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SpaceX Rival OneWeb Get £18m for Ultrafast Broadband LEO Satellites

Monday, February 18th, 2019 (1:36 pm) - Score 1,882
oneweb leo satellite distance example

The UK Space Agency has awarded funding of £18 million to SpaceX rival OneWeb, which is currently in the process of building a huge constellation of 882 small Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites that will be able to supply fast broadband speeds at a lower latency to almost any part of the world.

At present many GEO Stationary Orbit (GSO) Satellites are huge (size of a large bus) and struggle to deliver latency times of less than 600ms (milliseconds). On top of that broadband speeds can vary due to limited capacity, although you’d be lucky to get much above 30Mbps at an affordable consumer level (often heavily throttled at peak times). Speeds should improve with new spacecraft, but latency will always be a problem.

By comparison the new generation of LEO Satellites sit considerably closer to the earth (around 1,200km+ LEO vs 35,000km+ GSO) and have a much shorter lifespan, after which they will disintegrate into the atmosphere. As a result its predicted that latency times for both SpaceX and OneWeb’s rival constellations could be around 25-35ms, which is pretty fast for such a network.

In terms of speed, SpaceX has often boasted that their LEOs could offer peak speeds of up to 1Gbps (here), while OneWeb seems to have a subscriber target of 100Mbps (50Mbps upload) but we’ve also seen them talk about peak speeds of 500Mbps. However SpaceX’s spacecraft seem to be bigger and weigh about 400kg, which compares with 150kg+ for OneWeb (i.e. height wise they’d come up to an adult’s waist).

As part of all this OneWeb, which was founded in the US but is currently registered in the United Kingdom, expects to create 200 jobs at its new White City office in London. A lot of the key R&D and manufacturing work is set to take place in the UK (Airbus have built the initial spacecraft). We believe their spacecraft will harness the Ka (20-30GHz) and Ku (11-14GHz) frequency bands for communications.

Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, said:

“Providing access to people everywhere has been the mission and vision of OneWeb since the very beginning. We will be able to realize this vision in part because of important partnerships like this one with the UK Space Agency, ESA and a range of other important partners including our European and Canadian partners. Thanks to this support, we will focus together on next generation technologies that will be game changers for realizing global 5G connectivity.

We are excited about the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to develop novel automation techniques that could help manage our constellation in future and ensure we do so safely and responsibly so that we can protect space for future generations.”

Chris Skidmore, Science Minister, said:

“Fast internet access is something many people take for granted but in many areas of the world connectivity is still hit and miss.

This new £18m investment will go towards meeting the significant technical challenges of the project, putting the UK at the forefront of cutting-edge research and development.

The commercial potential for a cost effective worldwide telecoms satellite system is huge, and the UK space sector is playing a leading role in delivering it. It is made possible by our ongoing commitment to the European Space Agency and our world-leading capabilities in space and telecommunications, which we are supporting through our modern Industrial Strategy.”

OneWeb’s first 10 satellites have already successfully arrived in Kourou (French Guiana) and are due to launch on 26th February 2019 at 18:37 GMT-3 on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket. Meanwhile SpaceX has so far launched a couple of trial Satellites, although the main bulk has yet to follow.

The company claims to be on a mission to bridge the digital divide with affordable broadband access by 2027 and they say it will be possible to use their platform to connect every school to the internet by 2022. Apparently this has already been quite popular because most of the capacity on their initial constellation of 648 spacecraft has been sold. In the future they may get nearly 2,000 into orbit but for now the aim is nearly 900.

Aside from the sheer complexity of managing such a huge constellation of spacecraft (tricky to avoid breaks in data coverage), there are also on-going concerns about the rising levels of “space junk” in orbit and ensuring that all of these new LEOs decay out of orbit correctly so that they don’t add to the growing problem.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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3 Responses
  1. Avatar Adam

    I just hope they’re careful when it comes to space junk. There is already too much flying around up there. Don’t want them to add more. Good news though! This could help a lot of people.

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