Facebook confirms that it is building an internet satellite
A couple of months after rumors surfaced indicating that Facebook was building its own satellite, the social media giant has confirmed its satellite project. Dubbed 'Athena', Facebook's experimental satellite beams internet down to Earth using millimeter wave signals and is part of Facebook's vision to provide internet connectivity to all. Additionally, Facebook also reiterated its faith in satellite internet technology. Here's more.
Facebook's official statement on Athena
"While we have nothing to share about specific projects at this time, we believe satellite technology will be the next generation of broadband infrastructure, making it possible to bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is lacking or non-existent," said a Facebook spokesperson.
Facebook reportedly plans to launch Athena in early 2019
Despite the secrecy around the project, documents obtained by WIRED from the Federal Communications Commission indicate that Facebook intends to launch the satellite in early 2019. The filing further revealed that Facebook's satellite was designed to "efficiently provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas". With this, Facebook now joins Elon Musk's SpaceX and SoftBank-funded OneWeb, both of which are working on similar projects.
The Facebook, SpaceX, OneWeb club
However, it's important to note that Athena might not provide sufficient broadband by itself. Instead, Athena's launch might signal that Facebook is following a similar strategy to SpaceX and OneWeb wherein the companies are hoping to provide global internet connectivity using a constellation of thousands of small, low-Earth orbit satellites than beam internet down. In February, SpaceX launched its first internet satellite.
How SpaceX's approach differs from traditional communications satellites
Traditional communications satellites are bus-sized and float around in space in what is called a geosynchronous orbit, around 22,000 miles above the Earth. While they can provide internet to areas with no connectivity, such connections can be slow and have significant lag. However, the approach adopted by SpaceX and co involves sending small satellites to a low-Earth orbit ranging from 100-1,250 miles above Earth.
Earlier attempts at orbital networks ended in bankruptcy
Owing to the scale, providing internet via a constellation of thousands of small, low-Earth orbit satellites involves massive costs. Notably, earlier attempts at building orbital networks ended in bankruptcy, including firms like Bill Gates-backed Teledesic, and satellite-phone companies Globalstar and Iridium.