SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by the Mars-hungry tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, just made a big move to enshroud the planet in high-speed internet coverage.
On November 15, the company filed a lengthy application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 4,425 satellites. (We first heard about the filing through the r/SpaceX community on Reddit.)
That is a hell of a lot of satellites.
According to a database compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, there are 1,419 active satellites currently orbiting Earth. There are estimates of roughly 2,600 satellites that no longer work floating in space, but even factoring those in, SpaceX's planned fleet would be larger than everything already in space.
Some of the biggest telecommunications satellites can weigh several tons, be the size of a bus, and orbit from a fixed point about 22,000 miles (35,000 km) above Earth.
After we took a look at SpaceX's FCC application, though, it seems these won't be your typical telecommunications satellites.
Each satellite in SpaceX's planned constellation will weigh about 850 lbs (386 kg) and be roughly the size of a MINI Cooper car. They will orbit at altitudes ranging from 715 miles (1,150 km) to 790 miles (1,275 km).
From this lofty vantage point, SpaceX says each satellite could cover an ellipse about 1,300 miles (2,120 km) wide. That's about the distance from Maine to the Florida panhandle.
"The system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental and professional users worldwide," SpaceX wrote in its application.
SpaceX's filing with the FCC outlines a two-phase launch plan.
To get the party started, SpaceX wants to send up 1,600 satellites at one orbital altitude, then follow up with another 2,825 satellites placed in four shells at different altitudes.
"With deployment of the first 800 satellites, SpaceX will be able to provide widespread U.S. and international coverage for broadband services," SpaceX wrote. "Once fully optimized through the Final Deployment, the system will be able to provide high bandwidth (up to 1 Gbps per user), low latency broadband services for consumers and businesses in the U.S. and globally."