OneWeb asks FCC to authorize 1,200 more satellites

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WASHINGTON — Citing recent reforms that provide more time to orbit a new satellite constellation, satellite broadband-startup OneWeb asked U.S. telecom regulators to nearly triple the size of its authorized low-Earth-orbit constellation.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in June approved OneWeb’s request to serve customers in the United States using a constellation of 720 satellites. Writing to the commission March 19, OneWeb asked that the company be permitted another 1,260 satellites, bringing the total number to 1,980 spacecraft.

OneWeb said the FCC’s September decision to give companies more time to fully deploy their constellations enables OneWeb to plan a larger fleet. The FCC previously required companies to launch 100 percent of their satellites within six years of authorization. Under the new rules, companies have six years to deploy half their fleet.

“OneWeb responsibly designed its LEO Constellation on the basis of a milestone regime that required launch and operation of the entire constellation within a six-year time frame … If the current milestone regime had been in effect when OneWeb began planning its constellation and network architecture, OneWeb would have proposed a much more expansive LEO Constellation,” the company wrote the FCC.

The FCC imposes deployment deadlines to prevent companies from “warehousing” spectrum, laying claim to frequencies and barring them from use by other companies. The new regulations require full constellation deployment in nine years. If an operator fails to reach full deployment in that time, its authorized number of satellites shrinks to the number already in orbit. OneWeb spoke against the FCC modifying constellation deployment deadlines during last year’s rulemaking procedure.

OneWeb said the new satellites will use the same Ku- and Ka-band spectrum as the first 720 satellites. To accommodate the additional 1,260, OneWeb said it would double the number of orbital planes from 18 to 36, and increase the maximum number of satellites per plane from 40 to 55.

The larger fleet will require more ground stations, OneWeb said, with as many as 50 antennas each to connect with the constellation. OneWeb’s gateway supplier Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Maryland, said March 13 that it has shipped the first completed gateways.

Doubling Medium Earth Orbit Constellation

OneWeb’s modified LEO plans follow a Jan. 4 request to revise a pending application before the FCC for a medium-Earth-orbit constellation of 1,280 satellites, also for broadband. The company asked the FCC for twice as many satellites — 2,560 total — for MEO, and to expand its frequencies from the scarcely used V-band to include Ku-, Ka-, and the seldom used E-band.

OneWeb gave the same explanation for the additional MEO satellites, namely that the new FCC rules allow more time to deploy a constellation.

“The Commission’s dramatic relaxation of the milestone rules mid-way through various Commission processing rounds has compelled OneWeb to reassess what it can achieve now in the newly expanded milestone timeframe,” OneWeb wrote Jan 4.

OneWeb made no mention of the impact these changes may have on a move by Boeing to transfer one of its V-band constellation filings to OneWeb founder Greg Wyler. Boeing asked the FCC in December to swap ownership of its 1,396- to 2,956-satellite V-band filing to a company under Wyler’s name called SOM1101 LLC.

The FCC has not yet authorized any of the six V-band constellations submitted in 2016 and 2017. To date, the FCC approved three new non-geostationary satellite systems in Ku- and Ka-band for market access: OneWeb, fleet operator Telesat of Canada for 117 LEO satellites, and Space Norway for two satellites in highly elliptical orbits. Another eight proposals are still under consideration, including SpaceX’s Starlink constellation of 4,425 satellites that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai publicly supported last month.