Elon Musk became the world’s richest person this month by upending the global auto industry and disrupting aerospace heavyweights with reusable rockets. Now he’s setting his sights on another business dominated by entrenched incumbents, telecommunications. Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has launched more than 1,000 satellites for its Starlink internet service and is signing up early customers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.
SpaceX has told investors that Starlink is angling for a piece of a $1 trillion market made up of in-flight internet, maritime services, demand in China and India and rural customers such as Brian Rendel. For months, SpaceX has been launching satellites on its Falcon 9 rockets in batches of 60 at a time, and the 17th Starlink launch was on Jan. 20.
There are now roughly 960 functioning satellites in orbit, heralding an age of mega-constellations that have prompted worries about visual pollution for astronomers. Starlink will face plenty of competition. While fiber optic cable is widely considered too expensive to lay down in remote regions and many rural locations, cellular connectivity is expected to make big advances with 5G and then 6G.