SpaceX and OneWeb have asked for US permission to put tens of thousands of additional satellites into orbit.
The use of SpaceX to launch 30,000 satellites – in addition to the nearly 12,000 that have already been approved – is in line with SpaceX's previously announced plans for Starlink.
OneWeb's request to launch nearly 48,000 satellites is surprising as the satellite broadband company filed for bankruptcy in March. OneWeb is very unlikely to launch a significant percentage of these satellites in its current structure, as the company has reportedly "fired most of its employees" when it filed for bankruptcy and intends to use bankruptcy proceedings to sell its business in to track to maximize the value of the company. "The FCC's approval to launch additional satellites could add value to OneWeb's assets and offer more options to anyone who purchases the company.
"OneWeb has already secured debtor funding and anticipates that the Chapter 11 process will soon end in a way that maximizes the value of OneWeb's strategic assets and also ensures a viable path for its stakeholders and customers." said the company in its FCC application study.
The SpaceX and OneWeb applications were submitted yesterday due to an FCC deadline. Other providers such as Telesat (1,671 satellites), Kepler (360 satellites) and Viasat (288 satellites) requested smaller constellations with a low earth orbit. Mangata Networks submitted an application for 791 mid-Earth orbit satellites.
"It is important to understand that OneWeb has applied for so many satellites because it complicates the efforts of others, especially (for the Amazon subsidiary) Kuiper, and may increase the value of the first generation OneWeb license. Similar reasons to SpaceX 30K satellite proposal, "said satellite industry consultant Tim Farrar on Twitter.
Under FCC rules, satellite licensees have six years to launch 50 percent of the licensed satellites and nine years to launch all if no waiver is granted.
Low earth orbits for lower latencies
OneWeb has already been granted permission to launch 720 satellites, and its application is requesting approval for a second phase consisting of 47,844 satellites. OneWeb did not request a 1,200 km orbit change. The company has provided the FCC with further technical details about its plan in this document.
"Due to the use of combined orbits, the OneWeb satellites essentially pass through all parts of the earth's surface and can therefore in principle serve all earth locations," wrote OneWeb. "Every point on the surface of the earth sees a OneWeb satellite at an altitude of no less than 55 ° at all times with increasing minimum elevation angles with latitude. For example, users in Alaska will always experience elevation angles that are well above 55 °."
Low earth orbit satellites are expected to offer much lower latency and faster speed than geostationary satellites, which have an orbit of approximately 35,000 km. OneWeb said its users "will experience a round trip latency of less than 50 milliseconds, which is approximately 1/13 the latency of GSO (geostationary orbit) satellites and comparable to terrestrial networks." OneWeb has also indicated that its technology can offer an average latency of 32 ms.
SpaceX has publicly predicted less than 20 ms latency for its service, but the company has also used less than 50 ms latency in its application to the FCC, saying this latency is "virtually unnoticed by consumers." The FCC measured Comcast's average latency at slightly more than 20 ms and Verizon FiOS at just over 10 ms.
According to SpaceX's FCC filing, the proposed 30,000 satellites are a "Gen2 system" that builds on the first generation system that the company currently provides. More than 85 percent of the proposed 30,000 satellites would "operate at very low altitudes below 400 km using eight orbits from 328 km to 614 km".
SpaceX continued to use:
Just as large deployments of new condensed 5G networks will help those in urban environments, the condensed satellite constellation proposed by SpaceX will significantly increase capacity and increase the number of consumers in rural and remote areas with access to truly robust broadband. While the next generation constellation of SpaceX uses only a small fraction of the number of antennas used for terrestrial technologies, the spectrally efficient design and intensive spectral reuse will enable SpaceX, the type of services and prices previously only available for urban areas were reserved to bring customers to rural areas.
Operating at low and very low altitudes, the SpaceX Gen2 system enables smaller spot beams and greater satellite diversity, and achieves the intensive frequency reuse required to increase capacity available worldwide. The next generation SpaceX system guarantees multiple satellites in view for any customer on the ground at any point, while providing the flexibility needed to coordinate with other frequency users while providing robust service in a crowded spectrum.
OneWeb had launched 74 satellites before it filed for bankruptcy. SpaceX has launched approximately 420 satellites so far, plans to launch services later this year, and has just signed a contract with the U.S. Army to test Starlink for military use.