by Douglas Messier
Jeff Bezos’ Amazon has jumped into a crowded field of companies seeking to provide high-speed broadband, data and other communications services to the entire globe.
Amazon’s Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites brings the total number of spacecraft in the 16 announced systems to 20,241 spacecraft. The competition includes SpaceX, Boeing, Telesat, SES and government-backed companies in China and Russia.
Instead of operating in geosynchronous orbits of 35,786 km (22,236 mi), the satellites will be placed in low and medium Earth orbits. By operating at lower altitudes, the satellites will be able to reduce the latency (delay) in signal transmissions, which is essential for fast broadband services.
Bezos faces tough competition from fellow billionaire Elon Musk. The SpaceX CEO’s Starlink company has received approvals from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a pair of constellations consisting of eye-popping 11,943 satellites.
In February 2018, Starlink launched two Starlink demonstration satellites named Tintin A and Tintin B. The launch of the first production satellites in a constellation totaling 4,425 spacecraft that will operate in the Ka and Ku bands is planned for later this year.
SpaceX’s second constellation of 7,514 satellites would operate in the V band.
|EXISTING & PLANNED COMMUNICATIONS CONSTELLATIONS|
|COMPANY||LOCATION||NO. OF SATELLITES||BAND(S)||SERVICES||NOTES|
|Starlink||Redmond, Wash.||7,518||V||Global broadband||SpaceX project|
|Starlink||Redmond, Wash..||4,425||Ka, Ku||Global broadband||Two test satellites launched in 2018; additional launches planned in 2019|
|Amazon||Seattle, Wash.||3,236||Ka||Global broadband||Kuiper constellation|
|Boeing||Seattle, Wash.||2,956||V||Global broadband|
|OneWeb||Arlington, Va.||600||Ku||Global broadband||Six satellite launched in February 2019|
|China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||Beijing, China||320||L, Ka||Hongyan global broadband||First satellite launched in December 2018; scheduled for completion in 2022|
|Russian Space Systems Company||Moscow, Russia||288||?||High-speed communications||Planned completion in 2025|
|Sky and Space Global||London, England||200||L, S||Narrow band communications|
|China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC)||Beijing, China||156||Ka||Hongyun global broadband||First satellite launched in December 2018; planned completion in 2025|
|Telesat||Ottawa, Ont.||117||Ka||Wide band and narrow band communications services||First satellite launched in January 2018|
|LeoSat Enterprises||Pompano Beach, Fla.||108||Ka||Broadband services|
|Iridium||McLean, Va.||75||L||Voice and data communications||Completed Iridum-NEXT constellation in 2018|
|Boeing||Seattle, Wash.||60||Ka||Very high speed connectivity for end-user earth stations|
|SES||Washington, DC||42||Ka||Broadband services||20 O3b satellites launched|
|Globalstar||Covington, La.||24||S||Satellite phone and low-speed data||Constellation completed in 2013|
|ViaSat||Carlsbad, Calif.||24||Ka, V||Broadband services|
|Karousel LLC||Alexandria, Va.||12||Ka||Communications|
Greg Wyler’s OneWeb launched the first six spacecraft in a planned 600-satellite constellation in February. The company subsequently raised an additional $1.25 billion in new capital, bringing the total funds raised to $3.4 billion.
In February 2017, Wyler has said OneWeb was considering adding almost 2,000 additional satellites to its constellation.
Boeing has plans for a constellation of 2,956 communications satellites to provide global Internet services. In June 2018, a Boeing executive said work on the project had stalled.
LeoSat Enterprises of Florida is developing a constellation of up to 108 satellites. Last September, the company announced it had secured pre-launch agreements totaling more than $1 billion. The first launch is scheduled for 2020.
Facebook has also confirmed that it is working on a high-speed communications satellite system under a subsidiary named PointView Tech. The company has not released any information about the planned size of the constellation.
U.S. companies face competition from abroad. On Thursday, Luxembourg-based SES completed the first phase of its medium Earth orbit (MEO) broadband constellation as a Soyuz rocket orbited four O3b satellites. Twenty spacecraft are now in orbit; the FCC has given SES approval to operate 42 satellites.
Toronto-based Telesat has received FAA approval to launch 117 satellites to provide broadband services beginning in 2021. The company has said the system has been designed to scale up to as many as 512 satellites.
In January 2018, Telesat’s launched a Phase 1 LEO demonstration satellite aboard an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket. The spacecraft, built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., began live demonstrations last May.
Telesat has signed agreements for launch services with Bezos’ Blue Origin and Relativity, a start-up that is 3D printing its rockets.
A pair of Chinese companies are also developing satellite constellations. On Dec. 29, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) launched the first spacecraft in its 320-satellite Hongyan system in December 2018. CASC expects to complete the network in 2022.
A week earlier, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) launched the first satellite in its similarly named Hongyun satellite constellation. CASIC expects to have the planned 156-satellite broadband system completed by 2025.
Russian Space Systems Company has thrown its hat into the ring with plans for a constellation of 288 satellites. The company is part of the state-run Roscosmos Corporation, which runs Russia’s space program.
The large number of satellite has raised concerns about spacecraft colliding with each other and adding to the growing problem of space debris. Further, companies could go bankrupt if the demand is not there, leaving large number of spacecraft in orbit without being under active control.
The FCC recently published draft rules on how to mitigate the debris problem.