A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jan 21, 2015

Space Shot: Google Invests in Elon Musk's SpaceX To Grow Internet Reach

Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and now Sergei and Larry: these tech guys have a thing about rockets and outer space. It probably goes with the math-science nerd childhood thing - and then, of course, having the money to spend on your fantasies.

But this is not the realization of some adolescent illusion about conquering new worlds. Actually, it's about a post-adolescent fantasy having to do with conquering existing worlds.

The point of Google's investment in Elon Musk's SpaceX is focused on the very real desire to dominate the internet by using satellites to connect more people to the internet and use their services, all while evading the regulation of mere earthlings who do not happen to be Google shareholders.

Where once national governments had a monopoly on this sort of endeavor, the ceaseless demands for austerity from their financial overlords has wrung all of the excess capital out of anything that does not promise an immediate return. This, and the extraordinary valuations enjoyed by any enterprise that can remotely call itself tech has provided visionaries with the wherewithal to play in any sandbox they savor, however remote or unlikely.

Musk and the Google boys have a pretty impressive track record to date. And given the hostility Google faces on earth, especially in Europe, this seems like a clever time to explore other realms. JL

Issie Lapowsky reports in Wired:

“Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date,”
Elon Musk’s private space exploration company SpaceX announced today that it just raised $1 billion in funding from investors, including Google and Fidelity. The deal, which SpaceX confirmed on its website, will bolster SpaceX’s emerging satellite business and could help Google expand internet access around the world.
Rumors that SpaceX had landed a large chunk of money began circulating late Monday night, when The Information, broke the story, citing anonymous sources familiar with the talks. At the time, The Information reported that the deal would value SpaceX at more than $10 billion, though SpaceX hasn’t commented on the valuation.
In its blog post, SpaceX wrote that the funding would “support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing.” But Google’s involvement has led many to believe that the funding will primarily back SpaceX’s new satellite venture, which SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced late last week. At the time, Musk gave some indication as to the epic scope of the project that lies ahead. He seeks to create a network of hundreds of satellites that could not only connect people on Earth to the web, but also people on Mars—if and when people get there. The total cost of such an audacious project? $10 billion.
“Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date,” Musk told Businessweek at the time.
That, of course, is something Google—and indeed many tech giants—would very much like to have a hand in. Over the last few years, companies like Google and Facebook have turned their attention toward connecting the unconnected to the internet. Both companies have looked to technologies like drones, satellites, and balloons that could bring internet connectivity to people living in the most remote places. While benefitting rural peoples, this would greatly expand the companies’ already enormous reach.
But recently, Google hit a major roadblock in its efforts to connect the world when Greg Wyler, who was leading its satellite efforts, left Google to launch his own venture, OneWeb. Wyler took with him not only his expertise in the field, but also the rights to some spectrum Google would need for the project. According to The Information’s sources, Wyler even tried partnering with SpaceX himself, but the deal went sour when he refused to give up a significant portion of OneWeb to Musk.
It stands to reason that Google would be on the lookout for another, well-funded partner to help realize its vision for an expanded internet. Though SpaceX is not known to have the spectrum to replace what Google lost when Wyler left, Musk has discussed plans to use a laser-based workaround for its satellite network. As Musk described it, his project would lead to internet speeds that are significantly faster than fiber optic cable. “The speed of light is 40 percent faster in the vacuum of space than it is for fiber,” Musk told Businessweek. “The long-term potential is to be the primary means of long-distance internet traffic and to serve people in sparsely populated areas.”
Of course, just because Google and SpaceX are have delivered on moonshot projects in the past doesn’t guarantee that this endeavor will be successful. Richard Branson—an investor in Wyler’s OneWeb—has publicly doubted whether Musk can pull this off. “Greg [Wyler] has the rights, and there isn’t space for another network—like there physically is not enough space,” he told Businessweek. “If Elon wants to get into this area, the logical thing for him would be to tie up with us, and if I were a betting man, I would say the chances of us working together rather than separately would be much higher.”


Post a Comment