OneWeb satellite constellation
(OneWeb and Airbus)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Spacecraft type||Small satellite|
|Launch mass||150 kg |
|Regime||Polar low Earth orbit|
(1,200 km (750 mi))
|Maiden launch||27 February 2019|
|Last launch||10 February 2022|
The OneWeb satellite constellation is a planned initial 648-satellite constellation which is in the process of being completed in 2022, with a goal to provide global satellite Internet broadband services to people everywhere, starting in 2021. The constellation is being deployed by OneWeb, headquartered in London, with offices in California, Florida, Virginia, Dubai and Singapore.
OneWeb's first six satellites were launched in February 2019, the first large batch of 34 satellites was launched in February 2020, and another 34 were put into orbit in March 2020. These were followed by more launches in 2021. The small satellites were built by OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between Airbus and OneWeb. The satellites are in a circular low Earth orbit, at approximately 1,200 km (750 mi) altitude, transmitting and receiving in the Ku-band of the radio frequency spectrum.
In late March 2020, after securing its global satellite spectrum and orbital rights with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and launching 74 satellites, OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection due to financial difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but maintained the satellite operations center for the satellites already in orbit while the court determined the disposition of OneWeb's assets. The company exited bankruptcy in November 2020, after being sold to the Government of the United Kingdom and Bharti Global.
Google participation and transfer of the spectrum
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 in the plans with as many as 1600 satellites. In May 2014, the early concept had been to have at least 20 satellites operating in each of 20 orbital planes to provide consistent internet coverage over the surface of the Earth. By June 2014, WorldVu (later to 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. They took with them the rights to a certain radio frequency spectrum that could be used to provide Internet access. At the time, WorldVu was working closely with SpaceX and SpaceX's founder Elon Musk to explore satellite internet services, although no formal relationship had been established and no launch commitments had been made in 2014.
SpaceX, initial manufacturing plans
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 had 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 2014, WorldVu issued a tender "to satellite manufacturers for 640 125-kg satellites", asking for responses by mid-December 2014, 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 American 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 fewer 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.
Funding from Virgin Group and Qualcomm
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. OneWeb also divulged that the planned satellites would weigh approximately 125 kg and that the plans were to deploy approximately 650 of them in low Earth orbit to operate at 1,200 km (750 mi) altitude. Just a few days later, Elon Musk announced the rival Starlink venture, with the opening of the SpaceX satellite development facility in Seattle, Washington, with the intent of taking SpaceX itself into the business of internet provision and internet backhaul services, initially announced as 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 kg (240 lb) class, about the same size as the two Earth-imaging satellites that were then 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.
Arianespace and Virgin Galactic as planned launch operators
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-satellite launches on Soyuz beginning in 2017 with Virgin Galactic under contract to provide 39 single-satellite launches using its LauncherOne smallsat launch vehicle.
By June 2015, the company had modified their plan somewhat to orbit a larger constellation of 720 satellites, operating in low Earth orbit at 1,200 km (750 mi) altitude, with that plan reduced by early 2016 back to just 640 satellites.
In June 2015, Airbus Defence and Space was selected to build the satellites, and development was kept on the schedule one year later with the first ten satellites still headed for a 2017 launch on a "Europeanized Soyuz launch vehicle". That same month, Hughes Communications made an equity investment in OneWeb, and agreed to produce the ground network system for OneWeb.
Largest SoftBank investment
In December 2016, SoftBank Group Corp. agreed to invest US$1 billion in OneWeb, thus becoming OneWeb's largest shareholder, with a roughly 40% stake. Another US$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.
Plans extension and buildup deadlines
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 US$500 million in 2015, plus the US$1 billion investment of SoftBank in 2016, previous "investors committed to an additional US$200 million, bringing OneWeb's total capital raised to US$1.7 billion".
In March 2017, OneWeb filed with the US regulatory authorities (FCC) plans to field a constellation of an additional 2,000 "V-band satellites in non-geosynchronous orbits to provide communications services" in an electromagnetic spectrum that had not previously been "heavily employed for commercial communications services". This would include "720 LEO V-band satellites at 1200 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". By 2017, the FCC had set a six-year deadline, requiring an entire large constellation to be deployed within that timeframe to comply with licensing terms. OneWeb received approval under that ruling. By 2019, the ruling was adjusted to state that half of a constellation must be in orbit within six years of the licensing date, with the full system in orbit within nine years.
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. By December 2018, the start was rescheduled 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 900 previously planned for the initial constellation.
Bankruptcy and bankruptcy exit
OneWeb and all its affiliates filed for bankruptcy on 27 March 2020, after experiencing difficulties raising capital to complete the building and deployment of network due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company maintained its satellite operational capabilities while the company was being restructured by the court. On 3 July 2020, OneWeb was purchased by Bharti Global (a former OneWeb partner) and the Government of the United Kingdom. The sale closed in November and OneWeb exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Additional investment in 2020 and 2021
On 15 January 2021, OneWeb announced it had secured additional funding from SoftBank Group Corp and Hughes Network Systems LLC, bringing OneWeb's total funding to US$1.4 billion for the first-generation satellite fleet, totalling 648 satellites. A further US$550m was invested by Eutelsat, the French Global satellite operator, on 27 April 2021. This increased total fresh equity since emergence from Chapter 11 to US$1.9 billion with no debt. This brought the company to 80% of is previously announced US$2.2 billion funding goal, and fund raising is actively continuing.
Active internet services
In May 2021, OneWeb said that its then current constellation (218 spacecraft) as well as an additional 36 satellites planned to launch on 1 July 2021, would be ready to provide internet services to regions north of 50° latitude by the end of 2021. This includes the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas, and Canada.
The company's 648-satellite network is planned for completion by late 2022 and OneWeb will make global internet services available at that time.
Roscosmos suspension and SpaceX launch services
In March 2022, following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin demanded that the United Kingdom sell its stake in OneWeb, and of OneWeb itself that it guarantee that its satellite constellation be used for non-military purposes exclusively. OneWeb and the United Kingdom rejected these demands, and subsequently OneWeb suspended all remaining Soyuz launches. On 21 March 2022, OneWeb announced that it had signed a launch agreement with United States launch provider SpaceX to launch the remaining satellites on Falcon 9 rockets, with the first launch expected no earlier than summer 2022.
On 27 February 2019, OneWeb successfully launched the first 6 of the 648 planned satellites (600 active plus 48 on-orbit spares) into low Earth orbit from the Centre Spatial Guyanais using a Russian Soyuz ST-B rocket.
List of launches
In November 2019, OneWeb planned monthly launches to begin in January 2020, although the first of these launches was delayed to early February 2020, and bankruptcy and subsequent reorganization delayed the third launch to December 2020. Since December 2020, OneWeb has launched 72 additional satellites from Vostochny, Siberia on 25 March and on 26 April 2021. On 1 July 2021, OneWeb launched a further 36 satellites, to take its in-orbit mega-constellation to 254 and making OneWeb the second largest satellite fleet in orbit.
|Flight No.||Date/Time (UTC)||Launch site||Launch vehicle||Number deployed||Outcome|
|1||27 February 2019 ||Kourou, ELS||Soyuz ST-B / Fregat-MT||6 (test satellites)||Success|
|2||6 February 2020 ||Baikonur Cosmodrome, Site 31||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||34 (first launch of operational satellites)||Success|
|3||21 March 2020 ||Baikonur Cosmodrome, Site 31||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||34||Success|
|4||18 December 2020 ||Vostochny Cosmodrome, Site 1S||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||36||Success|
|5||25 March 2021 ||Vostochny Cosmodrome, Site 1S||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||36||Success|
|6||25 April 2021 ||Vostochny Cosmodrome, Site 1S||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||36||Success|
|7||28 May 2021 ||Vostochny Cosmodrome, Site 1S||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||36||Success|
|8||1 July 2021 ||Vostochny Cosmodrome, Site 1S||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||36||Success|
|9||21 August 2021 ||Baikonur Cosmodrome, Site 31||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||34||Success|
|10||14 September 2021 ||Baikonur Cosmodrome, Site 31||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||34||Success|
|11||14 October 2021 ||Vostochny Cosmodrome, Site 1S||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||36||Success|
|12||27 December 2021||Baikonur Cosmodrome, Site 31||Soyuz 2.1b / Fregat-M||36||Success|
|13||10 February 2022||Kourou, ELS||Soyuz ST-B / Fregat-MT||34||Success|
|14-x||NET summer 2022||Cape Canaveral||Falcon 9||Unknown||Planned|
Total operational satellites launched: 428 as of 10 February 2022.
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 12 near polar orbit planes at 1,200 km (750 mi) altitude, at 86.4° orbital inclination. Initially 18 orbital planes with 49 satellites per plane was planned, requiring 882 satellites plus some spares, but improved satellite coverage capability allowed this to be reduced to 12 planes of 49 satellites requiring 588 satellites plus some on-orbit spares.
The first-generation satellites do not have inter-satellite data links, so will only provide a user service when also in the range of a gateway ground station.
The satellites will provide user service in the Ku-band, communicating in the microwave range of frequencies in the 12–18 GHz portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Links to gateway ground stations will be in the Ka-band. 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 cm (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".
In March 2021, OneWeb stated its market will be primarily to businesses, governments including defence, phone network operators and clusters of communities, rather than to individual domestic customers which its competitor Starlink primarily targets. The users willing to connect were advised to contact their local telecoms for additional info.
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 km (530 mi). The initial constellation would presumably be raised or lowered into its final orbital altitude of either 800 km (500 mi) or 950 km (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 kg-satellites as spares to be used in later years.
By the time the actual orbital deployment of the constellation began, in February 2019, the planned constellation size had settled once again at 648, near the original projection, with 600 active satellites with 48 on-orbit spares.
In November 2021, OneWeb says it has suffered a failure of one of its broadband satellites. The craft, which orbits at 1200km, was said by OneWeb to be one of a batch launched early last year and the failure is blamed on a software problem
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. Concerns about adding to the existing space debris problem have been expressed.
With OneWeb satellites having higher orbits than the competing Starlink megaconstallation satellites (which will deorbit in ~5 years without action due to atmospheric drag), OneWeb satellites will not passively deorbit in a reasonable timeframe. As such, each OneWeb satellite has fuel allocated to be able to actively deorbit at its end of life. OneWeb satellites are also equipped with an Altius DogTag magnetic grappling fixture, to make it possible for another spacecraft to attach and change the orbit of satellites whose built-in deorbit functionality fails, though there does not currently exist commercial services to carry out this active debris removal service. The risk of a OneWeb satellite becoming a source of debris was determined to be <0.01, which meets NASA's Technical Standard.
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 (FSB) stated in 2018 that the FSB was opposed to OneWeb covering Russia, saying 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. 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, thought to include companies such as Nevada-based Sierra Nevada Corp. and Britain's Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd." as of 2014.
Amazon announced a large broadband internet satellite constellation proposal in April 2019, planning to launch up to 3,236 satellites in the next decade in what Amazon calls "Project Kuiper", a satellite constellation that will work in concert with Amazon's previously-announced large network of 12 satellite ground station facilities (the "AWS Ground Station unit") announced in November 2018.
As of 2020, the major competitor is SpaceX's Starlink satellite network which has begun customer beta testing. However, SpaceX has a direct-to-consumer sales strategy, while OneWeb will work with partner telephone companies.
Historically, earlier companies that have attempted to build satellite internet service networks and provide space-based internet connections have not fared well, as these services were hobbled by high costs which consequently attracted few users. Iridium SSC filed for bankruptcy protection in 1999, Globalstar did the same in 2002, and Teledesic suspended its satellite construction work in the same year.
- Iridium satellite constellation — 82 operational satellites used to provide global satellite phone services.
- Orbcom satellite constellation — 29 operational satellites used to provide global asset monitoring and messaging services.
- Starlink satellite constellation — a development project underway by SpaceX to deploy nearly 12,000 satellites in three orbital shells by the mid-2020s.
- China national satellite internet project
- Lynk Global — a satellite-to-mobile-phone satellite constellation with the objective of coverage to traditional low-cost mobile devices
- 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
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Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, noted that this was the first order for new European Ariane 6 launcher
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Chris McLaughlin (OneWeb):So it is going to be price sensitive so I think a lot of what happens in LEO will be both a function of government and of defence needs, and also of connectivity for network operators, so I am not certain in OneWeb's case we will be primarily focused on broadband to every individual but rather to businesses and governments and to clusters of communities.
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It's simple: just ask your preferred local telecom operator... We are working with local telecom operators, who invest locally,.. so that we can connect users at scale.
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