AST SpaceMobile, the company building the first and only space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones, announced today that it had successfully completed deployment of the communications array for its test satellite, BlueWalker 3 (“BW3”), in orbit.
BW3 is the largest-ever commercial communications array deployed in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and is designed to communicate directly with cellular devices via 5G frequencies (which have yet to be standardized by ITU-R in M.1036 revision 6).
The satellite spans 693 square feet in size, a design feature critical to support a space-based cellular broadband network. The satellite is expected to have a field of view of over 300,000 square miles on the surface of the Earth.
The unfolding of BW3 was made possible by years of R&D, testing and operational preparation. AST SpaceMobile has a portfolio of more than 2,400 patent and patent-pending claims supporting its space-based cellular broadband technology. Additional details on the BlueWalker 3 mission can be seen in this video.
“Every person should have the right to access cellular broadband, regardless of where they live or work. Our goal is to close the connectivity gaps that negatively impact billions of lives around the world,” said Abel Avellan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AST SpaceMobile. “The successful unfolding of BlueWalker 3 is a major step forward for our patented space-based cellular broadband technology and paves the way for the ongoing production of our BlueBird satellites.”
AST SpaceMobile has agreements and understandings with mobile network operators (“MNOs”) globally that have over 1.8 billion existing subscribers, including a mutual exclusivity with Vodafone in 24 countries. Interconnecting with AST SpaceMobile’s planned network will allow MNOs, including Vodafone Group, Rakuten Mobile, AT&T, Bell Canada, MTN Group, Orange, Telefonica, Etisalat, Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison, Smart Communications, Globe Telecom, Millicom, Smartfren, Telecom Argentina, Telstra, Africell, Liberty Latin America and others, the ability to offer extended cellular broadband coverage to their customers who live, work and travel in areas with poor or non-existent cell coverage, with the goal of eliminating dead zones with cellular broadband from space.
“We want to close coverage gaps in our markets, particularly in territories where terrain makes it extremely challenging to reach with a traditional ground-based network. Our partnership with AST SpaceMobile – connecting satellite directly to conventional mobile devices – will help in our efforts to close the digital divide,” said Luke Ibbetson, Head of Group R&D, Vodafone and an AST SpaceMobile director.
Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony and an AST SpaceMobile director, added “Our mission is to democratize access to mobile connectivity: That is why we are so excited about the potential of AST SpaceMobile to support disaster-readiness and meet our goal of 100% geographical coverage to our customers in Japan. I look forward not only to testing BW3 on our world-leading cloud-native network in Japan, but also working with AST SpaceMobile on integrating our virtualized radio network technology to help bring connectivity to the world.”
Chris Sambar, President – Network, AT&T, added “We’re excited to see AST SpaceMobile reach this significant milestone. AT&T’s core mission is connecting people to greater possibilities on the largest wireless network in America. Working with AST SpaceMobile, we believe there is a future opportunity to even further extend our network reach including to otherwise remote and off-grid locations.”
About AST SpaceMobile:
AST SpaceMobile is building the first and only global cellular broadband network in space to operate directly with standard, unmodified mobile devices based on our extensive IP and patent portfolio. Our engineers and space scientists are on a mission to eliminate the connectivity gaps faced by today’s five billion mobile subscribers and finally bring broadband to the billions who remain unconnected. For more information, follow AST SpaceMobile on YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Watch this video for an overview of the SpaceMobile mission.
CEA, a technology-research organization, and Astrocast, a leading global satellite Internet of Things network operator, have announced their successful collaboration on a low-cost, bidirectional communication module that enables corporations to communicate with their remote assets in areas not covered by terrestrial networks.
The module’s L-band chip, based on a new architecture developed by CEA-Leti, is a key hardware component that enables Astrocast customers to cost-efficiently communicate with their assets in the field via its network. It was completed earlier this year in an expedited project between the research institute and Astrocast, and is embedded in Astrocast’s RF module, called Astronode S.
The chip’s architecture is split over the RF core and digital processing and control units. It is fully optimized to support Astrocast’s dedicated bidirectional ground-to-satellite protocol and provides an optimal trade-off between link budget and low-power and low-cost constraints. The chip also embeds all low-earth orbit (LEO), satellite-specific features such as satellite detection and robustness to Doppler shift.
The miniaturized, surface-mount module communicates with terrestrial devices via Astrocast’s constellation of LEO satellites. Using the L-band spectrum, the network primarily targets maritime, oil & gas, agriculture, land transport and environmental applications in which ubiquitous coverage is required.
“Terrestrial IoT networks cover only about 15 percent of the planet, which leaves vast remote and rural areas where our global satellite network provides coverage that is crucial for our target markets,” said Laurent Vieira de Mello, Astrocast’s COO. “Leveraging its expertise embedded in a preliminary version of the RF chip, CEA-Leti developed its chip and delivered the final prototype to meet our requirements and time-to-market goals. They managed the chip technology transfer to our industrialization, qualification and production partner.”
The project’s critical time-to-market window was managed through a flexible collaboration model covering both prototype and industrialization phases.
“An accelerated time-to-market goal drove this project from the outset,” said Michel Durr, business development manager at CEA-Leti. “We pioneered this RF technology in 2019, and our team customized it for Astrocast up to production in only three years.”
CEA-Leti’s industrial tester used for characterization was key to accelerating from prototype to production, which enabled prototype characterization in parallel on the tester and in the lab, Durr explained.
“This process provided a short-loop debug capability with all skills available at CEA-Leti, and enabled us to deliver fully validated inputs to Astrocast’s industrialization partner for an easier industrial test-program development,” he said.
The low-energy, compact, surface-mount Astronode S module for highly integrated, battery-powered IoT systems offers a total cost of ownership up to three times lower than traditional satellite IoT alternatives.
Apple finally confirmed a longstanding rumor that its new iPhones will be able to connect directly to LEO satellites to send and receive text messages. The feature, called Emergency SOS, will allow iPhone 14 models to message from remote locations not covered by traditional cellular infrastructure. Apple says the service launches in November and will be free to iPhone 14 buyers for two years. It didn’t specify what it might cost after that. Apple noted at Wednesday’s Cupertino, CA HQ event that its smartphone would need to be pointed directly at a satellite to work, and that even light foliage could make texts a few minutes to send.
Globalstar confirmed in a filing Wednesday that it will be operating the service through a partnership with Apple. Under that agreement, Apple will cover 95% of the capital expenditures made by Globalstar to build up its network, including new satellites, to provide the service. It will require Globalstar to allocate 85% of its “current and future network capacity” to support the service, which analyst Mike Crawford of B. Riley describes as “in one fell swoop converting an underutilized asset to a productive asset.”
The deal will include service fees and potential bonus payments, allowing Globalstar to project total revenue in a range of $185 million to $230 million for next year and $250 million to $310 million for 2026, which is expected to be the first full year that all of the company’s new satellites are operational. Even the low end of the near-term target would be a record high for the satellite-service provider, representing a gain of 44% above the annual revenue Globalstar has averaged for the past three years. Globalstar notably broke from the traditionally dry language of SEC filings to describe the deal as “transformational.”
Globalstar, currently offers SPOT X which provides 2-way satellite messaging so users can stay connected whenever you’re outside of cellular range, including direct communication with search & rescue services in case of a life-threatening emergency. SPOT X provides your own personal U.S. mobile number so others can message you directly from their mobile phone or SMS devices at any time.
Globalstar Satellite System:
Like “bent-pipes” or mirrors in the sky, the Globalstar satellites pick up signals from over 80% of the Earth’s surface. Our satellites transmit customer signals via CDMA technology to antennas at the appropriate terrestrial gateway, then the signals are routed through the local networks. This highly effective design offers the shortest connectivity latency and enables Globalstar to upgrade our system with the latest technology on the ground.
Globalstar’s new satellite constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and second generation ground infrastructure deliver exceptional quality, reliable coverage and high quality service to its customers.
Image Credit: Globalstar
The company’s patented satellite path and gateway diversity technologies allow customers to stay connected in the event of a single satellite failure by automatically transmitting to the next available satellite. This ensures uninterrupted communication in even the most suboptimal conditions like mountainous areas or urban canyons.
There is increasing competition for LEO satellite based internet access from smartphones:
- Starlink/SpaceX, announced a deal last month with T-Mobile to launch a text-based service by the end of next year. The Apple-Globalstar service might have cooled some enthusiasm. It is designed for emergency texting only, as opposed to providing a more typical smartphone experience in the wild.
- In addition to T-Mobile’s venture with SpaceX, the Globalstar rival Iridium announced in July that it has entered a development agreement with an unnamed company for a smartphone service that it expects to complete by the end of the year. Ric Prentiss of Raymond James wrote Thursday that the total addressable market “for satellite-smartphone off-the-grid connectivity is quite large with room for several initiatives globally.”
OneWeb is teaming with the University of Surrey and IT services company CGI to test the integration of satellite communications and mobile 5G networks. The LEO satellite internet provider is still 220 satellites short of its 648 target.
OneWeb CTO Massimiliano Ladovaz said: “Creating an interoperable low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications and mobile 5G network is critical to achieve a ubiquitous, affordable, fast and consistent connectivity experience to businesses, users and governments.”
In July Eutelsat, which has a fleet of geostationary satellites, announced an agreed takeover of OneWeb in a deal that values the LEO company at US$3.4 billion.
OneWeb’s launch programme was brought a halt by Russia’s war on Ukraine: the company used a Russian launcher and Russian launch sites, including Vostochny in the Russian far east (pictured).
Ladovaz said: “This pilot is an important step in our mission to connect people everywhere, on land, at sea and in the air, providing the opportunity for people to realise their full potential even in the remotest reaches of the planet.”
OneWeb’s partner in the project is the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey, which is in Guildford, south-west of London.
The project will test the use of OneWeb’s low-latency satellite network capability to transport 5G services in backhaul, and to backhaul from a mobile 5G base station to a 5G core network.
Professor Rahim Tafazolli, head of the Institute for Communications at the University of Surrey, said: “Satellite systems are key enablers for 5G services and they will become increasingly integrated with communications networks as we progress beyond 5G towards 6G in solving cost-effectively the societal challenge of the digital divide.”
At the other partner, CGI, Shaun Stretton, senior VP for space control and information solutions, said: “Fully integrated 5G hybrid networks bring the promise of ubiquitous, seamless and high-speed connectivity to us all. … At CGI we have been leading the way in making these complex integrated networks a reality and we are very much looking forward to working with our world class partners to further address these challenges so that we can bring these game changing capabilities to market.”
During a live media event Thursday afternoon, T-Mobile’s Mike Sievert and SpaceX’s Elon Musk announced a new partnership that’s intended to connect T-Mobile sold phones to a new constellation of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. The result, according to the companies, will be the elimination of all cellular dead zones around the U.S.
“It’s a lot like putting a cellular tower in the sky,” Sievert said, adding that the “vast majority” of T-Mobile’s existing phones would be supported by the service. Meaning, customers will not need to purchase new phones in order to connect them to Starlink’s second-generation satellites.
Sievert said that T-Mobile expects to offer the service for no additional charge on its more expensive plans. For customers on its cheaper plans, he said they may need to pay an additional monthly charge in order to be able to access satellite coverage.
Starlink’s satellites will use T-Mobile’s mid-band spectrum to create a new network. Most phones used by the company’s customers will be compatible with the new service, which will start with texting services in a beta phase beginning by the end of next year. The companies did not say when it might launch commercially.
T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert at a joint news conference at Space X facility in Brownsville, TX
SpaceX has launched nearly 3,000 low-Earth-orbiting (LEO) Starlink satellites since 2019, handily outpacing rivals OneWeb and Amazon.com Inc’s Project Kuiper. Starlink recently suffered a major setback when the FCC rejected the company’s application for almost $900 million in government subsidies. The agency ruled that Starlink’s service likely wouldn’t be able to meet the agency’s speed and service requirements.
SpaceX’s next-generation Starlink satellites, the first of which are planned to launch on SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket whenever it is fully developed, will have larger antennae that will allow connectivity directly to mobile phones on the T-mobile network, Musk said.
Meanwhile, U.S telecom firms are in a race to build up the mid-band portion of their 5G networks to catch up with T-Mobile, which bagged a chunky 2.5 GHz of mid-band spectrum thanks to a buyout of rival Sprint.
Mid-band or C-Band has proven to be perfect for 5G, as it provides a good balance of capacity and coverage. T-Mobile said it aims to pursue voice and data coverage after the texting services beta phase.
Others in the Mix:
Satellite communications firm AST SpaceMobile Inc is also building a global cellular broadband network in space that will operate with mobile devices without the need for additional hardware. AST SpaceMobile is relying on SpaceX’s rockets to get its satellites into orbit, having pivoted away from a plan to use Russian rockets after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Elon [Musk] and Mike [Sievert, of T-Mobile] helped the world focus attention on the huge market opportunity for SpaceMobile, the only planned space-based cellular broadband network,” AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan wrote on LinkedIn yesterday. “BlueWalker 3 … is scheduled for launch within weeks!”
Meanwhile, Verizon and AT&T each have their own satellite plans: Verizon plans to use Amazon’s planned Project Kuiper satellites to connect its rural cell towers to the Internet, and AT&T is planning a similar setup with OneWeb’s own growing constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
In 2020, AT&T agreed to let startup AST SpaceMobile use its Band 5 spectrum to test transmissions from its BlueWalker 1 satellite to devices on the ground. AST SpaceMobile is now hoping to launch its new BlueWalker 3 prototype later next month. However, as reported by SpaceNews, supply chain issues delayed the launch of AST SpaceMobile’s first operational satellite by about six months, to late 2023.
AST SpaceMobile’s main rival, Lynk, already has one operational satellite in orbit for phone connections. As noted by Ars Technica, the company is hoping to receive FCC approval to offer satellite-to-phone services across 35 countries by the end of this year.
“Elon said it’s hard, and it’s only been done in the lab, but Lynk has done it in space already,” Lynk’s Charles Miller told the publication yesterday. “We’re the only company in the world that has done that.”
Lynk hasn’t yet announced an agreement with a major U.S. network operator, though it has agreements with a number of international operators. Lynk tested its services in the U.S. with Smith Bagley, a tiny wireless network operator offering services under the Cellular One brand in East Arizona.
“There are significant regulatory hurdles to clear, as the FCC is reviewing SpaceX’s request to launch a constellation of 30,000 Gen2 satellites, while other LEO proposals including Amazon’s Project Kuiper (with whom Verizon is collaborating) and AST SpaceMobile (financial backing from Vodafone and a commercial agreement with AT&T) are also working DC as well as international agencies to put some rules in place for this latest chapter of the Space Race,” Raymond James analysts wrote in a note to investors.
UPDATE: Apple iPhone 14 text messages via Globalstar LEO satellites starting Nov 2022:
Philippines PLDT’s wireless subsidiary Smart Communications is collaborating with U.S.-based Omnispace to explore and demonstrate the capabilities of space-based 5G communications using low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. That despite there are no standards or completed 3GPP specs for LEO satellite based 5G or any space based 5G.
The Omnispace 5G NTN global network will interconnect with terrestrial or land-based mobile networks to serve mobile subscribers utilizing the company’s 2 GHz mobile satellite spectrum allocation and operating in 3GPP band n256.
As the world’s first 3GPP-compliant 5G NTN system, the Omnispace network is expected to deliver the power of 5G directly to billions of devices everywhere, extending the reach of mobile connectivity to enable people and assets to communicate in real-time through a single, seamless global service.
“We are excited to announce this collaborative agreement with Smart Communications, which shares our vision of delivering reliable mobile connectivity to consumer, government and enterprise users, everywhere,” said Brian Pemberton, Omnispace. “Together with Smart, we seek to bridge the digital divide, while also providing the communications infrastructure to power the development of the Filipino economy of the future.”
PLDT and Smart’s pioneering foray into satellite-powered communication is part of their broader initiative to deliver world-class customer services across the country, complementing the nationwide rollout of their fiber infrastructure, and wireless networks based on 4G and 5G technologies.
UK backed satellite communications company OneWeb and U.S. based Intelsat have signed a global distribution partnership agreement to offer airlines a seamless inflight connectivity (IFC) solution with the best combination of performance, coverage and reliability on the market. The partnership enables Intelsat to distribute OneWeb’s ground-breaking low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite services to airlines worldwide, coupled with Intelsat’s extensive IFC experience and existing geo-stationary (GEO) satellite service. The result is a truly multi-orbit solution for the aviation community, leveraging the benefits of both networks.
By harnessing the power of multi-orbit capabilities, Intelsat will ensure airlines and their passengers are able to enjoy the best IFC, without compromise. Airlines and their passengers will no longer have to accept significant gaps in IFC coverage or capacity – even at busy hubs, across oceans and over polar routes. Intelsat will seamlessly manage connectivity, allowing passengers to remain connected no matter where they are. The companies expect the multi-orbit solution to be in service by 2024.
“This level of connectivity will enable airlines to maximise brand affiliation with passengers through all their onboard services – delivering a truly connected end-to-end passenger journey,” said Jeff Sare, Intelsat’s President, Commercial Aviation. “The hybrid service offering further allows the global airline community to plan their suite of next-generation onboard services with confidence – not only ensuring a future-proofed passenger inflight connectivity experience, but also the implementation of a connected airline digitalisation strategy.”
“This is a watershed moment for the inflight connectivity market, and we’re excited to work together with Intelsat to bring our multi-orbit solution to commercial aviation. We’re committed to delivering the most differentiated and innovative solution for airlines,” said Ben Griffin, OneWeb Vice President, Mobility Services. “We are proving that, through the power of partnership, a superior suite of multi-orbit capabilities can be offered to better serve the growing connectivity needs of the commercial aviation industry, delivering the highest value coupled with the lowest risk.”
Intelsat and OneWeb have previous history: in 2015, Intelsat engaged in a $500 million round of funding in the then satellite communications startup. Much has changed since that time, with both satellite providers subsequently filing for bankruptcy. OneWeb emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020, while Intelsat only formally emerged from its bankruptcy earlier in 2022. Meanwhile, the two partners are also apparently pursuing mergers with other companies.
There are currently 4,852 operating satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) from some eighty nations, though roughly half are U.S. commercial and government/military satellites. They are essential for everything from nuclear command and control, climate observation to GPS, and the internet, streaming video, and ATMs. Moreover, an already crowded earth orbit is getting worse. The private sector is driving the new space economy enabled by new technologies to miniaturize satellites, like the aforementioned cubesats. Google and Elon Musk’s SpaceX alone plan to launch some 50,000 cubesats in this decade.
Currently, Starlink (owned by SpaceX) has approximately 2,200 small satellites in LEO and working. That’s about half of SpaceX’s planned first-generation network of 4,408 Starlink satellites.
The 4,400 satellites will be spread among five different orbital “shells” at different altitudes and inclinations. SpaceX, founded and led by Elon Musk, has stated it eventually intends to launch as many as 42,000 satellites.
An explosion of private-sector space business—from satellite launches and space shuttles to the quest for mining asteroids and planets—has blurred the line between civilian and military activities, racing ahead of any duly considered global regulation. Dealing with space junk, however, is the most promising area for cooperation. The threat of space debris to all nations’ vital economic and national security assets in space—democracy-autocracy polarization notwithstanding—would, like climate change, seem such an instance.
Last November, Russia shot a missile into space to test its anti-satellite technology to see if it could destroy or incapacitate one of its own orbiting satellites. It did. The U.S. State Department says that missile smashed the Russian spacecraft into 1,500 large pieces and hundreds of thousands of smaller fragments, which resulted in a dangerous cloud of debris. That forced the crew aboard the ISS (International Space Station) to take shelter in their escape pops, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. The resulting debris passed close to the ISS, but didn’t hit it. The crew was fine, but the incident highlighted just how big of a problem space debris can be.
In mid April, U.S. vice president Kamala Harris said the US would not conduct tests like this and called on other countries to do the same, but that promise won’t reduce the space junk already out there. Missile tests are just one way that space debris is created. Sometimes used rockets and old satellites are intentionally left up in space threatening to hit satellites or space rockets. And the more of it that space junk floating around, the harder it will be to avoid.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Surveillance Network is the premier mechanism for monitoring space junk. Russia has some orbital monitoring capacity, but few other states do. Moreover, in addition to its unrivaled space surveillance capacity to monitor debris, the United States already has Spacing Sharing Agreements with over 100 nations to provide data and notifications to avoid collisions. These are important global public goods that can provide diplomatic leverage for shaping space rules and standards on space debris. The United States had given a heads-up to China about such risks during the Obama administration, according to well-placed sources.
In addition, private sector firms and startups in Japan, the United States, and Europe are devising ways to remove space debris, in what appears to be a coming sector of the space economy. The U.S. Space Force’s technology arm is already exploring the possibility of funding private firms to remove space debris. There are a range of methods of space junk removal being developed from satellite magnets, nets, harpoons, and even spider-like webs. These are all likely future contractors, bearing the risks of research and development.
International cooperation will be needed to effectively clean up space junk. There are only a handful of high-performance space-faring states—the United States, Russia, China, the EU, Japan, and India. As discussed above, the United States is well-positioned as first among equals to launch an ad hoc public-private coalition of space powers partnering with the private sector to pool resources and (non-national security-sensitive) capabilities to better monitor and clean up space debris and seek mutually acceptable codes of conduct and rules for such activities.
Robert Manning and Peter Wilson suggest the methods and procedures should be based an open architecture with adherence to the principle of form follows function: open to emerging space powers—South Korea, Brazil, Israel, and others.
China start-up GalaxySpace has launched China’s first low-Earth orbit (LEO) broadband satellite constellation, reported state-owned news outlet CGTN, which it hopes will one day offer an alternative choice to SpaceX’s Starlink service. These satellites will be part of a testing network of satellite internet, nicknamed “Mini-spider Constellation,” the company said.
Six 5G-capable satellites were deployed, joining a seventh test satellite that was launched back in January 2020. Each one boasts 40 Gbps of capacity and can provide 30 minutes of coverage before handing off to the next satellite. It’s worth noting also – given the Chinese government’s penchant for keeping tabs on the populace – that each one is also capable of taking pictures and video. According to GalaxySpace’s website, design and production of these six satellites took just 11 months to deploy.
“Today’s launch proved that China has the capability to build satellite internet constellation at large scale, which includes the ability to mass-produce satellites at low cost as well as to operate in network,” the company’s co-founder Chang Ming told CGTN. “This will promote the development of the technology for integrating remote sensing and low-orbit communication satellites for commercial use,” he added.
GalaxySpace plans to launch 1,000 satellites, an impressive figure, but relatively small considering Starlink already has 2,000 in orbit and plans to launch many tens of thousands more. It is due to put another 48 into orbit on Wednesday; it also made the news last week when CEO Elon Musk claimed Starlink was the only non-Russian comms system still up and running in some parts of Ukraine.
GalaxySpace’s low-Earth-orbit broadband communication satellites. /GalaxySpace
Low-Earth orbit is set to become even more crowded once Amazon gets round to launching its Project Kuiper operation. Last November the company sought the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s permission to deploy and operate no fewer than 7,774 LEO satellites. Meanwhile, separately from GalaxySpace, the Chinese government has set a target of creating a 13,000-strong fleet of LEO broadband satellites that will offer nationwide coverage. Lets not forget smaller players like OneWeb as well, which in February successfully launched a further 34 LEO satellites, increasing the size of its fleet to 428, well on the way to its target of 648 in total.
With many other LEO constellations also in the works, it is little wonder that recent forecasts from Northern Sky Research (NSR) predict that satellite communications will become the biggest single sector of the global space economy in terms of revenue by 2030. The research firm reckons the overall space market will generate cumulative revenue of $1.25 trillion by 2030.
There is also renewed interest in high-altitude platform systems (HAPS), which are designed to offer connectivity from the stratosphere. Recent highlights include UK-based Stratospheric Platforms, which last week carried out a successful test of its HAPS technology over Saudi Arabia. In addition, Japan’s NTT recently brought together various partners, including Airbus and Sky Perfect JSAT Corporation, to study the feasibility of HAPS-based internet services.
The European Union is considering revised plans for a low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet system that would take on SpaceX/Starlink, OneWeb, Amazon Kuiper, Telesat and other LEO satellite internet players in a bid to lessen Europe’s reliance on US technology for secure connectivity, the Financial Times reports (paywall applies). The Secure Communications Initiative, as the proposed system is called, is the brainchild of Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, who wants the bloc to build a third satellite constellation for secure Internet access. The EU already has the Galileo system for navigation and Copernicus for Earth observation. Similar proposals have already been rejected twice, says the report, but Breton is hoping these amended plans will be able to snake their way through the EU’s notoriously slow-moving internal approvals process.
Breton told a press conference in Strasbourg on Tuesday: “This is of central importance in terms of our strategic and technical sovereignty.” He added that it would be connected to other unnamed satellite constellations to save money. Regarding obtaining the spectrum to broadcast the signals, he said: “We know where to find this frequency. It is not an issue.”
The general objective of this proposal is to establish a Union secure satellite communication system (hereafter the ‘Programme’) that ensures the provision of worldwide secure, flexible and resilient satellite communication services to the Union and Member States governmental entities. Satellite communications provide ubiquitous coverage, which is complementary to terrestrial networks (ground-based in a digital communication in areas where terrestrial networks are absent (e.g. oceans, during flights, or in remote locations / islands with no cellular or broadband coverage), have been destroyed (e.g. during flooding events, or forest fires) or where local networks cannot be trusted (in crisis situations, or for diplomatic services in third countries or for sensitive governmental operations).
The signals from the new system would be encrypted and offered to Europe as well as Africa to give that continent an alternative to Chinese-built infrastructure. It would also provide a back-up in case of cyber attacks on broadband networks.
The reusable first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket returns to land after deploying a satellite this month. The EU wants its own sovereign satellite internet system © Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty