SpaceX, having established a formidable reputation in rocket launches, is starting to roll out what it hopes will be an even more muscular arm of its business: broadband internet service.
The Elon Musk-led company has released pricing for a public beta test of its Starlink broadband internet service, which is beamed to users via small satellites. A Texas school district and other local-government entities are already using it; now the service is being offered to a select group of individual consumers. Eventually, customers might include entire countries.
Under the test, called the Better than Nothing Beta program, initial service for the U.S. and Canada is aimed to start this year, with "near global coverage of the populated world" set to occur in 2021, according to the official description of an app developed by SpaceX that's intended to help users set up and monitor their Starlink service.
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
The monthly subscription cost for the beta program is $99. Users will also need to make a single payment of $499 for hardware, including a user terminal, mounting tripod and Wi-Fi router. The pricing, first reported by CNBC, was detailed in emails to potential beta program users. In its early stages, service might be slow.
So far, SpaceX has launched more than 800 of the small satellites that will power its broadband network. A SpaceX executive said last year that the Hawthorne company could provide coverage across the U.S. with only 720 satellites, and that 1,800 satellites would be needed to provide service to most of the world.
The so-called constellation could eventually number as many as 30,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit. (Astronomers have expressed concern that light bouncing off the satellites could affect telescope images. SpaceX has said it would put experimental coatings on the satellites to reduce their brightness.)
SpaceX sees its Starlink broadband service as a major potential revenue stream. Last year, Musk told reporters that revenue from providing internet service could total $30 billion a year, while launch revenue will probably top out at about $3 billion a year.
"We see this as a way for SpaceX to generate revenue that can be used to develop more advanced rockets and spaceships," Musk said at the time. "We think this is a key steppingstone on the way to establishing a self-sustaining city on Mars and a base on the moon."
And at its beta-testing price, analysts said, the service could be viewed favorably in the United States, particularly in areas where internet access is difficult or impossible to come by.