LOGAN, Utah — The founder of broadband megaconstellation company OneWeb urged the smallsat industry to operate responsibly in orbit, warning that failed satellites and collisions could result in stifling government regulation.
In an Aug. 5 keynote address at the Conference on Small Satellites here, Greg Wyler contrasted OneWeb’s emphasis on building reliable satellites and avoiding the creation of orbital debris with unnamed companies that he fears may sacrifice reliability in a rush to get their satellites launched.
“I’m really not a fan of just launching stuff in space to raise money, and launching stuff in space that’s not finished or not ready or vetted,” he said. “You should not be throwing up hundreds and hundreds of kilograms of mass that just becomes a missile.”
Wyler didn’t identify by name any companies that are launching satellites in that way, but his comments appeared to be a veiled reference to SpaceX and its Starlink constellation. SpaceX launched its first 60 Starlink satellites in May, and later reported at least three had failed. The company also raised a $310 million funding round about a month after that launch.
“To not sit and think about longer-term ramifications of what you’re doing is just irresponsible,” he said. “We had a team on space debris from day one.”
Wyler argued that OneWeb is trying to be a responsible operator by focusing on the reliability of its satellites, avoiding failures that prevent from the company from deorbiting them. The first six OneWeb satellites, launched in February, are 100% functional, he said.. “We’re really, really happy with them.”
With a completion of a new factory in Florida, the company is preparing to launch its initial constellation of 650 satellites in batches of 34 to 36 each. Those launches will take place monthly, starting in December, on Soyuz rockets.
Wyler said he was worried, though, about the effects on OneWeb and the industry should there be another collision like the Iridium-Cosmos event a decade ago. “If we have a couple of satellites collide, you’re going to see regulations and you’re going to see it fast, and it’s going to make no sense at all,” he warned.
He added he wasn’t concerned about competing with what he estimated to be at least 150 other proposed satellite constellations as long as they adopted a similar approach to space operations. “We welcome lots of people to come and join and do this,” he said. “I just want them all to do it safely.”