from the It's-getting-awful-crowded-in-my-sky dept.
For the better part of a year, SpaceX has gotten the lion's share of attention when it comes to mega-constellations and satellite Internet.
[...] But it was actually another company, OneWeb, that launched the first six satellites of its mega-constellation back in February, 2019. Initial tests of those satellites went well, the company said last summer. Now OneWeb is preparing for its second launch of 34 satellites on board a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The launch is scheduled for 4:42pm ET (21:42 UTC) on Thursday, February 6.
On the eve of Thursday's launch, Ars spoke with OneWeb Chief Executive Officer Adrián Steckel about the company's plans and how it will compete with half a dozen other firms looking at providing Internet from space.
[...] "Right now, we’re the largest buyer of launch in the world," Steckel said. "In the future, as we look to our next phase of deployment, we're willing to buy rocket launches from SpaceX, Blue Origin, or whoever."
OneWeb has taken a different approach than SpaceX in terms of how it plans to interact with customers on the ground. SpaceX has opted to offer direct-to-consumer services with the intention of selling user terminals to acquire satellite from space and essentially functioning as a new Internet provider. OneWeb plans to partner with existing telecommunications companies, Steckel said.
[...] It's a model the company believes makes sense because the right answer for getting regulatory approval and delivering service in the United States or the Philippines or Indonesia will vary, Steckel said. "We're going to be doing business with partners around the world," Steckel said. "Our style is not confrontational. We're using a different model. It's a big world."
OneWeb plans to offer its first customer demonstrations by the end of 2020 and provide full commercial global services in 2021.
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.
A Soyuz rocket launched 34 small broadband satellites for OneWeb Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, marking the beginning of a multi-launch campaign for the company.
[...] The launch expands OneWeb's constellation of low Earth orbiting satellites to 40, following a Soyuz launch last February that carried six satellites.
Adrian Steckel, OneWeb's chief executive, told SpaceNews the company has another batch of 34 satellites launching from Baikonur in March before the company plans to take a monthlong break to implement spacecraft software and hardware changes. After that pause, OneWeb plans to launch once in May and once in June before potentially shifting out of a monthly launch cadence, he said.
Steckel said OneWeb still plans to achieve global coverage by the end of 2021. The company is building its satellites in Florida through a joint venture with Airbus Defence and Space called OneWeb Satellites.
Counting Thursday's launch, OneWeb plans to conduct a total of 17 or 18 Soyuz launches and one Ariane 6 launch with Arianespace to orbit 588 satellites before the end of next year, Steckel said. After those launches, OneWeb will pause again before deciding a schedule for launching 60 spares, completing the 648-satellite first-generation constellation, he said.