TAMPA, Fla. — OneWeb is turning its attention to finalizing ground stations after launching a final batch of satellites needed to provide broadband services globally, executive chair Sunil Mittal said March 27.
Mittal said the British operator has rolled out “most of the critical ground stations” required to launch commercially across all markets it has permission to serve.
More ground stations are due to come online in the several months it will take OneWeb’s latest batch of satellites to enter service after their launch March 25.
“I am hopeful that — barring maybe a handful of ground stations in places like St Helena and Seychelles, which have a lot of difficulties in putting up ground stations — everything else will be done,” he said during a media briefing.
OneWeb is set to generate “hundreds of millions of dollars” from international enterprise and government customers over the next 12 months, according to Mittal.
OneWeb said it had successfully contacted all 36 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) after they lifted off at 11:30 p.m Eastern aboard a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark 3, or LVM3, from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre.
New Space India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of India’s space agency, conducted the launch to expand OneWeb’s constellation to 618 satellites.
Most of the satellites OneWeb has in LEO have already reached their final orbital positions using onboard propulsion, Mittal said. The rest are expected to be in place “in the coming weeks and months.”
Although OneWeb still needs to finish constructing ground stations, Mittal said its latest launch was the last “critical part” of OneWeb’s business strategy, and “signals the completion of our space program” for having enough satellites in LEO for global coverage.
OneWeb is currently only providing services commercially in regions north of 50-degrees latitude, which he said are bringing in about several million dollars of revenue a month.
The company’s global constellation has 1.2 terabytes per second of usable capacity, he added, which if sold at current rates would generate more than $1 billion of revenue.
How fast OneWeb can reach this point remains to be seen, he said, as regulatory hurdles also remain left to clear in countries such as India.
OneWeb only needs 588 of its 648 proposed satellites operating in LEO to provide global services, and any satellites launched beyond that point would serve as backups.
SpaceX is contracted to launch an as yet undetermined number of spare satellites for OneWeb in a rideshare mission Mittal said is slated for May or June.
SpaceX has launched a total 120 satellites for OneWeb over three Falcon 9 missions since December. Its third and final dedicated mission for OneWeb launched March 9 out of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.
The first mission in NSIL’s two-launch contract for OneWeb deployed 36 satellites Oct. 22 with an LVM3 from India, which also signaled the resumption of the operator’s launch campaign.
Arianespace had previously planned to deploy OneWeb’s remaining satellites with Soyuz rockets before this contract was scrapped following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The launch disruption set the company back eight to nine months and several hundred million dollars, according to Mittal.
He said OneWeb had also expected Russia to be a sizable market for its broadband services before the war. Serving the country is now off the table along with China, North Korea, and “a few other hotspots in the world.”
However, he said the company continues to see significant demand from enterprise and government customers elsewhere.
Small and lightweight user terminals that only recently became commercially available will also help accelerate revenues, he added.
And while SpaceX’s Starlink LEO broadband constellation “is a serious player in this market,” Mittal claims OneWeb has an advantage for serving enterprise customers, such as cellular backhaul providers, because its business is not orientated around a consumer-focused growth strategy.
The next generation
Revenues from OneWeb’s global constellation will help support a second-generation LEO constellation estimated to cost $4 billion that is being jointly developed with Eutelsat, a French operator of geostationary satellites that is seeking regulatory approvals to buy the British company.
Eutelsat trades publicly on the Euronext Paris stock exchange and Mittal said the companies aim to decide a deal in “the coming months” to raise money by listing shares in OneWeb in the United Kingdom.
Last month, Eutelsat CEO Eva Berneke said she expects a request for proposals to build OneWeb’s second-generation constellation to be released before the end of June for launches that could start as early as 2025.