World richest billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are currently launching thousands of small satellites that would zip around the planet in what is described as the low earth orbit, and they’re in a competition on who can launch the most satellites.
These low earth orbit satellites can be used to connect places that have been cut off by the effect of natural disasters or heavy conflict like wars or places that are too remote for regular ground-based broadband.
This is the same as the technology that was put to use in Ukraine after Russia’s initial attack that made it the center of philanthrophic efforts and pity and prompted billionaire Elon Musk to send the Starlink system to help keep civilians and the military online after Russian forces invaded and cut them off.
How does a low earth orbit satellite work and why are so many satellites required
Low earth orbit satellites work by circling from 500 kilometres to 2000 kilometres above earth’s surface. The reason for this is to enable the satellite to send more data to the ground more rapidly than traditional communication satellites that are stationed at roughly 36,000 kilometers out.
Low earth orbit satellites are better than traditional satellites because traditional satellites have a median signal delay, of nearly 600 milliseconds for a round trip. This is too slow for technologies such as live video streaming, self-driving cars and high-frequency securities trading.
So many satellites are required because for low earth orbit satellites, the speed required for an object to keep a stable orbit is higher than traditional satellites. So a satellite must travel at about 27,000 kph to stay aloft, circling the planet in 90 to 120 minutes and because each satellite is only briefly in contact with a ground transmitter, another needs to appear on the horizon before the first goes out of view
So in order to ensure there’s always a satellite overhead, you need a lot of them strung out along criss-crossing paths that surround the planet. If a satellite is close to the Earth, it sees a smaller part of its surface and so more satellites are needed.
How do the billionaires make money from this
For two billionaires to invest in this, it is clear that it must be very profitable which is the case. They could sell their services to governments, businesses located in remote areas, and to even fellow network providers that need to fill gaps in their own networks.
They can also sell their services to small developing nations with dysfunctional or patchy broadband.
Asides from Musk, Billionaire Jeff Bezos is also making several attempts to launch more satellites. Earlier this year Amazon struck a big launch deal, to send up more than 3,000 satellites for his Project Kuiper constellation.
Other billionaires involved in satellite launching include Indian billionaire Sunil Mittal who together with the British government owns a Low earth orbit constellation called OneWeb Ltd.
There’s also a low orbit earth network from Teselat a company backed by the Canadian government. China and the European Union are in various stages of development. At this rate, by end of this decade, there could be more than 100,000 satellites rotating around the Earth and so far not one of them is backed by any African country, if these countries and billionaires are looking into investing in satellites perhaps we should too.