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Your own personal satellite?

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Hey, so You thought it was cool to have your own cell phone and website. How would you like your very own personal satellite? Well, later today a company called SpaceX is launching a test rocket that might make that possible. Geoff Brumfiel reports.

MISSION CONTROL VOICE: T-minus 3, 2, 1 . . . we have ignition, and lift-off of a Delta II rocket carrying Themis, NASA’s revolutionary journey to study the Northern Lights.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL: When NASA launched its Themis satellite last month, it used Boeing’s Delta II rocket, the Mercedes Benz of spaceships. But at around $70 million a launch, only big companies and the government can afford it.

That’s the sound of the Falcon I rocket built by SpaceX-a company run by erstwhile Internet mogul Elon Musk. Sounds about the same to the untrained ear, but it’s a lot cheaper: a tenth the cost of a Delta II.

MARK SIRANGELO: The small satellite industry and the launch systems that Elon and SpaceX are looking to enable are really the same type of revolution that we saw in computers happening in the 80s and 90s.

Mark Sirangelo is CEO of Spacedev, a company that plans on launching “microsats” aboard the Falcon 1. Agricultural companies could use them to monitor crops, or Google could launch a few to make a continuously updated version of its satellite maps.

It’s a bonanza for checking on everything from forest fires to traffic congestion. There’s even an idea to track your pet via satellite.

SIRANGELO: It’s a multibillion a year industry — the pet industry. And there are many people who would seek that kind of protection for their pets, or so I’m told.

But there’s no guarantee that the Falcon I’s business will . . . take off. In the past, rocket-manufacturers have struggled to find clients according to industry analyst Carissa Christensen.

CARISSA CHRISTENSEN: We have seen a number of instances where we built them and no one came. There is an overabundance of manufacturing capability for large launch vehicles and satellites in the world right now.

But in the short term, the government may be there to help. The Pentagon is interested in quickly launching small satellites.

In Washington, I’m Geoff Brumfiel for Marketplace.

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