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FCC Grants OneWeb Approval To Launch Over 700 Satellites For 'Space Internet' (theverge.com) 89

OneWeb has been granted approval from the FCC to launch a network of internet-beaming satellites into orbit. FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement: "Humans have long sought inspiration from the stars, from the ancient Egyptians orienting the pyramids toward certain stars to the Greeks using constellations to write their mythology. In modern times, we've done the same, with over 1,000 active satellites currently in orbit. Today, the FCC harnesses that inspiration as we seek to make the promise of high-speed internet access a reality for more Americans, partly through the skies..." The Verge reports: OneWeb plans to launch a constellation of 720 low-Earth orbit satellites using non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) technology in order to provide global, high-speed broadband. The company's goal has far-reaching implications, and would provide internet to rural and hard-to-reach areas that currently have little access to internet connectivity. Additionally, OneWeb has a targets of "connecting every unconnected school" by 2022, and "bridging the digital divide" by 2027. According to OneWeb, the company plans to launch an initial 10 production satellites in early 2018, which, pending tests, will then be followed by a full launch as early as 2019.
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FCC Grants OneWeb Approval To Launch Over 700 Satellites For 'Space Internet'

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  • A "cheap" LEO communication satellite costs around $50 million, so 700 satellites would be $35 billion...
    We are talking big money here. Somewhere between the GPS and the Apollo program. This kind of budget is usually reserved for international projects or large countries (i.e. US, China). So a private company...
    I am sure there are economies of scale to be made but I don't believe in magic. I expect it to be government-scale money no matter what.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      at 700 satellites, economies of scale come into play, so cost per additional satellite is probably a lot cheaper than $50 million or whatever.

    • by Melkman ( 82959 )

      Iridium satellites cost about $5 million per piece. So your cost estimate is about 10 times to high. Launching and operating will cost a pretty penny too but if the system supports about 10 million subscribers the cost of a subscription will be in the same order as a dsl or cable subscription.

      • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

        The cost of the Iridium project went well into the billions (I've seen $4B) for 77 satellites. The $50 million per satellite figure is not too far off. The $5 million per satellite probably only covers only the manufacturing and not the tooling, R&D, logistics, etc..., anyways, it is obviously not representative of reality.
        Iridium NEXT has a budget of $3 billion, a little cheaper but still in the same ballpark.

        I am always skeptical when people announce huge savings. First, it isn't like private companie

        • I think a major problem with making cheap satellites is that you need specialized ("space rated") parts, and that vendors of these parts will charge inflated prices, just because they can.

          This is a problem that SpaceX had with their attempts to make cheap rockets. Their solution was to develop a lot of things in-house. They also buy parts from other vendors, but they make it clear they want a fair price, otherwise they'll walk away and find another solution.

        • by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @04:30AM (#54680871) Homepage
          I'm skeptical of the figures too, but I'll wait and see the math. LEO is a lot cheaper to reach than GEO, and you are well within the Van Allen belts so don't need as much radiation hardening and associated mass, both of which are going to bring the price per launch down substantially. Of course, the plan also involves nearly 10x as many satellites, albeit presumably much smaller and more "disposable", which will push it back up again.

          From the illustrations on OneWeb's website it appears that we're essentially talking about a few hundred slightly oversized cube-sats that could potentially be thrown up a few dozen at a time by SpaceX's Falcon 9 heavy or a similar booster, so you could easily end up with a smaller price tag than Iridium. Still likely to have a total price tag of a few billion, but not tens of billions, and potentially still commercially viable if you can resell enough bandwidth at the low, low prices that are all that their primary customers can afford. It's all going to depend on the unit cost and how many they can launch per booster - if they can bring both of those down low enough, provide enough bandwidth, and some higher end services (real time global tracking of ships and aircraft, perhaps?) then I don't see why it wouldn't be viable.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Its communications to the world. Imagine owners of a nations city telco networks and regional cell spectrum looking up and seeing real competition for the first time.
      People who need voice, the cloud, data all the time in very isolated areas. A device might have to log data all day until its finally connected to a network later.
      Now services can communicate in real time, all day.
      Very restricted and expensive remote telco services will face competition. The days of changing a lot for speed and not much d
    • Oneweb is not using the "individually hand crafted" model for the their satellites, they're using a lower standard of "medical grade equipment". This makes sense given the large number of satellites they intend on using. The cost per satellite (not counting the launch costs) is estimated to be about $500,000 each. So the cost for 720 of them is $360,000,000. Of course, the actual cost will be higher since all those satellites need to launched into orbit.

    • Several per launch for certain since so many are going to be in very similar orbits and probably won't be especially heavy. That kind of turns using prior examples into a very wild guess.
      • Definitely multiple per launch. They way I would do it is launch as many as possible up to 40 (total number of satellites in a single plane) into either a slightly higher, or slightly lower orbit than the final desired operational orbit. Then each satellite waits until it reaches a designated location and then performs a hohmann transfer into the desired slot for each satellite. If the rocket can carry more than 40, then have it drop off a cluster of 40 satellites, perform a plane change maneuver, drop off

  • Should we be worried about the "Kessler Syndrome"? That's where the density of objects in a given orbital volume gets to the point where a single collision causes a large amount of debris which in turn causes more collisions which ...

    The 700 new objects will be put into LEO where, in order to provide worldwide coverage they won't be in a single orbital plane (like the "Clarke belt" or geosynchronous orbit). Instead they, like GPS or Iridium will be crisscrossing with each other (no problem if properly des

    • by Anonymous Coward

      in low LEO the orbits degrade relatively rapidly. Keesler was mostly concerned about 800Km-1000Km orbits, not the 200Km orbits we are talking about for this sort of system. At these low altitudes, the satellites will have to adjust their orbits pretty frequently (probably on the order of monthly vs quarterly for higher LEO satellites)

    • It is a problem with junk but not with operational satellites. As long as there are provisions for getting rid of stuff at EOL, there shouldn't be a problem.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      Should we be worried about the "Kessler Syndrome"? That's where the density of objects in a given orbital volume gets to the point where a single collision causes a large amount of debris which in turn causes more collisions which ...

      Not especially. They are not going to last long in that orbit without fuel to give them a boost every now and again. If they are broken and not doing that they are coming down since there is enough air to eventually slow things down.
      Here's one way:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wik

  • by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Saturday June 24, 2017 @04:09AM (#54680839)
    I hope this doesn't come across as either critical or flaime-bait.

    Having always been fascinated by space, I'm always keenly interested in any launches. The SpaceX approach to media, with live-streamed launches, has been mesmerising. But it occurs to me that, as a planet/species, we're now putting more and more into space than at any time since the launch of Sputnik. Of course, different countries have different governmental controls put in place to license companies for aerospace operations. This is entirely sensible, since a mis-fired rocket could easily cause an incident with an aircraft, or land near a populated area, or worse.

    But at what point do we realise that we can't simply have endless, uncontrolled launches into space; that perhaps we need to have some form of [perhaps UN-backed] international framework to ensure that there is full coordination and collaboration on our use of local space, orbits and launch windows.

    Or did that happen and I just didn't get the memo?
    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      Considering how similar ICBMs and orbital rockets are, I can guarantee you that all nuclear powers take a very close look at rocket launches.
      NASA and ESA also have rules regarding space junk, which is the biggest problem with sending too many things in orbit, and work is being made to turn it into an international agreement.

  • Wait a minute, since when does FCC grant an approval to launch anything? I thought this was FAA's jurisdiction [faa.gov]?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Oddly enough, the FCC is the folks who approve it from an orbital debris standpoint - the thinking is that everyone in space has to have a radio license, so it's a convenient "gate" to enforce the "on orbit life" limit.

      These things are up at 700km, so they'll be up a good long time, short of explicit deorbit.

  • Oh good, we're going to use satellites so that the poor can have high latency. We're building a foot bridge to the information highway. And then you get to play Frogger at the end.

    • OneWeb claims 30 ms latency, which doesn't sound too bad. My round trip time to slashdot.org is 110 ms, and it's perfectly usable.

      • I'd be interested in knowing where you found that 30ms figure. But it does imply that Oneweb is planning a ground station approximately every 1500 miles. That in turn implies about 32 planned ground stations.

  • I'm just curious as to whether anyone knows whether 750 miles is low enough to experience enough atmospheric drag to cause the junk from the inevitable collisions to come down in a reasonable time? I personally think it irresponsible to launch satellite swarms of this magnitude at a level above one guaranteed to come down within a couple of years after active station-keeping hardware fails. It seems like I recollect that 750 miles might be above that level.
  • Like the comic https://www.xkcd.com/713/ [xkcd.com] said, ISS can now get geoip'd, yieldeing ads to "meet local girls in LOW EARTH ORBIT."
    Progress is sad ;)

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