OneWeb satellite constellation
The OneWeb satellite constellation—formerly, WorldVu constellation—is a 600-satellite constellation currently being built out through the 2020s to provide global satellite Internet broadband services to individual consumers. Initial limited service may begin as early as 2019. The constellation is being deployed by the company OneWeb, formerly known as WorldVu Satellites and initially based in Arlington, Virginia, which has used the alternate name L5 in various regulatory filings. OneWeb is expected to require up to US$3 billion in capital by the time the full constellation becomes operational in 2019–2020. The first six satellites of the constellation were launched in February 2019.
The small satellites are being built by Airbus Defence and Space and will operate in circular low Earth orbit, at approximately 750 miles (1,200 km) altitude, transmitting and receiving in the Ku band of the radio frequency spectrum. Most of the capacity of the initial 648 satellites has been sold, and OneWeb is considering nearly quadrupling the size of the satellite constellation by adding 1,972 additional satellites that it has priority rights to.
The company's business plan is to attempt to "reach hundreds of millions of potential users residing in places without [existing] broadband access."
Early reports of the potential involvement of Google in offering broadband internet services surfaced in February 2014, when a "very large [satellite] constellation" was rumored to be as large as 1600 satellites.
By June 2014, WorldVu (which would later be renamed to OneWeb) had acquired the satellite spectrum that was formerly owned by SkyBridge, a company that went bankrupt in 2000 in a much earlier attempt to offer broadband Internet services via satellite.
By September 2014, the WorldVu company had 30 employees, and several Google employees who had joined Google as part of the acquisition of O3b Networks in 2013—Greg Wyler, Brian Holz and David Bettinger—left Google to become a part of WorldVu Satellites Ltd. The rights to the radio frequency spectrum were transferred to WorldVu. It was unclear why the WorldVu team left Google, as well as what Google's role might be in WorldVu going forward. At the time, WorldVu was working closely with SpaceX and SpaceX' founder Elon Musk to explore satellite internet services, although no formal relationship had been established and no launch commitments have been made.
By November 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that Musk and Wyler were considering options for building a factory to manufacture high-volume low-cost satellites, and that "initial talks have been held with state officials in Florida and Colorado" about potentially locating a factory in those states, as well as that SpaceX would likely launch the satellites. Also in November, WorldVu issued a tender "to satellite manufacturers for 640 125-kilogram satellites", asking for responses by mid-December, having secured regulatory approval for use of the requisite electromagnetic spectrum communication frequencies in mid-2014.
The 2014 OneWeb solicitation to satellite manufacturers was for a total build of approximately 900 small Internet-delivery satellites, including ground and on-orbit spares. Responses were received from both European and US manufacturers including Airbus Defence and Space, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, OHB SE, SSL and Thales Alenia Space, and discussions focused on how each of these companies might "escape their status-quo histories as major space hardware contractors and remake themselves into producers capable of producing multiple satellites per month, each with a cost of less than US$500,000." OneWeb announced that it planned to form a joint venture with the winning bidder and open a new facility for manufacturing the new smallsats.
In January 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that WorldVu, now operating under the name OneWeb LTD, had secured funding from Virgin Group and Qualcomm to build and launch the constellation, while SpaceX was not an investor and their role in the venture was not clear. OneWeb also divulged that the planned satellites would weigh approximately 125 kg (276 lb) and that the plans were to deploy approximately 650 of them in low Earth orbit to operate at 1,200 kilometers (750 mi) altitude. Only a few days later, Elon Musk announced the rival SpaceX satellite constellation venture, with the opening of the SpaceX satellite development facility in Seattle, Washington, Seattle, with the intent of taking SpaceX itself into the business of internet provision and internet backhaul services, aiming to build an approximately 4000 satellite constellation, with the first generation becoming operational in approximately 2020.
The satellites for the OneWeb constellation were initially announced to be in the 110 kilograms (250 lb)-class, about the same size as the two Earth-imaging satellites that are operated by Skybox Imaging, which Google acquired in August 2014. However, by the following year, sources put the satellites nearer 175–200 kg (386–441 lb) in mass.
In March 2015, OneWeb indicated that they intended to select a launch service provider by mid-2015 and in June 2015 announced that Arianespace was contracted to provide 21 multi-sat launches on Soyuz beginning in 2017 with Virgin Galactic under contract to provide 39 single-sat launches using its LauncherOne smallsat launch vehicle. By 2015, there was also an option to use Ariane 6 for up to three launches after 2021, making this the first potential contract announced for the Ariane launch vehicle.
By June 2015, the company had modified their plan somewhat to orbit a somewhat larger constellation of 720 satellites, operating in low Earth orbit at 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) altitude, which plan was somewhat reduced by early 2016 back to just 640 satellites planned, but still at 1200 km.
In June 2015, Airbus Defence and Space was selected to build the satellites, and development was remained on schedule one year later with the first ten satellites still headed for a 2017 launch on a Europeanized Soyuz launch vehicle.
In December 2016, SoftBank Group Corp agreed to invest $1 billion in OneWeb, thus becoming OneWeb's largest shareholder, with a roughly 40% stake. Another $200 million was funded at that time by its current investors, which include Qualcomm Inc, Airbus Group and Virgin Group. The transaction was expected to close in the first quarter of 2017.
In February 2017, OneWeb announced that it had sold most of the communication capacity of its initial 648 satellites, and was considering nearly quadrupling the size of the satellite constellation by adding 1,972 additional satellites that it has priority spectrum license rights for. With the original capital raise of $500 million in 2015, plus the $1 billion investment of SoftBank in 2016, previous "investors committed to an additional $200 million, bringing OneWeb’s total capital raised to $1.7 billion."
In March 2017, OneWeb filed with the US regulatory authorities plans to field a constellation of an additional 2000 "V-band satellites in non-geosynchronous orbits to provide communications services" in an electromagnetic spectrum that had not been previously been "heavily employed for commercial communications services." This would include "720 LEO V-band satellites at 1,200 kilometers, and another constellation in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) of 1,280 satellites."
Some controversy arose in 2015–2017 with regulatory authorities on licensing the communications spectrum for these large constellations of satellites. The traditional and historical regulatory rule for satellites licensing of communications spectrum has been that satellite operators could "launch a single spacecraft to meet their in-service deadline [from the regulator], a policy subsequently seen as allowing an operator to block the use of valuable radio spectrum for years without deploying its fleet." The US regulatory authority has set a six-year deadline to have an entire large constellation deployed to comply with licensing terms. The international regulator, the ITU, has proposed by mid-2017 an international guideline that would be considerably less restrictive. As of September 2017[update], both Boeing and SpaceX have petitioned the US FCC for a waiver of the 6-year rule, while OneWeb has received FCC approval under the existing regime.
In August 2018, it was announced that the first test satellite launch might move into 2019, and would be no earlier than mid-December 2018, and by December, was planned to be no earlier than March 2019. The satellite system is now planned to be fully online by 2027. After OneWeb had built the initial satellites and done ground testing where they found the as-built sats "demonstrated better than expected performance", OneWeb announced in December 2018 that the company will need only 600 satellites rather than the 900 previously planned for the initial constellation.
On February 27, OneWeb successfully launched the first six of the 648 planned satellites (600 active plus 48 on-orbit spares) into low Earth orbit from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana using a Russian Soyuz-2 ST-B rocket. Also on that date, OneWeb announced that it signed its first two client agreements marking the beginning of its commercialization[clarification needed]. Additional launches are expected throughout 2019 and after.
The satellites in the OneWeb constellation are approximately 150 kg (330 lb) in mass, a bit smaller than the 2015 design estimate of 175–200 kg (386–441 lb). The 648 operational satellites are to operate in 18 polar orbit planes at 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) altitude.
The satellites will operate in the Ku band, communicating in the microwave range of frequencies in the 12–18 GHz portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The satellites use a technique called "progressive pitch" in which the satellites are slightly turned to avoid interference with Ku-band satellites in geostationary orbit. The user terminal antenna on the ground will be a phased array antenna measuring approximately 36 by 16 centimeters (14.2 by 6.3 in) and will provide Internet access at 50 megabits/second downlink bandwidth (almost certainly less uplink, but this number remains hard to pin down).
The satellites will be designed to comply with "orbital debris-mitigation guidelines for removing satellites from orbit and, for low-orbit satellites, assuring that they reenter the Earth's atmosphere within 25 years of retirement."[needs update]
Manufacturing and constellation rollout
The constellation was originally announced in June 2014 to be just half of the total of approximately 720 satellites. A quarter of the satellites were to make up the initial constellation, and these would operate in the lower of the two proposed orbits, at approximately 850 kilometres (530 mi). The initial constellation would presumably be raised or lowered into its final orbital altitude of either 800 kilometres (500 mi) or 950 kilometres (590 mi) as consumer and business use of the broadband service grows over time. By early 2015, OneWeb indicated that the first launches would occur no earlier than 2017.
In February 2016, OneWeb announced that they would set up an assembly and test facility in Florida with plans to assemble and launch the majority of the satellites by the end of 2019, while manufacturing an additional 250 of the 140-kilogram-satellites (300 lb) as spares to be used in later years.
By the time the actual orbital deployment of the constellation began, in February 2019, the constellation size had settled once again at 648, near the original projection, with 600 active satellites with 48 on-orbit spares.
With such a large number of satellites being added to the already crowded low Earth orbit, plans for handling the satellites once the operational life of each satellite is completed are an important consideration. The region between 600 and 1,000 kilometres (370 and 620 mi) is already the most congested orbital regime around Earth, and concerns about adding to the existing space debris problem have been expressed. There could be a new regime of graveyard orbits added, similar to those in use for decades to handle post-operational commsats that operated in the geostationary belt; however at the orbital altitudes envisioned for OneWeb, the disposal orbit may not have a sufficiently long life to assure long-term stability.
An alternative that has been proposed for years is to introduce the capability to retrieve derelict objects for near-space clean up and then either deorbit the satellite or do some sort of in-space recycling of the satellite materials. Several technical approaches have been proposed, but there has been no legal framework to date that has required satellite operators to clean up the negative externality of their derelict satellites. New approaches offer the technical prospect of markedly reducing the cost of object capture and deorbit with the implementation of a one-up/one-down launch license regime to Earth orbits that would require satellite operators to remove one spacecraft for each one deployed.
By October 2017, OneWeb had filed documents with the US FCC with their space debris mitigation plan. OneWeb "satellites are designed for mission lives of at least five years, and 'the post-mission disposal operation is anticipated to take less than one year.' OneWeb also said it has designed its satellite network to avoid collisions with space stations and debris, and that OneWeb 'will actively and regularly screen for conjunctions between its own satellites and other objects in the Joint Space Operations Center's ('JSpOC') published catalog."
Interference with other Earth-bound transceivers
OneWeb competitor, satellite fleet operator ABS, has expressed concerns about the amount of electromagnetic interference that the OneWeb constellation could add to existing terrestrial transceivers.
Russian security concerns
Vladimir Sadovnikov of the Federal Security Service stated that the FSB was opposed to OneWeb covering Russia, claiming that OneWeb could be used for espionage purposes. OneWeb's request for a frequency band was previously rejected by the Ministry for Digital Development and Communications, purportedly due to outstanding legal issues. Inside Russia the opposition was primarily explained on the basis of OneWeb allowing to bypass the state censorship of Internet content and has caused controversies,[according to whom?] including dispute with Roskosmos who was one of the possible suppliers of space services for OneWeb. FSB also proposed increasing scrutiny on other satellite Internet equipment in Russia.
Competition to OneWeb for producing smaller and lower-cost satellites in general is thought to come "from other makers of small satellites, such as Nevada-based Sierra Nevada Corp. and Britain’s Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd." In broadband internet service provision more specifically, there are a large number of alternatives to the proposed WorldVu satellite broadband service, mostly involving wired and terrestrial radio broadband service.
Other potential competitors in the satellite internet space are SpaceX's proposed 12000-satellite Starlink constellation and a 2015 proposal from Samsung outlining a 4600-satellite constellation orbiting at 1,400 kilometers (900 mi) that could bring 200 gigabytes per month of internet data to "each of the world's 5 billion people".
One advantage OneWeb was perceived to have was that, as of January 2015[update], no other competitor had obtained a license from the International Telecommunication Union to operate a Ku-band satellite network that is not placed in a geosynchronous orbit.[needs update]
Historically, earlier companies that have attempted to build satellite internet service networks and provide space-based internet connections have not fared well, as both services were hobbled by high costs which consequently attracted few users. Iridium SSC filed for bankruptcy protection in 1999 and Globalstar did the same in 2002.
- Iridium satellite constellation – an operational constellation of 66 active satellites used to provide global satellite phone service
- ORBCOMM – an operational constellation used to provide global asset monitoring and messaging services from its constellation of 29 LEO communications satellites orbiting at 775 km
- Teledesic – a former (1990s) venture to accomplish broadband satellite internet services
- Viasat,_Inc. - a current broadband satellite provider providing fixed, ground mobile, and airborne antennas
- Kymeta – small form factor satellite antennas for mobile terrestrial applications
- Derek Webber. No Bucks, No Buck Rogers: The Business of Commercial Space. — Universal-Publishers, 2017. — P. 248. — 296 p. — ISBN 9781627340915.
- Alessandra Vernile. The Rise of Private Actors in the Space Sector. — Springer, 2018. — P. 37. — 121 p. — ISBN 9783319738024.
- John Bloom. Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story. — Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2016. — 577 p. — ISBN 9780802192820.
- de Selding, Peter B. (2014-05-30). "Google-backed Global Broadband Venture Secures Spectrum for Satellite Network". SpaceNews. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
- Clark, Stephen (2019-02-27). "First six OneWeb satellites launched from French Guiana". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2019-03-04.
- "OneWeb Satellite Startup to Set up Manufacturing in Florida". Wall Street Journal. 2016-01-03. Retrieved 2016-02-04.
- "OneWeb weighing 2,000 more satellites - SpaceNews.com". 24 February 2017. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
- Messier, Doug (2014-02-16). "Is Google Planning Son of Teledesic?". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
- Fernholz, Tim. "Satellite internet is a space business widow-maker—so why does Elon Musk want in? — Quartz". qz.com. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
- Boucher, Marc (2014-06-03). "Will Google Build a Satellite Constellation?". SpacRef Business. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
"Google Satellite Employee Greg Wyler Leaves Company". Wall Street Journal. 2014-08-02. Retrieved 2014-08-03. (Subscription required (help)).
A key employee leading Google Inc.'s efforts to beam Internet access from satellites has left the company and is now working closely with Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and its founder Elon Musk, according to people familiar with the matter.... It isn't clear why the WorldVu team departed Google.
- "WorldVu, a Satellite Startup Aiming To Provide Global Internet Connectivity, Continues To Grow Absent Clear Google Relationship". Space News. 2014-08-03. Retrieved 2014-08-03.
- Winkler, Rolfe; Pasztor, Andy (2014-11-07). "Elon Musk's Next Mission: Internet Satellites SpaceX, Tesla Founder Explores Venture to Make Lighter, Cheaper Satellites". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
- Messier, Doug (2014-11-11). "WorldVu Satellites Issues RFP for 640 Satellites". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2014-11-15.
- Rolfe Winkler, "Elon Musk Confirms SpaceX Is Building Internet Satellites", Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2014
- de Selding, Peter B. (2015-03-19). "Competition To Build OneWeb Constellation Draws 2 U.S., 3 European Companies". Space News. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- Winkler, Rolfe (2015-01-14). "Greg Wyler's OneWeb Satellite-Internet Company Secures Funding". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2015-01-15.
- de Selding, Peter B. (15 January 2015). "Virgin, Qualcomm Invest in OneWeb Satellite Internet Venture". SpaceNews. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
- Petersen, Melody (16 January 2015). "Elon Musk and Richard Branson invest in satellite-Internet ventures". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
- "Skybox Imaging + Google" (Press release). Skybox Imaging. 2014-08-01. Retrieved 2014-11-12.
- Clark, Stephen (2014-06-10). "Google buys startup Skybox Imaging for $500 million". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2014-06-15.
- "OneWeb satellite operator eyes huge rocket campaign". BBC. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
- "Virgin Galactic Signs Contract with OneWeb to Perform 39 Satellite Launches" (Press release). Long Beach, California: Virgin Galactic. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
- Burn-Callander, Rebecca (22 August 2015). "Virgin Galactic boldly goes into small satellites, telling future astronauts 'you have to wait'". UK Telegraph. Retrieved 2015-08-24.
- "OneWeb signs agreement with Arianespace for the deployment of the OneWeb Constellation" (Press release). Evry: Arianespace. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
- "OneWeb takes pole-position in global satellite Internet race". Space Digest. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, noted that this was the first order for new European Ariane 6 launcher.
- "OneWeb selects Airbus to build 900 Internet satellites". spaceflightnow.com. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
- "OneWeb Taps Airbus To Build 900 Internet Smallsats". SpaceNews. 2015-06-15. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
- "One year after kickoff, OneWeb says its 700-satellite constellation is on schedule - SpaceNews.com". 6 July 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
- Pasztor, Andy (2016-12-19). "Japan's SoftBank Invests $1 Billion in Satellite Startup OneWeb". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
- "FCC gets five new applications for non-geostationary satellite constellations - SpaceNews.com". 2 March 2017. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
- "SES asks ITU to replace 'one and done' rule for satellite constellations with new system - Space Intel Report". 4 September 2017. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
- OneWeb, Arianespace target December-February for first Soyuz launch,27 August 2018.
- Henry, Caleb (13 December 2018). "OneWeb scales back baseline constellation by 300 satellites". SpaceNews. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
- Kolomychenko, Maria. Balmforth, Richard; Williams, Alison, eds. "Exclusive: Russia opposes U.S. OneWeb satellite service, cites security concerns". Reuters.
- "OneWeb makes history as first launch mission is a success". OneWeb. 2019-02-28. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
- "OneWeb Announces First Two Client Agreements - Start of Commercial Network Commercialisation". OneWeb. 2019-02-27. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
- Henry, Caleb (27 February 2019). "OneWeb's first six satellites in orbit following Soyuz launch". SpaceNews. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
- "Why OneWeb is Eager To Be the 'Clean-up Crew of Connectivity' - SpaceNews.com". 20 November 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
- Brodkin, Jon (2017-10-04). "SpaceX and OneWeb broadband satellites raise fears about space debris". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2017-10-07.
- Zegler, Frank; Bernard Kutter (2010-09-02). "Evolving to a Depot-Based Space Transportation Architecture" (PDF). AIAA SPACE 2010 Conference & Exposition. AIAA. pp. 13–14. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
for disposing of these obsolete or derelict spacecraft all [approaches] involve the expenditure of substantially more delta V than what has been traditional. It may well be required that old spacecraft be removed at the same time new spacecraft are being emplaced.... [this architecture] anticipates the task of removing derelict spacecraft by providing an infrastructure to permit these high ΔV missions and enables the likely new paradigm of removing a spacecraft for each one deployed.
- OneWeb Gets (Slide) Decked by Competitor at CASBAA, SpaceNews, 28 October 2015, accessed 2015-10-29.
- Kolomychenko, Maria (24 October 2018). Balmforth, Richard; Williams, Alison, eds. "Exclusive: Russia opposes U.S. OneWeb satellite service, cites security concerns". Reuters. Retrieved 28 February 2019.
- "Спутниковый интернет vs ФСБ: развитие технологий или самоизоляция?". roskomsvoboda.org. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
- Gershgorn, Dave (2015-08-17). "Samsung Wants To Blanket The Earth In Satellite Internet". Popular Science. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- Khan, Farooq (2015). "Mobile Internet from the Heavens". arXiv:1508.02383 [cs.NI].
- The New Space Race: One Man's Mission to Build a Galactic Internet, Bloomberg Businessweek, 22 January 2015.
- In Conversation with OneWeb Founder Greg Wyler, SpaceNews, 20 November 2015.
- Internet for Everyone, Everywhere - CNN, CNN, 30 October 2015.