OneWeb, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications company that’s emerged from bankruptcy is jointly owned by the UK Government and Bharti Global. The company today announced that it has secured additional funding from SoftBank Group Corp. (“SoftBank”) and Hughes Network Systems LLC (“Hughes”), bringing OneWeb’s total funding to $1.4 billion. The capital raised to date positions the Company to be fully funded for its first-generation satellite fleet, totaling 648 satellites, by the end of 2022.
Prior to the latest funding round, the UK government and Bharti Global held 42.2% stake, respectively in OneWeb with other partners holding the balance 15.6%. “The capital raised to date positions the company to be fully funded for its first-generation satellite fleet, totaling 648 satellites, by the end of 2022,” as per a statement released by OneWeb.
Currently, satellite internet is a great option for residents of rural or suburban areas. Along with basically unlimited availability, satellite internet also offers Wi-Fi connectivity and speeds fast enough for streaming services. In addition to OneWeb, Starlink/SpaceX, Kuiper/Amazon, Boeing and Telesat are investing heavily into LEO satellites, aiming to launch thousands of low-orbiting satellites in coming years.
OneWeb’s mission is to deliver broadband connectivity worldwide to bridge the global Digital Divide by offering everyone, everywhere access including to the Internet of Things (IoT) future and a pathway to 5G.
OneWeb’s LEO satellite system includes a network of global gateway stations and a range of user terminals for different customer markets capable of delivering affordable, fast, high-bandwidth and low-latency communications services. In December 2020, OneWeb launched 36 new satellites, built at its Airbus Joint Venture assembly plant in Florida, USA, bringing the Company’s total fleet to 110 satellites, all fully-functioning and benefitting from International Telecommunication Union spectrum priority.
Sunil Bharti Mittal, Executive Chairman of OneWeb, commented, “We are delighted to welcome the investment from SoftBank and Hughes. Both are deeply familiar with our business, share our vision for the future, and their commitment allows us to capitalise on the significant growth opportunity ahead for OneWeb. We gain from their experience and capabilities, as we deliver a unique LEO network for the world.”
Secretary of State, BEIS, The Rt. Hon. Kwasi Kwarteng, MP said: “Our investment in OneWeb is part of our continued commitment to the UK’s space sector, putting Britain at the forefront of the latest technological advances. Today’s investment brings the company one step closer to delivering its mission to provide global broadband connectivity for people, businesses and governments, while potentially unlocking new research, development and manufacturing opportunities in the UK.”
Masayoshi Son, Representative Director, Corporate Officer, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank, said, “We are excited to support OneWeb as it increases capacity and accelerates towards commercialisation. We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Bharti, the UK Government and Hughes to help OneWeb deliver on its mission to transform internet access around the world.”
Pradman Kaul, President of Hughes, remarked, “OneWeb continues to inspire the industry and attract the best players in the business to come together to bring its LEO constellation to fruition. The investments made today by Hughes and SoftBank will help realise the full potential of OneWeb in connecting enterprise, government and mobility customers, especially with multi-transport services that complement our own geostationary offerings in meeting and accelerating demand for broadband around the world.”
Neil Masterson, CEO of OneWeb, added “OneWeb’s mission is to connect everyone, everywhere. We have made rapid progress to re-start the business since emerging from Chapter 11 in November. We welcome the investments by SoftBank and Hughes as further proof of progress towards delivering our goal.”
In connection with the investment, SoftBank will gain a seat on the OneWeb Board of Directors. Hughes is an investor through its parent company EchoStar, and also an ecosystem partner, developing essential ground network technology for the OneWeb system.
Additionally, OneWeb has reduced its request for US market access from 47,884 to 6,372 satellites. Together with the satellites for which it is already licensed by the FCC, the total constellation size will be roughly 7,000, down from the 48,000 or so proposed last year.
According to the company, this solidification of their constellation demonstrates the commitment and vision of OneWeb’s new owners, the UK Government and Bharti Global, who are dedicated to deploying a cost effective, responsible, and groundbreaking satellite network to deliver global broadband.
The firm stated that OneWeb remains focused on launching its first-generation system of 648 satellites and is on track to start regional commercial services within a year. This streamlining of activities highlights OneWeb’s plan for global connectivity services and for future generations and possibilities for the network.
OneWeb is a global communications network powered from space, headquartered in London, enabling connectivity for governments, businesses, and communities. It is implementing a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites with a network of global gateway stations and a range of user terminals to provide an affordable, fast, high-bandwidth and low-latency communications service, connected to the IoT future and a pathway to 5G for everyone, everywhere. Find out more at http://www.oneweb.world
European Union (EU) internal market commissioner Thierry Breton made several important comments at the European Space Conference (ESA) yesterday. Breton outlined plans to “develop rapidly” a new space-based connectivity initiative. In particular, the EU has secured an important budget – €13.2bn – the largest budget ever – for Space. They’ve also agreed on the new EU space program, the first of its kind for Europe.
“My objective is to go fast,” he said. “Therefore, it would be appropriate that the commission puts forward this year a proposal to the European parliament and the council so we can move concretely.”
The satellite constellation design will be “multi-orbital,” combining LEO and GEO satellites. “It will also complement our existing infrastructures, creating synergies,” added Breton. He thinks the new satellite infrastructure will enhance the Galileo signal, and boost performance of Copernicus, another European satellite system focused on Earth observation.
There are four pillars of the EU’s strategy for space/satellite based connectivity:
- Consolidating Galileo & Copernicus
The launch of the second generation of Galileo satellites [1.] will commence with a first launch in 2024.
Note 1. Galileo is the EU’s Global Satellite Navigation System (GNSS). Sometimes called the ’European GPS‘, Galileo provides accurate positioning and timing information. Galileo is a programme under civilian control and its data can be used for a broad range of applications. It is autonomous but also interoperable with existing satellite navigation systems. At the moment, the Galileo constellation consists of 26 satellites.
New missions for Copernicus are coming. The ESA has awarded 6 new precursor missions, all of which have huge potential, such as the CO2 monitoring mission or the polar observation mission. Copernicus will need to adapt to the new competition in the dynamic field of earth observation.
2. Connectivity: secure digital connections for the future
Europe needs to develop rapidly an space based connectivity initiative as a third infrastructure besides Galileo & Copernicus. That infrastructure will:
- put an end to dead zones, giving access to high speed broadband to everyone;
- become autonomous and avoid dependence on the non-EU initiatives under development, like we did with Galileo;
- project Europe into the quantum era, ensuring quantum encrypted communication;
- keep the continent connected whatever happens, including massive attacks on the internet, which are no fiction anymore, especially with the emergence of the quantum computing capacities.
“My objective is to go fast. And therefore it would be appropriate that the Commission puts forward this year a proposal to the European Parliament and the Council so we can move concretely. To be ready, we launched a few weeks ago a study on a secure space-based connectivity system. The selected consortium consisting of European satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers, telco operators and launch service providers will study the possible design & development of this project.”
3. Strategic autonomy in launchers and Space Traffic Management (STM)
The EU budget will be used to support the European launcher industry in the full chain: from earliest research on new propulsion technologies to long-term contracts for the launches of our EU satellites.
“I will therefore gather in the next months all the actors to initiate a European Launcher alliance so to be able to jointly define, with ESA, the Member States, the European Parliament, the industry, a common roadmap for the next generation of launchers and technologies relevant to ensure an autonomous access to space.”
The other element of Europe’s strategic autonomy is how we operate in space thanks to a Space Traffic Management system.
“An increasingly congested space is threatening the viability and security of space infrastructures and operations. A million pieces of debris are in orbit around the earth – and the number is constantly increasing! It is expected that in the next years to come, more than 30 000 additional satellites will be launched. This is why we already have the Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) framework. But we need to go further by developing a robust EU STM policy and related capabilities – starting actively in 2021.”
4. Europe as space entrepreneurship Hub
As a last element of the space strategy for 2021, Tierry wants to position Europe as THE hub of space entrepreneurship in the world.
“I see the future of the European space industry as a combination of strong institutional leadership and European approach to New Space, one that is not a mere copy past of the US. Now is the time to seek alternative business models and funding schemes. I will therefore launch this year a new Space entrepreneurship initiative: CASSINI.
CASSINI will put in place – together with the EIB/EIF – a €1bn European Space Fund to boost start-ups and space innovation. It will cover actions on the whole innovation cycle, from business idea to industrialization, building on the €100m Space Equity Pilot we launched last year. With CASSINI, we want to stimulate more VC funds to actively invest in space companies in Europe; but also to get other industries to invest into space technologies and solutions. We want also to organize a true European space incubator, relying on the strengths of all the actors but putting them into a coherent and integrated network.”
The EC recently launched a study on what a secure space-based connectivity system might look like. A selected consortium, comprising European satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers – along with telcos and launch service providers – are tasked with studying the possible design and development of the project. “This will provide insights on the technical dimension, but also the governance structure, the financing, the missions, the exact scope. I expect their first feedback in April this year.”
In conclusion, Breton said, “2021 will be a defining year for our space strategy and for the position of Europe on the global space stage. We have enormous challenges to face, with serious risk of losing ground. We need to be able to find the resources to reinvent ourselves, to break taboos and the established cooperation.”
“And for this, I wish to work closely with all of you: Member States, Parliament, industry. And of course with the ESA – who will have a central role in this endeavor.”
EU’s Satellite Internet Competition:
Breton’s desire to move fast is no doubt motivated by the progress on two other sat communications initiatives, Starlink and OneWeb. Part of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, Starlink has already started to offer beta broadband connections in northern Europe. OneWeb, owned by the UK government and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global, hopes to have an initial offering in the same region later this year.
Space X and Amazon now have company in what may become a satellite broadband “space war.” A long distance race involving three of the world’s richest men has just begun!
India tycoon Sunil Mital’s Bharti Airtel plans to invest $2 billion for a 50% stake in the once bankrupt low-Earth orbit satellite constellation company OneWeb and says that company will be offering global broadband services within 18 months in Alaska and the UK.
”By May-June of 2022, which is less than 18 months, OneWeb’s constellation will cover the entire globe, every square inch of this world,” the founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises said Wednesday at a conference hosted by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union and Saudi Arabian communication regulator CITC.
OneWeb says it will resume launches of its satellites with a Soyuz launch scheduled for Dec. 17 from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Credit: GK Launch Services
Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets have launched over 500 satellites for the Starlink constellation since OneWeb went into bankruptcy in March. Starlink is now testing broadband internet service with potential customers. Unlike OneWeb, Starlink’s service isn’t set to cover the extreme north and south of the planet for now, offering its rival a potential niche serving governments, shipping and aviation in remote regions.
“We welcome competition,” Mittal said. “We fight like hell in the marketplace.” Later generations of OneWeb satellites could provide global positioning capabilities, he added.
OneWeb has put 74 of an initial 648 planned satellites in orbit so far, and plans to resume launches this month. It’s not yet secured all the funding it needs to complete the constellation. Mittal estimated the overall cost at between $5.5 billion and $7 billion and said the remaining shortfall is between $2 billion and $2.5 billion — with half of that to be covered by Bharti and the British government. As for raising further capital with other investors, he said: “I don’t see that to be an issue.”
“There are still too many places where broadband access is unreliable or where it doesn’t exist at all. Kuiper will change that. Our $10 billion investment will create jobs and infrastructure around the United States that will help us close this gap,” Amazon senior vice president Dave Limp said in a statement.
Amazon has not outlined a timeline for Kuiper and the FCC said the company has not finished the satellites’ design.
On Thursday the FCC gave formal approval to a plan by SpaceX to build a global broadband satellite network using low-Earth orbit satellites. The FCC order approving SpaceX’s application came with some conditions, like avoiding collisions with orbital debris in space. Some of the other conditions imposed by the FCC relate to signal power levels and preventing interference with other communications systems in various frequency bands.
SpaceX intends to start launching operational satellites as early as 2019, with the goal of reaching the full capacity of 4,425 satellites in 2024. The FCC approval just requires SpaceX to launch 50 percent of the satellites by March 2024, and all of them by March 2027. SpaceX has been granted authority to use frequencies in the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) bands.
“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,” the Federal Communications Commission said in a statement.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday that SpaceX plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket on April 2 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. “The rocket will carry a communications satellite,” the FAA said.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in February had endorsed the SpaceX effort, saying: “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach.”
About 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million Americans on tribal lands lack mobile broadband even at relatively slow speeds.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said on Thursday that the agency needs “to prepare for the proliferation of satellites in our higher altitudes.” She highlighted the issue of orbital debris and said the FCC “must coordinate more closely with other federal actors to figure out what our national policies are for this jumble of new space activity.”
SpaceX’s network (known as “Starlink”) will need separate approval from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The FCC said its approval is conditioned on “SpaceX receiving a favorable or ‘qualified favorable’ rating of its EPFD [equivalent power flux-density limits] demonstration by the ITU prior to initiation of service.” SpaceX will also have to follow other ITU rules.
Like other operators, SpaceX will have to comply with FCC spectrum-sharing requirements. Outside the US, coexistence between SpaceX operations and other companies’ systems “are governed only by the ITU Radio Regulations as well as the regulations of the country where the earth station is located,” the FCC said.
SpaceX and several other companies are planning satellite broadband networks with much higher speeds and much lower latencies than existing satellite Internet services. SpaceX satellites are planned to orbit at altitudes of 1,110km to 1,325km, whereas the existing HughesNet satellite network has an altitude of about 35,400km.
SpaceX has said it will offer speeds of up to a gigabit per second, with latencies between 25ms and 35ms. Those latencies would make SpaceX’s service comparable to cable and fiber, while existing satellite broadband services have latencies of 600ms or more, according to FCC measurements.
“SpaceX states that once fully deployed, the SpaceX system… will provide full-time coverage to virtually the entire planet,” the FCC order said.
The FCC previously approved requests from OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat to offer broadband in the US from low-Earth orbit satellites. SpaceX is the first US-based operator to get FCC approval for such a system, the FCC said in an announcement.
“These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit [NGSO], fixed-satellite service [FSS] systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests,” the FCC said.
SpaceX launched the first demonstration satellites for its broadband project last month. In addition to the 4,425 satellites approved by the FCC, SpaceX has also proposed an additional 7,500 satellites operating even closer to the ground, saying that this will boost capacity and reduce latency in heavily populated areas. It’s not clear when those satellites will launch.
FCC approval of SpaceX’s application was unanimous. But the commission still has work to do in preventing all the new satellites from crashing into each other, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said.
“The FCC has to tackle the growing challenge posed by orbital debris. Today, the risk of debris-generating collisions is reasonably low,” Rosenworcel said. “But they’ve already happened—and as more actors participate in the space industry and as more satellites of smaller size that are harder to track are launched, the frequency of these accidents is bound to increase. Unchecked, growing debris in orbit could make some regions of space unusable for decades to come. That is why we need to develop a comprehensive policy to mitigate collision risks and ensure space sustainability.”
FCC rules on satellite operations were originally “designed for a time when going to space was astronomically expensive and limited to the prowess of our political superpowers,” Rosenworcel said. “No one imagined commercial tourism taking hold, no one believed crowd-funded satellites were possible, and no one could have conceived of the sheer popularity of space entrepreneurship.”
SpaceX still needs to provide an updated debris prevention plan as part of a condition the FCC imposed on its approval.
The commission order said:
Although we appreciate the level of detail and analysis that SpaceX has provided for its orbital debris mitigation and end-of-life disposal plans, we agree with NASA that the unprecedented number of satellites proposed by SpaceX and the other NGSO FSS systems in this processing round will necessitate a further assessment of the appropriate reliability standards of these spacecraft, as well as the reliability of these systems’ methods for de-orbiting the spacecraft. Pending further study, it would be premature to grant SpaceX’s application based on its current orbital debris mitigation plan. Accordingly, we believe it is appropriate to condition grant of SpaceX’s application on the Commission’s approval of an updated description of the orbital debris mitigation plans for its system.
The approval of SpaceX’s application is conditioned on the outcome of future FCC rulemaking proceedings, so SpaceX would have to follow any new orbital debris rules passed by the FCC. We detailed the potential space debris problem in a previous article. Today, there are more than 1,700 operational satellites orbiting the Earth, among more than 4,600 overall, including those that are no longer operating.
SpaceX’s plan alone would nearly double the total number of orbiting satellites. SpaceX told the FCC that it has plans “for the orderly de-orbit of satellites nearing the end of their useful lives (roughly five to seven years) at a rate far faster than is required under international standards.”
Opposition from competitors
SpaceX’s application drew opposition from other satellite operators, who raised concerns about interference with other systems and debris. The FCC dismissed some of the complaints. For example, OneWeb wanted an unreasonably large buffer zone between its own satellites and SpaceX’s, the FCC said:
[T]he scope of OneWeb’s request is unclear and could be interpreted to request a buffer zone that spans altitudes between 1,015 and 1,385 kilometers. Imposition of such a zone could effectively preclude the proposed operation of SpaceX’s system, and OneWeb has not provided legal or technical justification for a buffer zone of this size. While we are concerned about the risk of collisions between the space stations of NGSO systems operating at similar orbital altitudes, we think that these concerns are best addressed in the first instance through inter-operator coordination.
If operators fail to agree on a coordination plan in the future, “the Commission may intervene as appropriate,” the FCC said.