Tesla CEO confirms SpaceX venture with advanced microsatellites

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk confirmed that his firm, SpaceX, is in the early stages of developing advanced microsatellites operating in large formations, saying a formal announcement would come in two to three months.

The confirmation via Twitter came after The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the matter, reported that the project could entail 700 satellites, each weighing less than 250 pounds. That would make the constellation 10 times the size of Iridium Communications' fleet, currently the largest.

The WSJ report said Musk is working with satellite-industry veteran and former Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) executive Greg Wyler. Wyler founded WorldVu Satellites Ltd., which controls a large block of radio spectrum. Wyler brought a similar plan to Google but stayed only about a year before leaving to work with Musk, according to the Journal, which suggested that Wyler's relationship with Google may have soured in part because he wasn't sure the search giant had enough manufacturing expertise.

In a reply to another Twitter user, Musk said satellites would be used to enable unfettered and low-cost Internet access. He also said the WSJ story was wrong on "several important points" but didn't go into detail.

In a research note, analysts at Jeffries International surmised that "Google Satellite" has now become "SpaceX Satellite," noting that Wyler had been talking with Google about launching a low-Earth-orbit satellite constellation using frequency in the Ku-band held by Wyler's WorldVu business. But Wyler left Google, along with two key lieutenants he had brought from O3b. At the same time, it was reported that he was speaking with SpaceX.

"We would argue that SpaceX's track record of innovation and roadmap towards reusable rockets will give it a cost advantage if (or more likely, when) it comes [time] to launch its satellite service," wrote Jeffries analyst Giles Thorne. "SpaceX has a tremendous track record now of talking up the importance of innovation and then delivering on it. When Google was at the helm, there was a real question mark as to whether the constellation would be delivered. With SpaceX, we're now sure of it."

For more:
- see this Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)
- see this CNET story
- see The Next Web article
- see this Investor's Business Daily article

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