near future, however, Musk may face some competitors. OneWeb, with such notable investors as Qualcomm and the Virgin Group, hopes to install a satellite system that will provide Internet to isolated communities around the world.