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OneWeb UK to Launch 36 LEO Broadband Satellites on 17th Dec

Friday, November 20th, 2020 (2:19 pm) - Score 1,896
oneweb rocket launch arianespace soyuz

Space company OneWeb, which is owned by a consortium of the UK Government and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global (here), has today revealed that they will launch the next batch of 36 high-speed broadband capable Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites into orbit on 17th December 2020.

The operator, which has just emerged from U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and secured all of the relevant regulatory approvals, currently has 74 compact LEOs in orbit and their immediate intention is to build a modest constellation of 648 satellites (they have approval for a total of 2,000) – enough for a reasonable level of global coverage by around the end of 2022.

NOTE: Limited commercial services “above 50 degrees north latitude” (inc. UK, Alaska, Canada, Norway etc.) are due to start by the end of 2021.

The target date of 17th December 2020 has now been confirmed for their “Return to Flight“, with a 36-satellite payload – partly built by Airbus – scheduled for launch by Arianespace from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. All of the satellites have been shipped from Florida and are now said to be “undergoing preparation for launch.” The amended agreement with Arianespace provides for 16 launches (34-36 satellites per launch).

Once live the new network will focus on delivering “enterprise-grade connectivity services for communities, businesses and governments.” The low altitude (c.1,200km) of such spacecraft should deliver significantly faster latency times (c.25-40ms) than regular GEO satellites, as well as better broadband speeds, but their constellation size isn’t as grand as those of rival SpaceX and that may limit their use as an effective rural broadband fix for the mass market.

Alok Sharma MP, UK Secretary of State for Business, said:

“This strategic investment demonstrates Government’s commitment to the UK’s space sector in the long-term and our ambition to put Britain at the cutting edge of the latest advances in space technology.

Access to our own global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect people worldwide, providing fast UK-backed broadband from the Shetlands to the Sahara and from Pole to Pole.

This deal gives us the chance to build on our strong advanced manufacturing and services base in the UK, creating jobs and technical expertise.”

Neil Masterson, OneWeb’s New CEO, said:

“I am looking forward to helping the OneWeb team deliver and commercialise their vision to provide internet access across the globe. OneWeb has a strong social purpose to improve the world’s access to information, which I share. It has great talent, a compelling commercial opportunity, and is supported by committed and knowledgeable owners and investors.

Our December launch puts the UK firmly in the global space business, alongside acknowledged Indian telecoms experts, Bharti Global. OneWeb will be a model for responsible co-operation in Space.”

One other big change here is that Neil Masterson, who was formerly Co-Chief Operating Officer at Thomson Reuters, has been appointed CEO of OneWeb. Meanwhile the outgoing CEO, Adrian Steckel, will continue as an Adviser to the Board after joining the company in September 2018.

We should point out that 1,280 of the currently approved future plan for 2,000 satellites will actually sit in a higher medium Earth orbit of 8,500km and that could have a negative impact upon those latency times, albeit with better coverage.

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10 Responses
  1. Avatar Matthew says:

    I’m still very suspect that this is goverment funded struggling to see the benefit the UK at the moment can’t even launch from it’s own country. And a mess up of LEO and mid range Satellites are going be far worse then Space X who can deploy there satellites with much greater ease and are far ahead of OneWeb in deployment.

    1. Avatar pikkoz says:

      Agreed,also considering that SpaceX can put payload in orbit at 1/3 of the price of the nearest competitor (and still being the major expense over the total cost) i really don’t know how this system can remotely compete unless it gets heavily subsided by our tax money.
      Plus as far as i know to keep using that space at that altitude you have to demonstrate to launch a number of satellites within a certain timeframe and so far Oneweb is nowhere near to reach that number within the deadline it was given.

    2. Avatar Stuart says:

      I think the UK government invested in this, for the same reason they just announced bringing forward EV’s.

      It’s a Brexit trade deal bargaining tactic. It sends a message to the EU, we don’t care about your GPS, and we can buy/build our EV’s from from/with Asia & US manufactures.

      You can argue these wont work politically or technically, especially the GPS, but that’s besides the point. Don’t underestimate the spin you can add to a half-a-billion dollar investment.

  2. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    Wonder if this is anything to do with the UK needing access to GPS satellites by January?

    1. Avatar Matthew says:

      @buggerlugz

      There is no urgent urgent need to get a GPS solution for the U.K. the US are not going cut off there biggest military ally anytime soon from GPS access.

    2. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      Looking at the “loser” Trump in recent days, there’s always a “toys out the pram moment”, you never know…..

    3. Avatar pikkoz says:

      No it doesn’t , LEO satellites can’t provide GPS as intended , their speed relative to the surface make it very hard to get a stable triangulation. It may be doable with a very very dense array of satellites , multiples time what is needed for full satellite broadband but then it would be a nightmare to maintain and much more expensive that a proper gps system.
      Uk space agency was very clear on the matter but probably or MPs minds are so advanced that they can bend physics and logic and they have a solution for this.

    4. Avatar Stuart says:

      It has everything to do with GPS satellites imo (see my other answer). If it could be done or not, is another matter. We Brits are good at lateral thinking, when it comes to engineering, so who knows. The point was made, that it would end up costing more than a purpose built GPS. Well maybe, but it does comes with a fast broadband network, which is useful, both at home and abroad. Subsidise UK access, and sell the service to the rest of the world to help claw back the costs.

  3. Avatar Yatta! says:

    The magic money forest apparently stretches to the Earth’s orbit.

  4. Avatar NeilM says:

    I understood that for a satellite to provide GPS functionality, it required some very specific hardware to do with timing/atomic clocks etc. The Oneweb satellites don’t have this hardware at this time.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYdSdawgMrw (4:20 onwards)

    Also I thought the idea of the “Purchase” was to get the satellites built in the UK, I wonder when that’s going to happen (or not).

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