British Space broadband startup OneWeb has launched 32 mini-satellites into orbit, bringing its constellation up to 72 – SpaceX Starlink has launched 300 satellites.
OneWeb launched its latest traunch of communication satellites into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan on Saturday March 21 at 17:06 GMT.
The company is the main competitor to Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink constellation and has the same aim – to bring broadband to rural communities.
OneWeb plans to have an initial network of 650 satellites in their mega-constellation of orbiting communication devices in a bid to provide global internet access.
CEO Adrian Steckel says the coronavirus outbreak has shown the need to have a robust internet offering available to even the most remote locations.
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The 34 satellites were launched from Baikonur on a Soyuz rocket. It’s the third launch of OneWeb satellites – they plan to have 650 in orbit
The newly launched satellites were lifted to 280 miles above the Earth from a Russian-built Soyuz rocket – operated by French company Arianespace.
The 34 satellites will now cruise slowly up to their operational orbit which is more than twice as far as their original orbit – 745 miles above the planet.
Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, said the need for secure satellite internet services was more import now than ever due to coronavirus.
‘In these unprecedented times following the global outbreak of COVID-19, people around the world find themselves trying to continue their lives and work online.
‘High-quality connectivity is the lifeline to enabling people to work, continue their education, stay up to date on important healthcare information and stay meaningfully connected to one another.
‘The crisis has demonstrated the imperative need for connectivity everywhere and has exposed urgent shortcomings in many organizations’ connectivity capabilities.
‘Our satellite network is poised to fill in many of these critical gaps in the global communications infrastructure.’
He said he hoped to be able to have the first commercial demonstrations of their remote broadband operation in early 2021.
Achieving that goal could be difficult, rumours are floating about that the firm are considering seeking bankruptcy protection.
According to Bloomberg the company are looking at various options due to difficulties of a cash crunch.
OneWeb hopes to offer broadband internet from its satellite constellation to rural areas, maritime customers and aviation providers by the end of 2021
OneWeb now has 74 satellites in its constellation which will eventually orbit 745 miles above the Earth
The company isn’t just targeting rural broadband, it hopes to bring its broadband service to aviation and maritime industries who often operate from remote areas.
OneWeb is one of the main competitors for Elon Musk’s SpaceX which already has 300 satellites in orbit and will operate in a similar market once it is fully activated.
SpaceX launched 60 more of its internet satellites into orbit on March 18 despite an engine failure shortly after liftoff on a recycled rocket flying a record five times.
This is the sixth batch of Starlinks that SpaceX has launched in under a year. Each compact, flat-panel satellite weighs just 575 pounds (260 kilograms).
Musk envisions thousands of Starlinks providing affordable, broadband internet service to virtually every corner of the globe – a concern for astronomers.
Astronomers fear the night will be ruined by constellations of these relatively low-orbiting satellites. SpaceX is experimenting with dark paint and, sometime soon, satellite sunshades, sort of like patio umbrellas.
Musk hopes to start selling Starlink broadband later this year.
So far OneWeb has raised £2.6 billion to fund its network rollout which is being done as part of a contract with Arianespace operating out of Baikonur.
They hope to have the whole 650 satellite constellation in place by the end of 2021.
WHAT IS STARLINK AND WHAT ARE ITS GOALS?
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched the fifth batch of its ‘Starlink’ space internet satellites – taking the total to 300.
They form a constellation of thousands of satellites, designed to provide low-cost broadband internet service from low Earth orbit.
The constellation, informally known as Starlink, and under development at SpaceX’s facilities in Redmond, Washington.
Its goal is to beam superfast internet into your home from space.
While satellite internet has been around for a while, it has suffered from high latency and unreliable connections.
Starlink is different. SpaceX says putting a ‘constellation’ of satellites in low earth orbit would provide high-speed, cable-like internet all over the world.
The billionaire’s company wants to create the global system to help it generate more cash.
Musk has previously said the venture could give three billion people who currently do not have access to the internet a cheap way of getting online.
It could also help fund a future city on Mars.
Helping humanity reach the red planet is one of Musk’s long-stated aims and was what inspired him to start SpaceX.
The company recently filed plans with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 4,425 satellites into orbit above the Earth – three times as many that are currently in operation.
‘Once fully deployed, the SpaceX system will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service,’ the firm said.
‘Every point on the Earth’s surface will see, at all times, a SpaceX satellite.’
The network will provide internet access to the US and the rest of the world, it added.
It is expected to take more than five years and $9.8 billion (£7.1bn) of investment, although satellite internet has proved an expensive market in the past and analysts expect the final bill will be higher.
Musk compared the project to ‘rebuilding the internet in space’, as it would reduce reliance on the existing network of undersea fibre-optic cables which criss-cross the planet.
In the US, the FCC welcomed the scheme as a way to provide internet connections to more people.