Elon Musk's SpaceX has asked the FCC for permission to launch and operate two broadband satellites on a testing basis within the next 24 months. The pair of satellites that are proposed for launch are called Microsat 2a and Microsat 2b, names that indicate that they will be similar in nature and stature to a pair of satellites that the company asked permission to launch for similar purposes a while back, Microsat 1a and Microsat 1b. Microsat 1a and 1b are not in the air as of this writing, and seem to have been supplanted by these two new ones. The satellites are proposed as a payload for an upcoming mission for SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.
The testing mission for these two satellites will mainly serve to check whether the way that they're designed sees them functioning as intended, and whether both the satellites and the ground-based array can communicate effectively. The satellites have one end rigged with solar panels for charging, and broadcasting antennae on the other end. The ground-based array that will be communicating with these satellites, meanwhile, consists of 2 fixed points, and a number of mobile stations. All of this equipment uses high-frequency spectrum that's not typically ideal for long-distance transmission, along with a number of hardware and software enhancements to work around the spectrum's weaknesses. During the initial testing period, a variety of data will be sampled for only 15 minutes at a time each day. The launch will apparently take place on Saturday, February 17, should all go well leading up to the big moment.
SpaceX has been talking about building out a network of satellites to provide worldwide broadband service for some time, and this will be the first time that the company has actually put that plan into action outside of its offices and factories. The company's note to the FCC specifies that it may end up asking permission to launch more satellites later on, and that these initial two are supposed to have a lifespan of 20 months. Cost estimates for this attempt to vastly upstage Google's Project Loon sit around the $10 billion mark, but if Elon Musk and his company can pull it off, they'll be looking at a system that could potentially cause a massive disruption in the current broadband markets, both in and out of the mobile worlds.