Apple’s space satellite program ramps up; aims to beam data directly to devices

Boeing 702X satellite (image: Boeing)
Boeing 702X satellite (image: Boeing)

Apple has a group working on space satellites, antennae, and wireless technology as the company looks for new ways to beam data directly to Apple devices.

Mark Gurman reports for Bloomberg news:

[Apple] has about a dozen engineers from the aerospace, satellite and antenna design industries working on the project with the goal of deploying their results within five years, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal company efforts… Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has shown interest in the project, indicating it’s a company priority.

Apple’s work on communications satellites and next-generation wireless technology means the aim is likely to beam data to a user’s device, potentially mitigating the dependence on wireless carriers, or for linking devices together without a traditional network. Apple could also be exploring satellites for more precise location tracking for its devices, enabling improved maps and new features.

The team is led by Michael Trela and John Fenwick, former aerospace engineers who helped lead satellite imaging company Skybox Imaging before it sold to Google in 2014. The pair led Google’s satellite and spacecraft operations until leaving together in 2017 to begin a new initiative at Apple…

MacDailyNews Take: eWorld 2.0! If this is a way to provide internet connectivity to iPhones sans carriers or even just a way to deliver Messages, Maps/GPS data, and/or Apple TV+ – or even just filling coverage gaps around the globe – without the ISP middleman, it would certainly be a defining, distinctive, nearly impossible-to-replicate feature that would set Apple products even further above the knockoff brigade’s raft of inferior facsimiles.

And, of course, real competition in broadband providers is desperately needed in many parts of the U.S. and the world.

Apple is interested in space satellites for the same reason they design their own chips and build their own operating systems:

I’ve always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do.Steve Jobs, October 12, 2004


  1. If it works, and the company currently working on this, which has shown a real demo, states that it will be some time before it will work in real world usage. This needs a thousand satellites at a 300 mile height to give 100% coverage, and realistically, is only good for low bandwidth operations.

    It’s doubtful that Apple would offer this as a service to iPhone users, but would offer it to cell providers for a roaming up charge where tower coverage is thin.

    Let’s not get too excited about this.

      1. I believe Elon Musk is launching the first mini satellites designed for this purpose. Perhaps they are simply looking at ways to optimize this network of satellites. It will take thousands.

        1. SpaceX has had two experimental/prototype satellites up for WELL over a year with potential users (from U.S. DoD through purely commercail users) running data through them. Earlier this year SpaceX started launching the production/operational satellites at 60 satellites a launch. SpaceX expects to declare initial operational capability in the second half of 2020.

    1. SpaceX is in the process of putting up almost 42,000 satellites in low Earth orbit (already have authorizations for almost 12,000 and have already done a preliminary filing for 30,000 more). Samsung is working toward about 4,600 satellites of its own. Amazon claims they’ll put up about 4,000 of their own. Then there’s OneWeb which has already started operations. O3b is already operational with a second generation of satellites coming on board in the next year or two. Then there are others like Telesat that are just starting to fulfill their authorizations.

      With so many players in the field, most of which already have country and ITU authorizations, Apple is not only very late to the playing field, they are way, way behind the power curve.

      Just for a point of clarity, the lowest altitude of any of the authorizaitons is 354 km (some of them extend to medium Earth orbit, not just low Earth orbit), and the highest throughput of any of them, per user channel, is over 1.2 Gbps.

  2. Now that’s what I’m talking about. C’mon, Apple, take a huge risk and get those big investors excited. Apple definitely has the money to do whatever needs to be done. It may be costly but it’s better than using balloons. I honestly don’t know what Apple actually has in store but it sounds rather futuristic. Imagine if Apple could bypass the traditional phone carriers. It’s a farfetched dream but it is exciting to think about.

    Iridium low-orbit satellites have been around for years, but I never heard of it being anything special or becoming a huge money-making operation. At one time, I thought that would be some game-changer but I was wrong. Although it’s useful, it’s costly to make those phone calls and a special phone is needed.

  3. Answer = Self Driving Cars . . . the futuristic videos you see of cars crossing intersections without traffic lights is possible through “networked cars”. The cars are moved and coordinated in a process that is analogous to packet switching in computers. In order for this to work, you need a solid network . . . a first iteration might be possible through the 5G Network. But if you are driving in the desert or the mountains, and you lose the network connection, that would be a problem . . . thus, space based networks are being developed. It is not a coincidence that Elon Musk is developing the Starlink network . . . When Tim Cook said, “We see self driving cars as the mother of all AI Projects”–one of the most difficult to work on — he wasn’t referring to individual cars that can drive themselves (we’ve already seen that), he was alluding to the network that controls all of them.

    1. “We see self driving cars as the mother of all AI Projects”

      That’s not what he said. He said “we see autonomous systems as the mother of all AI Projects”. When he was asked about Project Titan he never called it a car project. He called it an autonomous systems project.

    2. Sounds great! Until the network goes down, a cloud floats overhead, or you drive under an overpass. if all cars are networked together, then no one can actually self drive a car without creating a mess. All I want is to be in a car that I cannot take over the driving of when hurling down the highway at 75MPH and the network goes down to all the cars around me. Instant destruction derby.

  4. Human exposure to artificial signals is cumulative, and excites and inflames the atmosphere. The multitude of satellites is encrusting the atmosphere just as asphalt is encrusting the soil.

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