Amazon and Telesat coordinate their planned NGSO constellations

by

TAMPA, Fla. — Amazon and Telesat said Sept. 21 they have finalized spectrum arrangements to keep their planned satellites in non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) from interfering with each other.

The coordination deals “ensure the coexistence” of their broadband constellations, the companies told the Federal Communications Commission in a letter.

Both constellations plan to use Ka-band spectrum to provide broadband services to user terminals. 

Amazon secured a spectrum license for its Project Kuiper network as part of the FCC’s 2020 NGSO processing round, while Telesat’s Lightspeed was processed as part of an earlier 2016 round.

Neither company has started deploying their NGSO constellation, although Canada-based Telesat launched a prototype to low Earth orbit in 2018 on an Indian PSLV rocket.

Thales Alenia Space, which is slated to build Lightspeed, has suffered supply chain delays that have hampered the operator’s ability to fund the final third of the project’s cost.

As rising inflation and other economic pressures also take their toll, Telesat expects these supply issues have added another $250 million to $500 million on top of LightSpeed’s original $5 billion budget.

Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg said Sept. 13 he remains optimistic that the company will be able to secure these funds amid ongoing talks with export credit agencies. The operator envisages a network of 198 satellites in total.

Telesat said it expected to start providing Lightspeed services in 2026 in its last update on the constellation’s deployment timeline in May.

The delays have likely brought Lightspeed’s debut closer to the launch of Amazon’s planned Project Kuiper constellation.

Amazon has not said when it could launch Project Kuiper commercially, although the company must deploy half its constellation by 2026 under its FCC license. Amazon has to deploy the rest of  Project Kuiper’s proposed 3,236 satellites three years later.

The internet giant has signed contracts worth several billion dollars to reserve launches for most of the constellation.

Rocket developer ABL Space Systems has been planning to launch two prototypes for Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation between October and December.

NGSO coordination

Parties in the same NGSO processing round have an equal right to the spectrum the FCC awards in that round. 

Factors including which NGSO system was first to provide services determine how they must share their spectrum if they cannot coordinate something more definitive amongst themselves.

However, there is currently no specific FCC rule obligating NGSO operators to protect services of constellations that secured spectrum in earlier processing rounds.

The FCC seeks to change this through a notice of proposed rulemaking released last year — not least because the rules do not cover the potential for NGSO operators to start services faster than those in earlier processing rounds.

Amazon and Telesat said their coordination agreements also cover the Canadian operator’s existing fleet of satellites in geostationary orbit.

OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink, which connect broadband customers using Ku-band spectrum secured in the FCC’s 2016 NGSO processing round, announced a spectrum coordination plan in June for their current and proposed second-generation networks.