Internet giant Google is betting big on Elon Musk’s vision to bring satellite Internet to the four corners of the earth. The company, along with Fidelity, has invested $1 billion in Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX.
SpaceX designs, manufacturers and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. Elon Musk, an engineer, entrepreneur and inventor, founded the company in 2002 to revolutionize space technology with the ultimate goal of paving the way for people to live on other planets.
“Space-based applications like imaging satellites can help people more easily access important information, so we’re excited to support SpaceX’s growth as it develops new launch technologies,” said Don Harrison, Google’s vice president for corporate development. Google and Fidelity will own a 10 percent stake in SpaceX. Existing investors include Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Valor Equity Partners and Capricorn.
All About Mars?
This is not Google’s first foray into satellites. In June, Google entered into an agreement to acquire Skybox Imaging for $500 million in cash. The company aims to use Skybox’s satellites to help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery. Over time, Google is also looking to Skybox’s team and technology to help improve Internet access and disaster relief.
But Musk’s SpaceX kicks it up a few notches. SpaceX has demanded the world’s attention for several space-age breakthroughs. For example, it became the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-earth orbit in December 2010.
The company also made history in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads, and returned safely to earth. Since then Dragon has delivered cargo to and from the space station multiple times, providing regular cargo resupply missions for NASA, according to the company’s Web site.
Now, SpaceX plans to build and launch 4,000 satellites to low-earth orbit to provide affordable Internet access to people around the world. During a speech in Seattle announcing the project last Friday, Musk said this is intended to generate “a significant amount of revenue to help fund a city on Mars.”
"Looking at the long term, what's needed to create a city on Mars?” he asked, according to Space.com. “Well, one thing's for sure: a lot of money. So we need things that will generate a lot of money."
Google’s Space Ambitions
We asked Greg Sterling, vice president of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association, for his take on Google’s big spend. He told us the search engine giant has for quite some time been seeking ways to bring the Internet or faster Internet speeds to new markets.
“This investment is consistent with that long-standing effort,” he said. “However, it also may give Google other interesting opportunities beyond that.”
What does Sterling mean by “other interesting opportunities”? As he sees it, Google’s founders likely identify with Elon Musk as a progressive entrepreneur and want to continue be associated with bold and big projects.
“I'm not saying this is a billion dollar PR move,” Sterling said. “But I think there are a number of aspects to this investment that may not be immediately visible and go beyond the notion of simply bringing the Internet to more people -- something that Google competitor Facebook is also increasingly attempting to do.”