Just watched the video on Google Loon and it is an interesting concept but there are many issues which could be handled with satellites in a much more efficient and reliable manner IF satellites are real (for those who believe these things aren’t real).
A satellite isn’t some magic feat of technology. The most difficult aspect of having satellites is launching them and there are many nations that have the capability of doing this and now even private industry has reached this point. A communications satellite operates a lot like how a mirror transmits light from one angle/vector to another by changing the angle of the light beam hits the mirror you change the focus point of the mirror. Communication satellites work in an almost identical manner.
When people use WIFI, you are using something similar to a communications satellite, though the base station is usually stationary. Now the space satellite is stationary in orbit as well. Always in the same place or it can always be on the same course and multiple satellites are used for constant coverage – as one passes to the east, one is coming over head and another one is coming over the west horizon – so there is always a satellite overhead in some angle.
For communications be it video, internet, etc, everything starts at a base station. The base station beams the signal to a satellite via tracking dishes. The satellites can then transmit to other satellites while outside or in the extreme upper limits of the atmosphere (very little air to distort signal).
A satellite needs something like a router to function and it needs an antenna pointing down to the clients (the internet users) and another antenna pointing down to the base station that tracks the satellites. This is identical to a wireless internet connection people use at home. Nothing magical or extravegant in cost. Multiple channels could be used to increase bandwidth for the satellite. There are no magical antennas that cost millions of dollars either.
Now the things that you need to make a satellite would be the following (I’m not a satellite engineer but anyone who is, please correct me, add what I miss or tell me where I’m wrong).
-Power structure – Solar panel array. At 1.3Kw / meter^2, 2 meters is probably way more than what is needed for a satellite by orders of magnitude, even if it only gets power 1/4 – 1/3 of the time. 2 meters is about 2 standard panels.
-Distribution antenna – could be a dish or a something like a yagi. very old tech. very inexpensive. Very easy to construct (even for space use).
-downlink/uplink antenna to base station – probably a dish or unidirectional antenna or combo. same as above.
-satellite to satellite linkage antenna’s – unidirectional antenna – same as above.
-Router – establishes connection with base station and/or satellites as well as connects with terrestrial users. Very widely used technology – may need to be hardened for space, but not many millions of $$.
-Manuevering/thrusting mechanism. Most likely either a compressed gas or a liquid this is turned into a gas and used for thrusting. Not expensive & once in orbit would not need to be used very often. Possibly contained in titanium tank or possibly carbon fiber. Thrusting mechanism could be controlled with onboard control computer (actually controlled from ground) which controls gas flow and heating of liquid to gas. “Commonly” available.
-Batteries – Not sure what needs explaining here. IDK what batteries are used in space. Maybe an electro-chemical battery, rechargable (from solar) or even based on a thermoelectric generator (instead of solar) which could also be used to maintain any temp needed for batteries to operate.
-Structure – a housing to contain all this. This depends upon how large the antennas need to be. If a phone the size of a small brick can reach a satellite, then I would suggest that this entire device could possibly be about the size of a washing machine, kitchen range/stove – but probably smaller. The router needs to fit inside, dishes/antennas mounted on the outside, thrust tanks could be inside or outside depending on if they need insulation & batteries (only enough for times when behind the earth – dark side – so something the size – not weight – of a small car battery ) and solar panels – these could unfold from under the unit once in space and positioned to face the sun. This could be made of titanium or probably even aluminum alloy possibly.
When I see that a simple communications relay satellite costs $300-700 million plus the cost to launch, I just don’t understand who they are trying to fool. I would be happy to start a company that makes these satellites for that price! I would venture a guess that even $1 million for something like this is much higher than the cost of manufacturing and spread the cost of design out over 100-1,000 units (launch 10-40 per rocket) and the design cost could very well be absorbed into the million/unit cost. I suspect the specs for space worthy satellite units would come out to a price MUCH lower than a million each especially if making enough to cover the globe with internet.
I would take a guess that it would be possible to get 1,000 – 5,000 satellites (capable of internet service) produced for under 1 billion dollars – this doesn’t include launching them but I suspect that the number of units per launch could be greatly increased from what it currently is and I have to do a little more research into the actual size of something like this as I suspect it could be much smaller than I suggested.
Now for all of you who think this is all BS, I want you to ponder this. Take 2 linksys WRT54G with an unidirectional, high gain antenna an run it a .25 watts (yes, 1/4 watts). These have made 40km connections at 10Mbps with this technology and this is about 20 years old (at consumer retail level). If we had FCC license and could use high gain antennas on the satellite and run it at 20-50w the coverage area would be huge with a phenomenol signal considering lack of atmosphere for most of the signal. This is all tech available off the shelf now, not in some secret gov lab. Now I know it wouldn’t use WIFI G band for connection (most likely K band). The only thing that is the biggest hurdle is all the telemetry of tracking the sat’s and getting them in the general orbit, but that is what NASA should be for, to help the private sector with these things since we paid for it.