FIRST UP Satcom | First OneWeb satellites shipped for launch • Laser ground stations linked to Facebook

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OneWeb and its manufacturing partner Airbus Defence and Space have shipped the first six satellites of OneWeb’s broadband smallsat constellation from Toulouse, France, to French Guiana. Those six satellites are scheduled to launch Feb. 19 on an Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket. OneWeb originally planned to launch 10 satellites on the first launch, but reduced the number to six in order to keep four as spares. Arianespace is launching the roughly 150-kilogram satellites directly to their 1,200-kilometer operating orbit. [Airbus]

Two “observatories” under construction in California could house laser ground stations for Facebook. Local construction permits from the County of Los Angeles link the observatories to PointView Tech, a company IEEE Spectrum traced back to Facebook last year and work on an experimental satellite called Athena. Facebook tested laser communications with a drone program it canceled last year using terminals from Mynaric, a Germany company that builds terminals for drones, high-altitude platforms and satellite communications. Mynaric said it tested laser communications during Facebook’s Aquila drone project, but declined to say if it is still working with the internet giant. [IEEE Spectrum]

Viacom, a long time customer of satellite capacity for television broadcasts, said it will buy Pluto TV, a free video streaming service, for $340 million in cash. The acquisition is expected to help Viacom reach audiences that don’t watch linear TV broadcasts, such as cable and satellite, with flagships such as Cartoon Network and MTV. The six-year-old Pluto TV counts roughly 12 million monthly active users, with 7.5 million using connected TVs. Viacom will maintain Pluto TV as an independent subsidiary under the leadership of Tom Ryan, Pluto TV’s chief executive and co-founder. [Reuters/TechCrunch]

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Video streaming continues to be a challenge for satellite broadband services, despite the high volume of internet traffic it comprises, according to Northern Sky Research. If satellite service providers want to tap into demand for online video, they need less stringent data caps and lower pricing, the firm suggests. IP-based video accounted for 75 percent of all IP traffic in 2017, and is projected by Cisco to reach 82 percent by 2022. NSR said limiting video quality for satellite-enabled streaming can allow more time within data caps, but risks eventually losing out to over-the-top streaming services that lack such limitations. [NSR/Cisco]

Arianespace is cutting the price of Ariane 5 launches to remain competitive with SpaceX. A company executive said Wednesday that it is offering launches on Ariane 5 rockets for the same reduced price it plans to offer on the future Ariane 6, which will be up to 40 percent cheaper. “When we do that, the result is very positive,” said Vivian Quenet, head of sales in the Asia-Pacific region for Arianespace. [Reuters]

More than a million people in Mexico are in walking distance of a satellite-enabled community Wi-Fi hotspot, according to Viasat. The satellite operator is establishing Wi-Fi hotspots in rural regions of the country with Mexico-based telecommunications company Grupo Prosperist. In addition to internet access, Viasat and Grupo Prosperist have started other services, such as pay-by-the-minute voice calls. Grupo Prosperist has hired more than 40 people in Mexico since partnering with Viasat in 2017. Viasat said it is considering more partnerships to expand into microfinance, mobile banking, education and telemedicine. [Viasat]

A Danish company that uses drones to calibrate satellite antennas has raised an initial round of funding. QuadSat raised a seed round of nearly $800,000 to continue its work to calibrate antennas using quadcopters, an approach the company says is more efficient than current techniques. The company will use the funding to expand an office opened recently in the United Kingdom. [SpaceNews]

Cobham and Boeing are collaborating to certify Cobham’s Aviator 200S satellite connectivity solution for Boeing aircraft. The companies signed a technical service agreement to create a line-fit option for Boeing 777X and 737 MAX aircraft. Cobham’s Aviator 200S enables SwiftBroadband-Safety, an Inmarsat service that supports flight-tracking and data streaming. [Get Connected]

Arianespace says an order for the first batch of Ariane 6 rockets is being held up by missing government contracts. The company had expected to sign a contract for 14 Ariane 6 rockets last year, covering commercial and government missions beyond the rocket’s inaugural flight in 2020, but European governments have not yet committed to their share of the rockets in that order. Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said the reason European institutions have not bundled their orders for Ariane 6 appears to be due to the absence of a centralized procurement agency for European space. [SpaceNews]