Google is reportedly close to investing in rocket maker SpaceX, which has ambitions to create a network of satellites to provide low-cost internet access to unconnected regions.
Sources told The Information that Google values SpaceX at more than $10 billion, and that the funding round, which includes other investors, is significant. The Wall Street Journal suggested an investment of around $1 billion.
SpaceX is backed by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric car manufacturer Tesla, who recently outlined plans for SpaceX to launch hundreds of satellites into low orbit around the earth to provide internet connectivity to poorly served regions.
He told BusinessWeek that the network would cost around $10 billion to build and take around five years to complete. He gave no details of funding or manufacturing plans, however.
“Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date,” Musk told Businessweek.
SpaceX could create synergies with parts it already produces for spacecraft. The company also builds its own navigation and flight-control systems for spacecraft, elements of which could be used in the satellites.
The news follows last week’s announcement by Virgin Group and Qualcomm that they are backing OneWeb, a venture looking to create a network of satellites to provide a similar service.
OneWeb’s CEO, Greg Wyler, was previously hired by Google to work in similar technology, and has also worked with Musk.
Wyler has estimated that his company’s satellite network plan will cost around $2 billion. Unlike SpaceX, OneWeb has rights to a block of spectrum that could be used for the project.
A source told The Wall Street Journal that Musk has looked at the possibility of using optical laser technology to carry internet signals.
The success of the SpaceX and OneWeb projects is far from assured. Similar satellite efforts, such as Globalstar, Iridium, Teledesic and Skybridge, have struggled commercially due to the cost and complexity of the technology.
Google has been making a number of efforts to increase availability of the internet globally. It has invested in drone technology and its Project Loon initiative is looking at how internet access could be provided by helium-filled balloons located in the earth’s atmosphere.