Elon Musk's latest idea; Teledesic 2.0
> Hello Keith,
> What kind of satellite would be planning Elon to use?
Musk's idea sounds like a modern version of Teledesic. He even plans to build the business in the Seattle area, presumably because the Teledesic people are still around. The satellites would be too small to carry fuel - they can rotate to point in the correct direction, but they cannot use thrust to change their orbit. That implies that they must be in similar orbits. If not, "orbital precession" and lunar and solar tides will move the orbits differently and they will bunch up and create gaps.
To cover the whole earth including the poles, they will need to be in high inclination orbits that cross each other above the north and south poles. "High inclination" means the plane of the orbit is tilted far from the plane of the equator. This means they converge on the poles at high velocity, from different directions, and that makes high speed collisions more probable.
So - there are many questions. First, is Musk serious?
Musk proposes many projects, and uses them to catch new investors. If he does not get enough investors, he proposes another company to do something else. If he gets enough investors. he starts the company with the money - while keeping many of the shares himself. Then he makes many demonstrations and announcements, and sells the company before it makes a profit, sometimes before it has any customers. Thus, some of the first investors will make money by selling to new second investors. The second investors must find customers and make the company work, or lose their investment. I do not know of any companies that he has started that have earned enough money to produce profits - his most famous company, Tesla Motors, sells expensive toys to rich people but does not make a profit or generate dividends for shareholders.
Second, how does Musk's idea differ from Iridium and Globalstar and Orbcomm (which all went bankrupt) or from Teledesic (which was cancelled during development because the others failed)? Do these differences make the satellites cost less, or attract many new customers? No satellite can reach cell phone customers or individual computers directly - they must relay through something on the ground, or use big telephones with very big antennas (like Iridium). Iridium is still up there, and a solution to the antenna problem would make Iridium profitable.
Third, how does Musk plan to get permission from all the governments of the world to send signal into their territory and connect to their citizens? For example, Musk will need permission from all the Latin American countries, which means he will need permission from America Movil and Carlos Slim Helu. Helu is no fool, and he will demand more money than Musk can get. This was a huge problem for Iridium, and will be a huge problem for Server Sky. It is much more difficult than the technology.
Fourth, if Musk gets all these satellites launched, develops new ground antennas and local providers and attracts hundreds of millions of customers, what happens when the satellites fail? How does he recycle them? If they stay up there, they will eventually hit something else, and create clouds of new space debris. The satellites can be designed to deorbit with terminator tethers, but if they fail they may not respond to commands to deploy those tethers. Space is a big place, few collisions happen with active satellites, but most satellites up there are dead. Collisions between dead satellites may not be noticed, until the debris from those collisions collide with other active satellites. The number of small collision fragments can increase exponentially over time - this is called the "Kessler Syndrome"
I have many more questions, perhaps Musk will answer them.
Why Server Sky is Different
Server sky will deploy in near-circular equatorial orbits. These do not cross at high speed. Recycling thinsats will be essential for future cost reduction. Thinsat arrays will be much less massive and much more powerful than traditional satellites like Iridium, and will maneuver for precise orbital control. Thinsat arrays will source information, not just relay it. Thinsats aree intended for customers who cannot afford existing satellite service - or any data service of any kind. I do not plan to compete with existing services; instead, we will provide enhanced data services through existing cell towers. That will make Helu and others richer. But even if we make Helu twice as rich, I hope we can make the billions of poor people we serve ten times as rich. That will multiply their collective power, compared to Helu.
I've thought a lot about Iridium, and why it failed. These are brilliantly designed and operated satellites - the engineers and businessmen were smart (I've met some). We will not succeed if we do the same thing and serve the same customers.
How Muskedesic can Help Server Sky
If Musk succeeds, he will be another Helu, another communication service we can use to reach northern customers. We do not need Musk's service. Our primary customers will be in the tropics, and we can connect to almost all northern customers through fiber internet. Musk can help connect us to the few customers that fiber internet does not reach. We can help him a lot more, by providing services that he cannot, and connecting him to customers he cannot otherwise afford to serve.