VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Cali. — Elon Musk sent another rocket into space on Thursday.
SpaceX launched a rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying three satellites. The company confirmed that one satellite, Spain’s PAZ, successfully made it into orbit.
Also aboard the Falcon 9 were two satellites designed to test the technology the company plans to use for its high-speed internet service.
A company spokesperson declined to say whether the two test satellites also launched successfully. Space X or its CEO Elon Musk are expected to say more about the high-speed internet test later in the day.
SpaceX’s internet ambitions have the support of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. Last week, Pai urged the FCC to approve SpaceX’s broader proposal to deliver “broadband services directly to [people] anywhere in the United States or around the world” at speeds similar to the quickest ground-based internet connections.
SpaceX eventually wants to put more than 10,000 tiny satellites into Low-Earth Orbit. The satellites will whisk around the planet about 335 km to 1,325 km above the Earth’s surface.
Billions of people around the globe still lack internet access, so companies have been racing to find a better way to beam internet down from the sky.
They include OneWeb, a startup that’s attracted backing from the likes of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Coca-Cola and Qualcomm. It also has approval from the FCC to send internet satellites into orbit.
FCC chairman Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, said last week that if SpaceX gets approval for its satellite project, it’ll be a first for an American-based company in the race to provide internet via Low-Earth Orbit satellites.
Some of SpaceX’s internal financial documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal last year show the company has high expectations for this satellite network.
“SpaceX projected the satellite-internet business would have over 40 million subscribers and bring in more than $30 billion in revenue by 2025,” the Journal reported.
Thursday’s primary mission was to deliver the satellite PAZ for the Spanish government.
According to European firm Airbus, which was the primary contractor for PAZ, the satellite will serve “many different applications,” including defense and security.
It’ll stay in orbit for about five and a half years, making full loops around Earth 15 times per day. And it will capture images of our home planet — day or night and no matter what the weather looks like — using radar technology.
Earlier this month, SpaceX drew public attention with the launch of its massive new rocket, Falcon Heavy, which is now the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
There are plans to fly a communications satellite and a payload for the U.S. Air Force on board a Falcon Heavy later this year. But Thursday’s launch used a Falcon 9, the rocket SpaceX has flown since 2010.