Space-Based Internet: What It Is And How It Works

A new space race is on and this time, it's all about internet

Man stands on a mountain looking at his phone under the stars

pixdeluxe / Getty Images

Technology has given us some amazing things, such as the smartphone and the computer, and enabled us to do earth-shattering things like taking the first step on the moon. But, what do the first moonwalk and our devices have in common? More than you might think.

Space-based internet is changing the way we surf the internet, conduct business, and connect with others around the globe.

What Is Space-Based Internet?

Space-based internet is the ability to use satellites in orbit around Earth to send and receive data. Although satellite internet already exists, space-based internet is much faster and has the ability to work across the globe.

To make it work, thousands of low-cost satellites are deployed into orbit above the Earth. However, they differ from the geostationary satellites more commonly used in satellite internet. Instead, low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites are used in constellations, or thousands of satellites in a grid-like pattern, to provide continuous internet coverage.

A satellite is shown in space orbiting the earth
 Jose Luis Stephens / EyeEm / Getty Images

Satellites by space-based innovation company Iridium fly at approximately 17,000 miles per hour, completing an orbit around the world every 100 minutes. Compared to satellite internet's 7,000 miles per hour, the speed of space-based internet is undeniably faster.

Spaced-based internet also knows no distance. Some space-based internets such as SpaceX's Starlink use beacons that beam coordinated signals back to Earth from around 210 to 750 miles away using Ka and Ku frequency bands. This allows messages to be sent twice as fast as the fibers used to connect the internet on Earth, regardless of the distance between here and the stars.

The Benefits of Space-Based Internet Over Satellite Internet

The speed of space-based internet alone is worth its implementation and use, but what are some of the other benefits of interstellar internet?

Of course, until space-based internet is adopted entirely, it'll be difficult to understand every potential benefit for consumers.

  • Global high-speed internet: A fully functional space-based internet system covers the entire globe in high-speed internet, including those without modern internet access.
  • Replaces fiber: Space-based internet replaces the fibers used in modern internet connection, the same fibers that are costly to internet providers.
  • Consistent signals: Dropped calls? Lost signals? Those annoyances are gone with space internet.
  • Future proof: Space-based internet gives us the connection needed to run and use future innovative devices without fail.
  • Better performance: Thanks to the low earth orbit satellites used, poor performance due to high latency should be reduced.

Challenges Facing Space-Based Internet

Although space-based internet has its advantages, there are challenges involved in making it a complete reality.

Latency

Latency is defined as the time it takes for a request to travel between sender and receiver and for the receiver of the information to process it. For example, high latency will result in your video lagging as you watch from your computer.

Fiberoptic internet boasts a latency of only a few microseconds per kilometer. In contrast, when you're beaming to a geostationary satellite, such as those most commonly used for current satellite internet, latency is 700 microseconds. Although the satellites used for space-internet will be closer to earth, the latency, and how much it affects our communication, is unknown at this time.

Space Junk

There are approximately 4,000 spacecraft orbiting the Earth and only 1,800 of them are operational. As space-based internet companies start deploying thousands of satellites into space, the amount of "space junk" will quickly multiply. Unfortunately, this deployment could cause catastrophic satellite collisions, according to NASA.

Technical Challenges

Just like any other technological advancement, there are technical challenges such as how to keep the satellites in their correct position in space and how companies can build thousands of these satellites at a time.

Despite the challenges, space-based internet is moving at full force, with new advancements occurring rapidly. The sky's the limit for the future of internet connectivity.