Facebook is aiming to launch its “Athena” Internet-delivery satellite early next year for parts of the globe where traditional delivery systems such as fiber optic cables are not feasible. According to an application the company reportedly filed with the FCC under the name PointView Tech LLC, the satellite intends to “efficiently provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world.” Facebook confirmed that Athena is its project, but offered no details. Similar Internet-delivery projects are in development by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and SoftBank-backed OneWeb.
“A host of companies believe the better way to connect the estimated half of Earth’s population that’s still offline is to launch ‘constellations’ of smaller satellites into low Earth orbit, around 100 to 1,250 miles above our planet,” reports Wired.
“SpaceX launched the first two of what it hopes will be thousands of its Starlink satellites just this past February.”
“While we have nothing to share about specific projects at this time, we believe satellite technology will be an important enabler of 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.
Building a network of hundreds or thousands low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites is not without its challenges. According to Kerri Cahoy, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, “the challenge with satellite Internet today is really affordability — being cost-competitive with cable or other fiber distribution.”
“Another challenge for Facebook and other companies interested in satellite Internet will be determining whether the people they’re trying to serve even want to pay for the Internet service they’re working to provide,” suggests Wired. “Satellite technology alone won’t help foster digital literacy, or convince people that getting online — or on Facebook — is even a good idea. But it’s certainly a start.”