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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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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

British-Indian team buys OneWeb network for $1B

Update for 12:20 p.m. Nov. 20: OneWeb has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy with a new CEO, Neil Masterson, who was formerly co-chief operating officer at Thomson Reuters. The British government announced the completion of OneWeb’s acquisition in partnership with Bharti Global.

Previously: The British government and Bharti Global Ltd., which is part of the world’s third-largest mobile operator, have successfully bid more than $1 billion to acquire the bankrupt OneWeb satellite broadband internet venture.

London-based OneWeb said the deal, resulting from an auction held this week in New York, will enable it to resume plans to add to its 74-satellite constellation and offer global internet access from above, starting with the Arctic.

The sale still has to be approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and regulatory authorities, but the transaction is expected to close late this year.

“With differentiated and flexible technology, unique spectrum assets and a compelling market opportunity ahead of us, we are eager to conclude the process and get back to launching our satellites as soon as possible,” OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said today in a news release.

The deal breathes new life into a rival of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, which already has more than 500 satellites in orbit and could begin limited service this year. OneWeb is also perceived as a competitor of Amazon’s Project Kuiper, which is working out the regulatory requirements for putting more than 3,000 satellites in orbit for a global broadband internet network.

At one point, Amazon was rumored to be interested in bidding on OneWeb’s assets, including its spectrum licenses, but nothing came of those rumors.

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GeekWire

Britain gives its backing to OneWeb satellite bid

The likeliest purchaser of the bankrupt OneWeb broadband satellite venture isn’t Amazon, but a consortium backed by the British government. That’s according to satellite industry watchers cited by Space Intel Report and The Financial Times.

Amazon, which is working on its own Project Kuiper satellite constellation, was said to be among the entities that expressed interest in bidding on OneWeb’s assets after the London-based satellite concern declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March. OneWeb said the market disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic spoiled arrangements to win further financial support from SoftBank group, one of its biggest backers, forcing the move to seek financial protection.

OneWeb’s assets were put up for sale under the supervision of U.S. bankruptcy court in New York. Bids were due to be opened today for an initial round of assessment. If there’s no clear winner in the eyes of the judge and OneWeb’s creditors, an auction would be held on July 2.

The Financial Times quoted its sources as saying the British government was willing to put up about $617 million (£500 million) as part of a wider private-sector consortium bid. If the bid is successful, the government could end up owning more than 20% of OneWeb, according to The Financial Times.

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GeekWire

OneWeb applies to put 48,000 satellites in orbit

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

Even though the OneWeb satellite venture is going through bankruptcy and a potential sale, it filed an application overnight with the Federal Communications Commission to expand its planned broadband internet constellation to as many as 48,000 satellites.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

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GeekWire

Amazon reportedly signs up for OneWeb auction

OneWeb satellite
An artist’s conception shows one of OneWeb’s satellites in orbit. (OneWeb Satellites Illustration)

Amazon is among the players in a bankruptcy bidding game with the assets of the OneWeb satellite venture at stake, according to Space Intel Report.

Quoting unnamed industry officials, Space Intel Report’s Peter B. de Selding says other potential bidders include two Chinese organizations that are apparently acting on behalf of the Chinese government; the Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat, which apparently has the backing of the French government and several other European Union member states; and Cerberus Capital Management, a New York-based private equity firm with interesting connections.

Space Intel Report also quotes the officials as saying that SpaceX was among those expressing interest, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk denied that was the case. “Not SpaceX,” Musk wrote in a tweet.

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GeekWire

Report: Amazon checking out OneWeb’s assets

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

London’s Telegraph newspaper reports that Amazon is understood to be among the entities sifting through the assets of OneWeb, a venture that began building a constellation of broadband internet satellites but filed for bankruptcy in March.

Amazon’s interest has to do with its plans to create its own broadband constellation, known as Project Kuiper. The most attractive assets that OneWeb has to offer would arguably be its rights to radio frequency spectrum and its access to the U.S. market — advantages that Amazon currently lacks.

Among the other entities looking at OneWeb’s assets, according to the Space Intel Report, are SpaceX, Eutelsat and the British government.

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GeekWire

OneWeb files for bankruptcy amid COVID-19 chaos

An artist’s conception shows a OneWeb satellite in space. (OneWeb Satellites Illustration)

OneWeb, the London-based venture that launched its latest batch of broadband internet satellites last weekend, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in New York today.

“The company intends to use these proceedings to pursue a sale of its business in order to maximize the value of the company,” OneWeb said in a news release.

OneWeb has 74 satellites in low Earth orbit, and half of its 44 planned ground stations have been completed or are in development. It was planning to begin offering broadband internet access in the Arctic as soon as this year, and broaden its service to the entire globe with hundreds of satellites over the next year or so. All those plans are now up in the air.

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GeekWire

34 satellites go into orbit for OneWeb network

OneWeb’s third batch of satellites for its broadband internet constellation was lofted into orbit today on a Russian Soyuz rocket launched from Kazakhstan with the aid of Europe’s Arianespace consortium.

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GeekWire

Dozens of OneWeb satellites go into orbit

Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium today used a Russian-made Soyuz rocket to send 34 satellites into a near-polar orbit for OneWeb’s broadband internet constellation, sharpening a rivalry with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

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