By: Jeffrey Tso
Space. The final frontier. Or at least Star Trek would have you believe, along with Google, having bought a 10% stake in Elon Musk’s SpaceX for $1 billion with Fidelity.
Any initial response would question the company’s motives. What could Google stand to gain from SpaceX? What could possibly justify a $900 million dollar investment in a space technology firm? Granted, the amount itself is probably spare change for a company like Google, but few CEOs make decisions solely for charity. Even more perplexing is the investment of Fidelity, known more for running mutual bonds than ventures into cutting edge industries.
SpaceX was created for a stated purpose; reducing space transportation costs to allow the colonization of Mars. To even begin considering this venture, infrastructure needs to be built, technology needs to be developed, and multiple stages of technical challenges have to be overcome. It is a lofty goal, and one which requires an enormous amount of funding to become reality. All this is expected to happen by the 2030s. Unlike the United States of Kennedy’s period, even Musk’s coffers are not endless.
Here is where interests converge. SpaceX’s newest project is a bid to create the revenue stream needed for its future plans. Recently, it has announced plans to launch a network of satellites to provide internet access globally. This fits nicely with Google’s existing project in expanding internet reception through balloons. Through supporting the spread of internet usage, Google continues to expand the potential market for its services.
With cheap, durable, fiber-optic cables already in place in the developed world, it seems almost counter- intuitive to try to launch such a ridiculous amount of infrastructure into space to provide the same service. However, technology has advanced in recent years to allow low orbit, micro-satellites to be launched and operated by the dozen. These would provide an economical way to reach low density areas without the benefit of existing internet access. The concern remains as to whether it could compete in wealthy nations, or create enough of a market to become profitable.
Columbus wheedled investment out of the Spanish with the promise of new trade routes centuries ago, and here SpaceX is doing much the same. Considering the glacial progress of our government space exploration since the moon landing, we should hope that SpaceX succeeds in their project.