SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 launch includes stage one of its satellite internet plan

SpaceX is launching a Falcon 9 on February 17 (should the current target date stick) and the rocket is carrying a primary payload of a Spanish satellite for client Paz. The secondary cargo on the launch is more interesting, however, since it’s two of SpaceX’s own satellites – demonstration satellites the company is putting into orbit to test its plan to offer satellite-based broadband internet communications services.

The rocket will include Microsat-2A and Microsat-2B (via TheNextWeb), small satellites with a planned useful lifetime of just 20 months. Both will contain Ku-band broadband transmitter radios, allowing them to test their ability to offer Earth-based connectivity from low-Earth orbit.

SpaceX wants to test this before deploying a full constellation of its own broadband-providing satellites with a longer-term lifespan, since the private space company hopes to offer affordable, space-based broadband to clients on Earth as an additional revenue stream on top of its rocket launching business. The satellite internet side of its revenue picture could help it pay for ambitious projects like its proposed Mars missions, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk explained previously when outlining the company’s long-term plans.

Putting the Microsats into orbit is just one step towards making the broadband business a reality, but it’s a good sign that SpaceX’s grand vision is progressing. After a successful Falcon Heavy first flight earlier this month, and plans to fly Crew Dragon later this year, 2018 could be a banner year for Musk’s space venture.