Most high-bandwidth satellites operate in geostationary orbits about 36 000 kilometers above the Earth's equator - an altitude that translates into lag time for data traveling back and forth between space and Earth. By comparison, O3b has placed its satellites into orbits at about one-fourth that height. The startup must place more satellites into the lower orbits in order to achieve the same geographical coverage, but it cut the time for round-trip data delays from an average of 638 milliseconds to less than 150 ms.
Google wants to take O3b's approach a step further by launching a larger swarm of smaller satellites into an even lower Earth orbit. These would weigh less than 113 kilograms, as opposed to the 680 kilograms of O3b's current design.
The new satellite initiative represents the latest evolution in Google's race against Facebook to reach potential new customers in regions of the world without broadband Internet access. Google initially seemed to put high hopes on Project Loon's effort to use thousands of balloons to help provide the necessary geographical coverage. But the company's recent acquisition of Titan Aerospace, a startup developing solar-powered drones capable of serving as "atmospheric satellites," may provide a new direction in combination with O3b's satellites.