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Google’s Internet: Out of This World

Google’s GOOG latest plan to expand Internet coverage is out of this world ­– literally. It plans to spend between $1 and $3 billion in total to buy and launch 180 satellites that will provide the Internet to undeserved regions of the world. The tech giant hopes to increase both its user base and its revenue by serving previously unreachable populations.

Recent innovations in satellite software and launch technology have reduced the cost of operating in space. The Wall Street Journal estimates that the transportation costs for Google’s 180 satellites will be as little as $600 million, putting the total launch cost at roughly $3.3 million per satellite.

Google’s recent $500 million acquisition of Skybox Imaging could mean that launch costs will fall even further. Skybox has built and launched the world’s smallest high-resolution imaging satellite, weighing fewer than 250 pounds. Lighter satellites translate into lower launch costs.

Partnerships offer Google interesting strategic opportunities. The acquisition of Skybox is helping Google to update its satellite maps more quickly and accurately. More provocatively, if Google were to partner with SpaceX and use the Falcon Heavy rocket to launch its satellites, the launch cost per satellite could drop 95%, from $3.3 million to $180,000.

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