There are several commercial spaceflight companies making strides toward the stars, but California-based SpaceX is leading the pack.
The company made headlines last week as it edged closer to being able to reuse a booster rocket (the Falcon 9 crashed on landing, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the company is going to tweak the design and try again next month).
Now, Google may be looking to get in on the action.
According to a report from technology magazine The Information, Google is in talks with SpaceX to invest a “very large” amount in the rocket company. Though the price and terms of the investment haven’t been disclosed, one person familiar with the negotiations said Google agreed to value SpaceX at more than $10 billion.
SpaceX hasn’t raised a primary round of funding in several years, but this deal is rumored to be special. The report says Google’s cash infusion will allow another SpaceX project, a satellite Internet system, to take off. Last week, Mr. Musk announced a plan to launch hundreds of satellites into orbit 750 miles above the Earth. The satellites would bounce Internet data between each other, allowing that data to bypass the existing system of routers and access points on Earth.
Existing satellite Internet is pretty slow, but that’s because traditional satellites are orbiting 22,000 miles above the Earth – which means signals have to travel a long distance from source to destination. The lower satellites in Musk’s plan would offer speeds similar to those of terrestrial wired networks, and would bring the Internet to remote areas where it isn’t feasible to deploy land networks.
The plan would be ambitious if it stopped at blanketing the Earth with high-speed Internet, but Musk has set his sights even higher. The satellites would eventually be used to beam Internet data to and from Mars, where Musk hopes to start a human colony. Data travels at the speed of light through the vacuum of space, so it would take between four and 24 minutes to get to Mars, depending on how close to Earth the planet is at any given time.
Once the satellite network is built, SpaceX hopes to turn high-speed Internet into a profitable side business, according to the report. The profits would help finance the long-term goal of building a city on Mars; Musk predicted last year that the first humans could visit the planet by 2026. For Google’s part, an investment in SpaceX could provide it with expertise and technology needed for its own Internet projects, such as the Project Loon system of Internet-enabled weather balloons.