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Google planning to launch $1bn constellation of 180 satellites, say reports

Fleet of low-orbit spacecraft would join the company's solar-powered drones
  • @jjvincent

Google is planning to launch a constellation of 180 satellites as part of its drive to increase internet connectivity around the world, say reports from the Wall Street Journal and Space News.

Sources familiar with the subject told the WSJ (paywall) that although no plans had been finalised, Google was looking to spend between $1bn and $3bn on a fleet of small satellites that would operate out of low orbit.

The project is reportedly being led by Greg Wyler, the founder of a satellite start-up named O3b Networks that launched their first four craft into space in June 2013. O3b stands for ‘other three billion’ – the portion of the population “denied broadband access for reasons of geography, political instability and economics”.

In addition to this, Space News also reported that Google is looking to recruit a separate firm known as L5 or World Vu Satellites that have secured the rights to a portion of the radio spectrum that could be used to deliver internet connectivity through any satellites.

If Google’s plans come to fruition then the spacecraft would join its potential fleet of solar-powered drones (secured with the acquisition of Titan Aerospace in April this year) and put the search giant in direct competition with Facebook.

In March 2014 the world’s largest social network announced that it was working on its own plans to deliver internet to the world’s ‘offline’ population through a combination of drones, satellites and lasers.

Although it’s thought that both companies want to recruit more internet users (and thus vast new markets for advertisers), the affordability and long-term sustainability of their plans have been questioned.

Tech journalist David Meyer notes that both companies can throw money at these projects to establish internet connections but maintaining these over a long period of time without a plan for profitability is much more difficult.

“Even assuming that Google and Facebook want to offer free connectivity because they want to capture a generation of eyeballs and become the funnel for all that lovely future ad revenue, they’d have to wait a very long time before they see a return on their investment,” writes Meyer.