The launch is a small part of what SpaceX ultimately wants to be a much grander project: a group of potentially thousands of satellites swirling over Earth that the company says could eventually make available low-cost internet for a significant portion of the world’s population that isn’t yet online.
Right now, internet is mostly delivered via wireless cell towers or cables routed to your home or office. That leaves extremely rural or impoverished communities without affordable access. There are options for satellite-based internet, but those services are notoriously slow, expensive or unreliable. (The Wi-Fi you get on board a transatlantic flight, for example, is delivered from satellites.)
SpaceX is one of several companies that wants to overhaul internet delivery. The idea is to put up tiny satellites that stay in orbit much closer to home. In low-Earth orbit, though, satellites blaze across the sky extremely quickly — which is why a massive “megaconstellation” is needed, so as to blanket the lower altitude and avoid service interruptions.
SpaceX has competition from other heavily funded companies. OneWeb and Amazon are the big ones, but there are also lesser known companies, like LeoSat and Telesat.
A successful launch Wednesday would “surely put SpaceX in the lead,” said Shagun Sachdeva, an analyst at Northern Sky Research.
But Sachdeva has raised questions about whether SpaceX is wise to plan a constellation of satellites that could eventually total 12,000.
She expects the company will reach a tipping point at which deploying new satellites will no longer be worth it. For example, the company won’t get much benefit out of providing full coverage over the oceans.
“It is crucial to recognize the point where” the costs start to outweigh the benefits, she wrote in a recent report.