After years of relentless legal badgering from internet satellite constellation competitor OneWeb, SpaceX's regulatory and legal affairs team appears to have begun to (in a professional manner) lose patience with the constant barrage.
On February 21st, SpaceX published a withering refutation of OneWeb's latest criticism that offered a range of no-holds-barred counterarguments, painting the competitor – or at least its legal affairs department – as an entity keen on trying to undermine Starlink with FCC-directed critiques based on flawed reasoning, false assumptions, misinterpretations, and more. Alongside a number of memorable one-liners and retorts, legal counselors William Wiltshire and Paul Caritj and SpaceX executives Patricia Cooper and David Goldman openly "wonder whether OneWeb would be satisfied with SpaceX operating at any altitude whatsoever."
In late 2018, SpaceX filed a request with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that would allow the company to significantly modify parts of its Starlink satellite constellation license, cutting 16 spacecraft from the original total of 4425 and moving Phase 1's now-1584 satellites from an operating altitude of ~1100-1300 km (680-810 mi) to just 550 km (340 mi). Aside from further reducing the latency of communications, SpaceX also argues that "the principal reason" behind lowering the operational altitude of the first ~37% of Starlink satellites was "to [further] enhance the already considerable space safety attributes of [the] constellation."
[...] [There] is a great deal more irony to be found in OneWeb's attempt to block SpaceX from lowering the orbit of its first ~1600 satellites. In 2017 and 2018, the company repeatedly complained to the FCC about the fact that SpaceX's Starlink constellation was to nominally be placed in orbits from ~1100-1300 km, effectively sandwiching OneWeb's own ~1200 km constellation. OneWeb continues to demand an unreasonable level of special treatment from the FCC, hoping that the commission will allow it to establish a sort of buffer zone extending 125 km above and below its own constellation, basically demanding that a huge swath of low Earth orbit be OneWeb's and OneWeb's alone. In reality, this is likely nothing more than a thinly veiled anti-competitive tactic, in which success would almost entirely bar other prospective space-based internet providers from even considering the same orbit.
Related: Competing Communications Constellations Considered
Airbus and OneWeb Begin Building Satellites for Internet Constellation
FCC Authorizes SpaceX to Provide Broadband Satellite Services
U.S. Air Force Awards SpaceX $28.7 Million to Study Military Applications of Starlink
Blue Origin to Provide Multiple Orbital Launches for Telesat
SpaceX Seeks Approval for 1 Million Starlink Ground Stations, Faces Pentagon Audit
Ars Technica On Sunday reported that Elon Musk (of SpaceX and Tesla fame) and Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic, etc.) are each preparing to launch LEO (low earth orbit) constellations of satellites to provide world-wide internet coverage:
It was an interesting week for ideas about the future of the Internet. On Wednesday, satellite industry notable Greg Wyler announced that his company OneWeb, which wants to build a micro-satellite network to bring Internet to all corners of the globe, secured investments from Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Qualcomm. Then in a separate announcement on Friday, Elon Musk said that he would also be devoting his new Seattle office to creating "advanced micro-satellites" to deliver Internet.
[...] OneWeb, formerly WorldVu Satellites Ltd, aims to target rural markets, emerging markets, and in-flight Internet services on airlines, the Wall Street Journal reported. Both Branson and Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs will sit on the company's board, but Wyler did not say how much Virgin and Qualcomm invested in his company.
Wyler said that his company's goal is to create a network of 648 small satellites that would weigh in at around 285 pounds each. The satellites would be put in orbit 750 miles above the Earth and ideally cost about $350,000 each to build using an assembly line approach. Wyler also said that Virgin, which has its own space segment, would be launching the satellites into orbit. “As an airline and mobile operator, Virgin might also be a candidate to resell OneWeb’s service,” the Journal noted. Wyler has said that he projects it to take $1.5 billion to $2 billion to launch the service, and he plans to launch in 2018.
[...] On the other hand there's Musk, who's a seasoned space-business launcher that's starting fresh in the world of satellite Internet services. The Telsa and SpaceX founder announced his plans to launch 700 satellites weighing less than 250 pounds each in November.
His satellites would also orbit the Earth at 750 miles above. Musk spoke to Bloomberg on Friday evening explaining that 750 miles above the Earth is much closer than the tens of thousands of miles above the Earth at which traditional telecommunications satellites operate.
Then it got even more interesting.
Ars is now reporting Google might pour money into SpaceX — that it really wants satellite internet:
The Information reported on Monday that, according to “several people familiar with the talks,” Google is considering investing in SpaceX to support its plan to deliver hundreds or thousands of micro satellites into a low (750 mile) orbit around the globe to serve Internet to rural and developing areas of the world. The Information's sources indicated that Google was in the “final stages” of investing in SpaceX and valued the company at “north of $10 billion.” SpaceX is apparently courting other investors as well.
[...] The Information added another interesting tidbit that was not widely reported in previous discussions of SpaceX's plans for global Internet service: “Mr. Musk appears to be trying to get around his lack of spectrum rights by relying, in part, on optical lasers.”
European aerospace giant Airbus and its partner, OneWeb, have begun the production of a satellite mega-constellation. The network will comprise at least 600 spacecraft in the first instance, but could eventually encompass more than 2,000. The aim is to deliver broadband links from orbit to every corner of the globe. In particular, the project wants every school to have a connection.
Building so large a constellation requires a step-change in the manufacture of satellites - especially for Airbus. It can take Europe's biggest space company many months and hundreds of millions of dollars to build some of today's specialist platforms. But for the OneWeb venture, it is all about high volume and low cost. That means new assembly line methods akin to those in factories producing cars and planes. The idea is to turn out three units per shift at well less than a million dollars a piece. The boss of Airbus, Tom Enders, concedes he initially thought the OneWeb concept to be fantasy. "Everything in space as you know traditionally has been 'gold-plated'; it had to work perfectly, [and have] the most expensive materials, etc. "Here, we've had to go other ways, to be really commercial and calculating according to the target cost because that is very decisive in the whole business case for OneWeb," he told BBC News.
[...] The establishment of the OneWeb constellation requires the greatest rocket campaign in the history of spaceflight. More than 20 Soyuz vehicles have been booked to throw clusters of 32-36 satellites into a web some 1,200km above the Earth. There should be just under 300 on station by the end of 2020, the start of 2021; more than 600 about a year or so later; and then over 800 by the middle of the decade.
OneWeb and Airbus are not the only companies planning a mega-constellation in the sky. SpaceX, Boeing, ViaSat and others have all sought regulatory approval. But not everyone will succeed in getting the necessary multi-billion-dollar financing, and Airbus believes the OneWeb concept has first-mover advantage.
Competing Communications Constellations Considered
The Federal Communications Commission approved an application by Space Exploration Holdings, doing business as SpaceX, to provide broadband services using satellite technology in the United States and around the world. With this action, the Commission takes another step to increase high-speed broadband availability and competition in the United States.
This is the first approval of a U.S.-licensed satellite constellation to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies. SpaceX proposed a satellite system comprised of 4,425 satellites and was granted authority to use frequencies in the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) bands to provide global Internet connectivity.
The company has already launched test versions of the satellites, but the full constellation will need to go out more than two at a time. SpaceX eventually plans to launch 12,000 of the things, but this authorization is for the high-altitude group of 4,425; a separate authorization is necessary for the remaining number, since they'll be operating at a different altitude and radio frequency.
-- submitted from IRC
In a reasonably predictable turn of events, SpaceX has been awarded a healthy $28.7M contract to study, develop, and test possible military applications of its prospective Starlink internet satellite constellation.
Previously reported by Teslarati in August 2018, FCC applications related to Starlink revealed that SpaceX had plans to develop and test Starlink interconnectivity with conformal antenna arrays installed on aircraft, all but directly pointing to military involvement with a reference to the need for aerial maneuvers "[representative] of a high-performance aircraft."
Around the same time as those FCC documents surfaced, the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) spoke with AviationWeek about plans to experiment with the potential capabilities offered by a flurry of proposed low Earth orbit (LEO) internet satellite constellations, including the likes of SpaceX's Starlink, OneWeb, a Telesat network, and others. While no specific companies were fingered in AFRL's public statements, it was far too convenient to be a coincidence. Four months later, the below transaction was published in the Department of Defense's running list of new contract awards:
"[SpaceX], Hawthorne, California, has been awarded a $28,713,994 competitive, firm-fixed-price ... agreement for experimentation ... in the areas of establishing connectivity [and] operational experimentation ... [and] will include connectivity demonstrations to Air Force ground sites and aircraft for experimental purposes. For the proposed Phase 2, the awardee proposes to perform experiments [with] early versions of a commercial space-to-space data relay service and mobile connectivity directly from space to aircraft." – Department of Defense, FBO FA8650-17-S-9300
Previously: FCC Authorizes SpaceX to Provide Broadband Satellite Services
SpaceX Starlink Satellite Prototypes Include Packed, Flexible Solar Arrays
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Fired Managers and Employees in June to Shake Up Starlink Project
Elon Musk's SpaceX Is Raising $500 Million in Funding; Now Valued at $30.5 Billion
Canadian fleet operator Telesat has agreed to launch satellites for its future low-Earth-orbit broadband constellation on multiple New Glenn missions, Blue Origin announced Jan. 31.
The agreement, for an unspecified number of launches and satellites, makes Telesat the fifth customer to sign up to use the reusable launcher, which is slated for a maiden flight in 2021.
"Blue Origin's powerful New Glenn rocket is a disruptive force in the launch services market which, in turn, will help Telesat disrupt the economics and performance of global broadband connectivity," Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg said in a news release.
Blue Origin already has eight other New Glenn missions in backlog: one each for Paris-based Eutelsat, Sky Perfect JSAT of Japan and Thai startup Mu Space, plus five launches for low-Earth-orbit megaconstellation company OneWeb.
SpaceX's Starlink constellation would compete with Telesat's low Earth orbit broadband offering. Perhaps that factored into the choice of Blue Origin as launch provider.
Related: Blue Origin to Compete to Launch U.S. Military Payloads
Blue Origin Wins Contract to Supply United Launch Alliance With BE-4 Rocket Engines
The Military Chooses Which Rockets It Wants Built for the Next Decade
Blue Origin Starts Construction of Rocket Engine Factory in Alabama
SpaceX is seeking US approval to deploy up to 1 million Earth stations to receive transmissions from its planned satellite broadband constellation.
The Federal Communications Commission last year gave SpaceX permission to deploy 11,943 low-Earth orbit satellites for the planned Starlink system. A new application from SpaceX Services, a sister company, asks the FCC for "a blanket license authorizing operation of up to 1,000,000 Earth stations that end-user customers will utilize to communicate with SpaceX's NGSO [non-geostationary orbit] constellation."
The application was published by FCC.report, a third-party site that tracks FCC filings. GeekWire reported the news on Friday. An FCC spokesperson confirmed to Ars today that SpaceX filed the application on February 1, 2019.
If each end-user Earth station provides Internet service to one building, SpaceX could eventually need authorization for more than 1 million stations in the US. SpaceX job listings describe the user terminal as "a high-volume manufactured product customers will have in their homes."
SpaceX has received government approval to deploy up to 1 million user terminals in the United States for its Starlink satellite-broadband constellation.
SpaceX asked the Federal Communications Commission for the license in February 2019, and the FCC announced its approval in a public notice last week. The FCC approval is for "a blanket license for the operation of up to 1,000,000 fixed earth stations that will communicate with [SpaceX's] non-geostationary orbit satellite system." The license is good for 15 years.
[...] One million terminals would only cover a fraction of US homes, but SpaceX isn't necessarily looking to sign up huge portions of the US population. Musk said at the conference that Starlink will likely serve the "3 or 4 percent hardest-to-reach customers for telcos" and "people who simply have no connectivity right now, or the connectivity is really bad." Starlink won't have lots of customers in big cities like LA "because the bandwidth per cell is simply not high enough," he said.
OneWeb, the only pressing competitor facing SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet constellation, has reportedly begun to consider filing for bankruptcy shortly before the London-based company completed its third dedicated launch.
SpaceX has announced a launch target of May 2019 for the first batch of operational Starlink satellites in a sign that the proposed internet satellite constellation has reached a major milestone, effectively transitioning from pure research and development to serious manufacturing.
R&D will continue as SpaceX Starlink engineers work to implement the true final design of the first several hundred or thousand spacecraft, but a significant amount of the team's work will now be centered on producing as many Starlink satellites as possible, as quickly as possible. With anywhere from 4400 to nearly 12,000 satellites needed to complete the three major proposed phases of Starlink, SpaceX will have to build and launch more than 2200 satellites in the next five years, averaging 44 high-performance, low-cost spacecraft built and launched every month for the next 60 months.
[...] According to SpaceX filings with the FCC, the first group of operational satellites – potentially anywhere from 75 to 1000 or more – will rely on just one band ("Ku") for communications instead of the nominal two ("Ku" and "Ka"), a change that SpaceX says will significantly simplify the first spacecraft. By simplifying them, SpaceX believes it can expedite Starlink's initial deployment without losing a great deal of performance or interfering with constellations from competitors like OneWeb.
Amazon's satellite internet plan is increasingly looking like the one Elon Musk has at SpaceX, with thousands of spacecraft that are compact in size. Among the reasons for the similarities, people tell CNBC, is that Jeff Bezos has hired some of Musk's previous senior management.
Former SpaceX vice president of satellites Rajeev Badyal and a couple members of his team are now leading Amazon's Project Kuiper, people familiar with the situation told CNBC.
[...] Badyal previously ran the "Starlink" division at SpaceX, which launched its first two test satellites last year. [...] Musk fired Badyal in June, one of the people said, confirming reports last year that the SpaceX CEO had become frustrated with the pace of Starlink's development. That was about four months after the launch of the first two Starlink test satellites. According to FCC documents, Starlink will become operational once at least 800 satellites are deployed.
Previously: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Fired Managers and Employees in June to Shake Up Starlink Project
SpaceX Seeks Approval for 1 Million Starlink Ground Stations, Faces Pentagon Audit
SpaceX and OneWeb Clash Over Proposed Satellite Constellation Orbits
After canceling business with Russia's space program, OneWeb is tapping rival SpaceX to help it launch its remaining internet satellites into orbit.
"We are pleased to announce that we have entered into a launch agreement withSpaceX that will enable OneWeb to resume satellite launches," UK-based OneWeb announced on Twitter today. The first launch of the OneWeb satellites using SpaceX rockets is scheduled for sometime later this year, the company added.
OneWeb previously relied on Russia's Roscosmos to launch the satellites. However, the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing sanctions from Europe caused Roscosmos to essentially retaliate by postponing an upcoming launch of OneWeb satellites.
Roscosmos then demanded the UK government divest itself from OneWeb. In response, the company canceled all launches through Russia's space program.
OneWeb's contingency plan of using SpaceX is a little surprising since both companies are competing in the internet satellite market. This has resulted in some bickering amongst each other in government regulatory filings. Last year, for example, OneWeb accused SpaceX's satellite internet system of colliding with its own.
Amazon is joining the race to provide broadband internet access around the globe via thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit, newly uncovered filings show.
The effort, code-named Project Kuiper, follows up on last September's mysterious reports that Amazon was planning a "big, audacious space project" involving satellites and space-based systems. The Seattle-based company is likely to spend billions of dollars on the project, and could conceivably reap billions of dollars in revenue once the satellites go into commercial service.
It'll take years to bring the big, audacious project to fruition, however, and Amazon could face fierce competition from SpaceX, OneWeb and other high-profile players.
[...] The filings lay out a plan to put 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit — including 784 satellites at an altitude of 367 miles (590 kilometers); 1,296 satellites at a height of 379 miles (610 kilometers); and 1,156 satellites in 391-mile (630-kilometer) orbits.
In response to GeekWire's inquiries, Amazon confirmed that Kuiper Systems is actually one of its projects.
"Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world," an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet. We look forward to partnering on this initiative with companies that share this common vision."
Amazon said the satellites would provide data coverage for spots on Earth ranging in latitude from 56 degrees north to 56 degrees south. About 95 percent of the world's population lives within that wide swath of the planet.