Monday, January 19, 2015

Google reportedly in satellite investment talks with SpaceX

Funding would apparently bolster both companies' goals of creating space-based networks for delivering Internet access via satellite.

Google is discussing a possible investment in rocket maker SpaceX to beef up efforts to deliver Internet access via satellite, according a report by The Information.

The investment deal, which has not been finalized, would value the SpaceX in excess of $10 billion, sources described as familiar with the talks told The Information. Such a partnership would bolster both companies' plans for providing low-cost Internet access to underserved regions of the globe

Representatives for Google and SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment.

Silicon Valley companies have been tinkering with ways to provide reliable Internet access to developing regions, while also possibly acquiring a lucrative new user base, without investing in expensive ground-based infrastructure. Facebook said in March it was exploring how to use "drones, satellites, and lasers to deliver the Internet to everyone," while Google was reportedly planning to spend more than $1 billion to deploy hundreds of low-Earth orbit satellites.

Facebook was said to be interested in acquiring Titan Aerospace, the maker of a solar-powered high-altitude drone, as part of a plan to deploy 11,000 unmanned aerial vehicles over parts of the globe that lack Internet access. But Google upset those plans a bit when it acquired the New Mexico-based startup last April for an undisclosed sum.

Titan's 20-person team is said to be working closely with Google's Project Loon, an initiative born out of Google's in-house skunkworks facility Google X to deliver Internet via air balloon. Unveiled in 2013, the high-flying balloons are solar-powered, remote-controlled, and can navigate stratospheric winds 12 miles above the surface of the Earth -- far higher than most planes travel. And, similar to the way satellite Internet works, the balloons can communicate with special antennas and receiver stations on the ground.

Google's plans apparently dovetail with the ambitions of Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, which specializes in delivering supplies to astronauts at the International Space Station and deploying commercial satellites.

Musk confirmed in November that his company was working toward constructing and deploying a fleet of up to 700 advanced satellites -- weighing less than 250 pounds each --that would provide low-cost Internet access around the world.

SpaceX's new network, which would be comprised of roughly 4,000 satellites orbiting about 750 miles above earth, would take at least five years to develop and cost around $10 billion, Musk has said. But while other tech giants envision a more worldly benefit, Musk sees the network as providing funds to build a Martian city.

"We see it as a long-term revenue source for SpaceX to be able to fund a city on Mars," Musk told Bloomberg last week. He didn't offer specifics on how he'll make money off the project, but he did mention the possibility of selling satellites after the network is completed.

Musk, who is also CEO of Tesla, founded SpaceX in 2002 to "to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets," according to the SpaceX website. It won a $2.6 billion contract from NASA last year, becoming one of the first private companies -- the other is Boeing -- set to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, beginning as early as 2017.

Source: http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/google-reportedly-in-satellite-investment-talks-with-spacex/