SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, is trying to launch an internet revolution.
On Thursday between 10:30 p.m. and midnight ET (weather permitting), SpaceX plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Crammed inside the nosecone will be 60 tabletop-size satellites designed to test an internet network called Starlink.
Starlink, once complete, would consist of nearly 12,000 satellites — more than six times the number of all operational spacecraft now in orbit. The goal is to finish the project in 2027, thereby blanketing the Earth with high-speed, low-latency, and affordable internet access.
Even partial deployment of Starlink would benefit the financial sector and bring pervasive broadband internet to rural and remote areas. Completing the project may cost $10 billion or more, according to Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. But Musk said during a call with reporters on Wednesday that it could net the company perhaps $30 to $50 billion per year.
It’s not going to be easy to pull off, though, as Musk acknowledged.
“There is a lot of new technology here. So it’s possible that some of these satellites may not work,” he said. In fact, Musk added that there’s a “small possibility that all of the satellites will not work.”
During Wednesday’s call, Musk also provided new information about Starlink. Industry experts have also used public Federal Communications Commission filings from SpaceX to make educated guesses about Starlink’s workings and scope.
“This is the most exciting new network we’ve seen in a long time,” Mark Handley, a computer-networking researcher at University College London who’s studied Starlink, told Business Insider. He added that the project could affect the lives of “potentially everybody.”
Here’s how Starlink might work and how it could change the internet as we know it.