Until you factor in the Pentagon, the rationale for SpaceX and Starlink is without commercial foundation.
Think of today’s effort as one of those ‘fliers’ people like me occasionally use when they can’t entirely make sense of something.
In 2006, I wrote a blogpost asking why Bill Gates suddenly thought LAS (Low Altitude Satellites) were the new giga-investment thing. At the time, the general answer that came back was ‘satellite internet’, but somehow it didn’t ring true: puffing Billy already had a vast fortune based on software, and SatNet was very much a niche thing catering to those (like me, as it happens) who live in the outer sticks of beyond, and thus need a back-up system for when old technology fixed-line cables screw up or slow everything down.
It took twelve years for Megalomaniagate to come to light: but LAS now leads the pack in its ability to track and trace every human being showing signs of dissidence, virus contact and so forth. Mr & Mrs Gates have been fully revealed (to those paying attention) as the Unclean Finders General.
Fourteen years on, I have the same doubtful feelings about Elon Musk. He says the idea of his throng of several thousand satellites is so that fast, high-quality, locost HD internet can be available to everyone no matter how remote they might be. But there are fundamental questions not being addressed….alongside weaknesses in the concept:
- Why the manned flight to launch his fleet?
- I’ve been a recipient of Nordnet satellite comms now for seven years: the phone service is risible, riddled with time-gaps and altogether inferior to Whatsapp; and the internet fails the moment there is any torrential rain and/or electric storm.
- Unlike the geostationary satellites commonly used by telecoms, Musk’s Starlink satellites will stay in a low Earth orbit and cross the visible sky of a given location for just a few minutes. To follow and connect to them, consumers would have to use purpose-built phased array antennas. Only mass production would make them affordable, so Musk’s SpaceX company has asked permission for a million of them.
- Forgetting the antenna investment, that would give us an enormous traffic-jam problem in Space: by 2025, around 12,000 of his satellites will be in orbit, and the eventual number he wants is in excess of 40,000.
- Looked at in the light of the size of market he says he is after, little of this makes sense: the 4% or so of US citizens living in remote areas (or offshore US States) simply don’t justify the investment involved.
One gets that same creepy feeling about the gdp risked by Western nations in order to deal with a coronavirus unlikely to kill more than 0.0045% of human beings.
So what is Elon Musk really up to?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seems ready and willing to give Musk the go-ahead. Its Space department has made it clear that it wants to give the thumbs-up to ‘more satellites with much less regulation’. (The FCC recently gave up on any pretence of protecting the Net Neutrality principle.)
And harken unto this, brethren: those in charge of US defence spending have already expressed great interest in buying from SpaceX, and in using the Starlink system to improve comms among the more than a thousand overseas bases used by NATO/the CIA and the Pentagon.
Not only are the two astronauts Musk has launched into Space NASA employees, SpaceX’s billionaire founder and CEO has said he’s onboard with the sixth branch of the U.S. military, which President Donald Trump officially established in December last year.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act directed the establishment of the U.S. Space Force (USSF) as the sixth branch of the armed forces. White House officials confirmed that ‘The Space Force is part of the Department of the Air Force, much as the U.S. Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy. The new branch will be stood up over the next 18 months”.
Now then, as a sweet deal for the Muskovites, this access to the infinite US defence spending budget makes a lot more sense than the odd Alaskan Caribou, the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha, and those fighting off Argentina’s designs on the Falkland Isles.
Elon Musk is building, if not a weapon, then at the very least a global coordination tool for American hegemenous quasi-military neocon foreign policy.