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Future OneWeb LEO Broadband Satellites May Adopt Laser Links

Monday, March 29th, 2021 (9:06 am) - Score 1,872

The UK MD for Defence and Space at Airbus, Richard Franklin, has reportedly said that future ultrafast broadband satellites from OneWeb could integrate lasers to help create an “unjammable” backstop for if a hostile country (e.g. Russia or China) were to ever launch attacks against our vulnerable undersea fibre optic cables.

After last week’s launch OneWeb now has a total of 146 small Low Earth Orbit (LEO) platforms in space and the initial plan is to build a constellation of 648 satellites, which is enough for a reasonable level of global coverage by around the end of 2022. After that they have future approval for a total of 2,000 satellites and 1,280 of those will be a second-generation model that sits in a higher Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) of 8,500km, but that would require much more investment.

NOTE: The first initial commercial broadband services are due to go live across parts of the UK, Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and the Arctic seas in November 2021.

In theory the new network could deliver ultrafast broadband speeds (100Mbps+) and latency times of under 40ms (example), although we still have no idea what sort of service will actually be made available to the domestic connectivity market (via a third-party ISP as they don’t sell direct like Starlink) and how much it might cost.

At the same time there’s been a lot of talk about future OneWeb satellites (possibly the MEO generation) adding global navigation features to help complement the common GPS system, but that may not be the only enhancement to come with future platforms. The company’s manufacturing partner, Airbus, has also signalled to the Mail on Sunday that laser communications may be added (these are currently in early lab testing).

Richard Franklin, Airbus MD for Defence and Space, said:

“There’s a perceived vulnerability of the very high throughput fibre optic cables. How do you create a satellite backbone that could in part create resilience for those? We see that happening through the use of lasers in space.”

At present, it’s not clear whether this is a reference to laser links with ground stations or inter-satellite lasers, or both of those in combination. SpaceX’s rival Starlink constellation has already adopted some inter-satellite laser links, which can help to improve connection reliability, performance and coverage.

Granted this approach could also improve the security of data transfer, although it’s worth remembering that any country brazen enough to disrupt the mass of undersea fibre optic links between countries (a move that would see retaliation), probably wouldn’t have too many qualms about disabling a rival country’s LEOs. Using missiles may be counter-productive due to the risk of run-away collisions, but anti-satellite lasers are also a thing.

Speaking of Defence, OneWeb just announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with US Department of Defence satellite communications application specialist, TrustComm Inc. The partnership between OneWeb and TrustComm will enable Low Earth Orbit (LEO) delivered connectivity to government customers. The deal focuses upon early adopters looking to take advantage of LEO technology including the US Naval Research Lab, US Army Futures Research Lab and others.

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12 Responses
  1. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    “UK MD for Defence and Space” at Airbus eh!
    Wonder if his business card says “UK MD for Space Defence” ?

  2. Avatar ThreeAmigos says:

    lul Russia and China are “hostile country”, and USA? what about them hahaha

  3. Avatar Yatta! says:

    “laser links with ground stations” is impracticable due to atmospheric attenuation and blooming, so would almost certainly be for inter-satellite links only.

    1. Avatar Iknowseverfinkido says:

      A laser link to the ground is perfectly feasible. It has already been tried.

      See: https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/heo/scan/opticalcommunications/llcd/

      High speed laser between earth and moon.

    2. Avatar Yatta! says:

      @Iknowseverfinkido: Feasibility for special scientific purposes and practicability for real-time any-time purposes are apples and oranges.

      As a last resort method of communication perhaps it could be useful, however as Mark pointed-out state actors who may interfere with our fibre links also possess ASAT weapons, so usefulness in that regard could be very short lived.

      Perhaps more effort should be placed into improving relations with hostile states, rather than planning for (what would most likely be) doomsday scenarios.

    3. Avatar Iknowseverfinkido says:

      When they do it and it works, what will you say then? Nothing I bet.

      There sure are a lot of satellite and space experts on this website. Pretty sure they have got a bit of a clue what they’re doing. The test NASA did was successful, so much so that they’re thinking of using it to talk to robots and crews heading to Mars. But you know best. Better than the companies doing it too apparently.

    4. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      A sensible approach suggests doing both is a wise course of action, although there are also political dynamics at work (e.g. it may be hard to improve relations with certain countries after recent events). Appeasing Hitler didn’t work out too well.

    5. Avatar Yatta! says:

      @Iknowseverfinkido: “they do it and it works” except what NASA is doing is not really comparable. “what will you say then? Nothing I bet” and “But you know best” are just silly and unnecessary.

      @Mark Jackson: Oh dear Mark jumping straight to Hitler… I didn’t suggest “appeasement” nor are we facing a confrontation with the Nazis.

      Without getting into a fruitless discussion over the aims, justifications or even necessity of WWII, neither “appeasement” or conflict (with its industrial scale misery, death and destruction) worked “out too well” for any party did it? Perhaps we should look at what lead us that conflict, and do all we can to avoid taking similar actions in future.

      Thank goodness we didn’t have a full blown, direct ‘hot’ conflict with the Soviets… as I doubt human civilisation would survived.

    6. Avatar Ackchyually says:

      Ackchyually I think you’ll find, I haven’t got a clue what i’m on about, but be damned if I’ll back down now from this. Oh the criticism, it was un-necessary of someone. You just got pwned but you still can’t admit it. Another armchair expert. Ah well.

      Never back down, never admit defeat, that’s how we won almost half the wars we’ve fought.

      PDh,BSc,MD in Ackchyuallyh. School of reddit. Fully qualified.

    7. Avatar Yatta! says:

      @Ackchyually: How petty.

    8. Avatar Ackchyually says:

      yes how petty what what.

    9. Avatar Iknowseverfinkido says:

      Ackchyually don’t bother man. Yatta! is another I’m always right and anyone who criticises me is childish and petty types. Another expert in all fields who obviously knows better than the likes of Oneweb and NASA.

      I mean he could have just said, damn, ok well done NASA but instead it’s oh it’s not comparable, it doesn’t work, I know everything about atmospheric attenuation and such. No papaers, sources to back it up but we’re supposed to take his word for it that he knows best about how space lasers to ground comms work. Oneweb are idiots, they should hire Yatta! instead since he apparently knows it all.

      I suppose i’m petty too, for pointing out another internet warrior that knows better than everyone else. All debates ended by “how petty” we should all wait for Yatta! to tell us the future and who will do what.

      Imagine if people like Colombus had listened to people like that. Must be a high school teacher. He’s argued even with the siteop because he knows better. Pathetic.

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