Next up for Elon Musk? Launching satellites into space

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO is reportedly eyeing a new billion-dollar space venture with a former Google executive to launch a fleet of tiny satellites.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
2 min read

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Dragon V2, conceived to bring astronauts to space, in May 2014. Tim Stevens/CNET

Elon Musk's rocket company SpaceX is tasked with doing many things, not least among them sending human beings to Mars. Now the chief executive, who also runs the electric

company Tesla, wants to tackle another mission: ferrying to orbit the world's smallest satellites.

Musk is working with former Google executive Greg Wyler on figuring out a way to manufacture and launch a fleet of as many as 700 satellites that would weigh less than 250 pounds each, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal Friday. SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002 and is now a leading private spaceflight company based in California, would likely launch the satellites into space, the report added.

At 700 satellites, that would make this array more than 10 times larger than the fleet operated by the world's leading satellite company, Iridium Communications. Each unit would be about half the size as the smallest commercial device in use.

Wyler founded WorldVu Satellites, which controls a significant chunk of radio spectrum. He's teaming up with Musk, the report says, to use that spectrum to beam Internet access to people across the globe, much like tech companies Facebook and Google are seeking to accomplish by way of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

Representatives for SpaceX and Wyler's World Vu Satellites were not immediately available for comment.

Musk's SpaceX has sent numerous payloads into space, including supplies to the International Space Station under contract with NASA. In September, SpaceX won another NASA contract for $2.6 billion alongside aircraft giant Boeing to develop and later launch manned spacecrafts that will carry US astronauts.

The satellite partnership would bring together Wyler's expertise and spectrum advantage with Musk's entrepreneurial ability to overcome financial and logistical hurdles. He did just that with SpaceX, and has a knack for bringing cost efficiency to markets with high barriers to entry, like automobile manufacturing.

The duo wants to not only bring down the weight of the standard satellite by half, but also to lower the cost from many millions of dollars per unit to under $1 million per unit, the Journal reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

The risks are high. Wyler's previous company, O3b Networks, failed to take off and he left. Google allegedly turned down Wyler's attempts to bring the idea into the fold of the search company's Google X skunkworks division, which takes on so-called moonshot projects like the Google Glass headset and Project Loon. The latter is yet another attempt to use the skies to deliver Internet access, though with hot air balloon.

The cost of getting the company off the ground may be as high as $1 billion, and Wyler and Musk are seeking partners in the satellite industry, as well as scouting locations in Florida and Colorado for a potential factory that could manufacture the satellites.