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GeekWire

Critics take aim at broadband satellite constellations

SpaceX, Amazon and OneWeb say their satellite mega-constellations will make broadband internet goodness available to billions of people around the world who are unserved or underserved — but some say those promises have to be weighed against the potential perils.

These critics cite the risk of catastrophic satellite collisions, concerns about cybersecurity and worries about environmental and health impacts  — including impacts on astronomical observations and the beauties of the night sky.

Such concerns are likely to intensify as SpaceX and OneWeb add to their current fleets of satellites in low Earth orbit, and as Amazon gets set to deploy more than 3,200 satellites for its Project Kuiper broadband network. If all the plans laid out for those ventures come to pass, tens of thousands of satellites could be put into orbit over the next decade.

Early today, SpaceX sent its latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing the total number of satellites launched to 1,265.

The latest challenge to the mega-constellations was filed today with the Federal Communications Commission. A coalition of policy groups is calling on the FCC to put a 180-day hold on further approvals for broadband data satellite deployments, in order to conduct a more thoroughgoing assessment of the risks.

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GeekWire

SpaceX will expand satellite operation to Texas

SpaceX is planning to break ground on a “state-of-the-art manufacturing facility” in Austin, Texas, to support a satellite operation that got its start in Redmond, Wash.

The company’s billionaire CEO, Elon Musk, set up the Starlink satellite operation in Redmond five years ago. It’s now said to turn out six satellites per day for SpaceX’s broadband internet constellation, which is in the midst of an expanding beta test. More than 1,000 of the satellites have already been deployed in low Earth orbit, and SpaceX continues to launch them in batches of as many as 60 at a time.

Starlink is the furthest along of several mega-constellation projects aimed at providing global internet access via satellites in low Earth orbit. Competitors include OneWebTelesat and Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

In contrast to SpaceX’s Redmond facility, the Austin factory would build “millions of consumer-facing devices that we ship directly to customers (Starlink dishes, Wi-Fi routers, mounting hardware, etc.),” SpaceX said in a job posting. That part of the operation has been managed from SpaceX’s headquarters in the Los Angeles area.

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Cosmic Space

OneWeb adds 36 satellites to revived constellation

Less than a month after emerging from bankruptcy, OneWeb resumed its campaign to provide global satellite internet access today with the successful launch and deployment of 36 satellites.

The satellites were sent into low Earth orbit by a Soyuz rocket that lifted off from Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East at 12:26 GMT (4:26 a.m. PT). Nine batches of satellites were dropped off in their target orbits over the course of nearly four hours, and OneWeb confirmed signal acquisition for all 36 satellites.

This was the first fully commercial launch from Russia’s Vostochny complex. Europe’s Arianespace consortium managed launch logistics.

Today’s operation brings OneWeb’s constellation to 110 satellites, with hundreds more due for launch in the months ahead. OneWeb says it’s back on track to provide broadband data services to customers in northern latitudes — including Alaska, Britain, Canada and northern Europe — during 2021, with global service to follow in 2022.

OneWeb’s prime rivals in the market for satellite internet services from low Earth orbit are SpaceX, which has already launched nearly 1,000 satellites and is offering limited beta service; Telesat, a Canadian satellite operator targeting the start of service in 2022; and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, which is aiming for a debut in the mid-2020s.

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GeekWire

How Amazon’s cloud and satellite ventures mesh

Amazon Web Services and the Project Kuiper satellite internet venture may be separate domains of Jeff Bezos’ business empire, but even Amazon’s executives admit there’s a lot of potential for synergy.

That’s one reason why the prospects for Project Kuiper shouldn’t be underestimated, even though Amazon is lagging behind SpaceX and OneWeb in the commercial satellite space race.

Project Kuiper announced last year that it intends to put 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit, creating a constellation that would provide broadband internet access to the billions of people around the world who lack high-speed connections.

“Access to broadband is going to be very close to being a fundamental human need as we move forward. … It’s also a very good business for Amazon,” CEO Jeff Bezos said at last year’s re:MARS conference.

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GeekWire

Amazon’s Project Kuiper shows off satellite antennas

Amazon’s Project Kuiper hasn’t yet said when it’ll start launching satellites or providing broadband internet access from above, but it is sharing details about how customers will get their data.

The $10 billion project, which aims to put more than 3,200 satellites into low Earth orbit, will use an innovative type of phased-array antenna that overlays one set of tiny elements on top of another set, Amazon said today in a blog posting. “This has never been accomplished in the Ka-band,” the company said.

Amazon says the innovation should result in a lightweight, low-cost customer terminal with an antenna that’s only 12 inches (30 centimeters) wide. The hardware is being developed primarily at Project Kuiper’s research and development facility in Redmond, Wash.

“If you want to make a difference for unserved and underserved communities, you need to deliver service at a price that makes sense for customers,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon. “This simple fact inspired one of our key tenets for Kuiper: to invent a light, compact phased-array antenna that would allow us to produce an affordable customer terminal.”

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GeekWire

SpaceX wins $885M for Starlink rural broadband

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network — which relies on hundreds of spacecraft built in Redmond, Wash. — has been awarded $885.5 million in federal subsidies to boost high-speed internet service to rural Americans.

The awards are part of a $9.2 billion allocation made under the terms of the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction.

In all, 180 bidders won subsidies that are to be paid out over the next 10 years. Only one other satellite broadband provider is on the FCC list: Hughes Network Systems, which will receive $1.3 million to serve rural sites in Rhode Island.

The FCC said the RDOF program will provide $222.8 million to support broadband service to rural communities in Washington state. SpaceX is due to get the biggest share of those subsidies, amounting to $80.4 million. Washington also leads the state-by-state list for SpaceX subsidies.

More than 5.2 million homes and businesses are expected to benefit from the program, in which funds were allocated through a reverse auction.

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GeekWire

Amazon commits $10B to satellites after FCC’s OK

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized Amazon’s plans for a Project Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites that would provide broadband internet access across a wide swath of the globe — but on the condition that it doesn’t unduly interfere with previously authorized satellite ventures.

In response, Amazon said it would invest more than $10 billion in the project. “We’re off to the races,” Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, said in a statement.

The FCC’s non-interference requirements and other conditions are laid out in a 24-page order that was adopted on July 29 and released today. The ruling addresses objections registered by Amazon’s rivals — including SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat.

Project Kuiper’s satellites are to be launched in five phases, and service would begin once Amazon launched the first 578 satellites. Under the terms of the FCC’s order, Amazon will have to launch half of its satellites by mid-2026, and the rest of them by mid-2029.

Amazon had sought to vie on an equal footing with constellation operators whose plans had been previously authorized by the FCC, but the commission said that in fairness, Project Kuiper would have to give deference to those plans. The FCC said that it expected Amazon’s mega-constellation rivals to act in good faith to resolve radio interference concerns.

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GeekWire

SpaceX may spin out its Starlink satellite venture

Starlink satellite
An artist’s conception shows the deployment of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. (SpaceX Illustration)

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell is quoted as saying that the company is planning to spin out its Starlink satellite internet operation — which is currently centered in Redmond, Wash. — and offer shares in an initial public offering.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

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GeekWire

Apple reportedly working on secret satellite project

Image: Satellite web
An artist’s conception shows a constellation of satellites in orbit. (Credit: OneWeb)

Apple has joined SpaceX, OneWeb, Amazon and other companies in targeting the market for satellite internet services, Bloomberg News reported today.

Bloomberg quoted unidentified people familiar with the work as saying that the California-based company has a secret team working on technologies that it could use to beam internet services directly to devices, bypassing wireless networks. The effort is reportedly still in its early stages and may not necessarily come to fruition.

Apple did not immediately respond to GeekWire’s inquiries about the report.

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GeekWire

Amazon seeks FCC’s OK for Kuiper satellites

Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

By Alan Boyle and Taylor Soper

Amazon is asking the Federal Communications Commission for approval of its Project Kuiper satellite broadband venture, and referring to potential synergies with Amazon Web Services as a strong selling point.

GeekWire first reported news of Project Kuiper in April, when Amazon revealed plans to put more than 3,200 satellites in low Earth orbit for global broadband coverage.

That revelation was contained in documents that were filed with the International Telecommunication Union. On July 4, Amazon’s wholly owned Kuiper Systems subsidiary followed up with a fresh set of FCC filings.

The filings confirm that the project would consist of 3,236 satellites in 98 orbital planes, at altitudes ranging between 366 and 391 miles (590 and 630 kilometers).

“Amazon’s mission is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, and the Kuiper System is one of our ambitious projects to fulfill this mission,” the application reads. “The Kuiper System will deliver satellite broadband communications services to tens of millions of unserved and underserved consumers and businesses in the United States and around the globe.”

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