OneWeb has successfully installed its first batch of satellites in low Earth orbit ready for testing maritime connectivity
OneWeb is investing up to US$3Bn in the world’s most populous satellite constellation to deliver broadband around the globe, including over the world’s oceans.
Hundreds of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) in this constellation will provide Ku-band communications through ground-stations and gateways.
OneWeb head of global maritime sales Noémie de Rozieres tells Maritime Optimisation & Communications investment in the satellite constellation could total US$3.4Bn.
OneWeb is working with Airbus Defence and Space to build up to two satellites, each around 1 m3 in size, per day. It is then launching these in batches of 34 satellites. These will transmit and receive using Ka-band to the ground gateways and Ku-band to ships.
OneWeb’s first batch of 34 satellites were set into orbit by International Launch Services (ILS) on the Soyuz launch vehicle on 7 February from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
This is the start of the largest launch programme in history, says Ms de Rozieres. Throughout this year and 2021, a fleet of 650 satellites will be launched into orbit on 12 different planes. These will provide high-speed low-latency connectivity worldwide on Ku-band.
OneWeb satellites are launched at a height of 450 km and transferred to around 1,200 km above the Earth. “Our LEO mesh network will be 30 times closer to Earth than geostationary satellites,” says Ms de Rozieres.
Geostationary satellites orbit at a height of about 36,000 km. “Our service will have latency of less than 50 milliseconds,” she continues. “This is 10 times less than VSAT over geostationary satellites.”
This enables clearer voice conversations, not interrupted by waiting time and enables real-time applications.
“Merchant ships will become remote offices at sea with affordable fibre-like connectivity,” says Ms de Rozieres. “This will enable cloud-based systems with low latency for all vessels. It will facilitate remote monitoring, crew welfare applications, seafarer training at sea, interactive video, 3D programs and real-time guidance for onboard maintenance from shore.”
OneWeb’s low-latency Ku-band will also facilitate telemedicine, video surveillance and real-time machinery monitoring when fully operational.
“We are planning our first tests on ships in Q3 2020 and to have global commercial services in Q4 2021,” says Ms de Rozieres.
These satellites will be supported by up to 44 ground gateways and network portals. So far, OneWeb has commissioned three of these gateways – in Sicily, Florida and Svalbard, Norway. “We plan to have authorised satellite network portals commissioned around the world by the end of 2021,” she explains.
OneWeb’s satellites will have a lifetime of at least seven years, “but in reality, they could last longer” says Ms de Rozieres. “We have the possibility of having spares in orbit, and the ageing satellites will be constantly replenished.”
On the onboard hardware side, OneWeb is working with antenna manufacturers such as Intellian to develop transmit and receive equipment. “We want reliable and high-standard antennas at launch,” she comments. “These should be compact 60-90 cm diameter antennas using proven technology and be affordable.”
In the longer term, OneWeb could incorporate new technologies into its satellites and application program interfaces in its services.
There is capacity for additional satellites as OneWeb has secured 6 GHz for priority Ku-band at 2,500 MHz frequency. “Our first constellation will not use all of the spectrum, so there is room to grow in the future,” says Ms de Rozieres.
“We are planning for the second-generation constellation,” she adds. “This could be introduced five years after the first constellation, so there would be overlap between the two.”