Starlink and OneWeb reach spectrum coordination plan

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This article was edited June 15 with details about the megaconstellation operators’ V-band plans.

TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX and OneWeb said June 13 they have reached a spectrum coordination plan that would enable their current and second-generation broadband megaconstellations to coexist.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, the companies asked the regulator to disregard any spectrum coordination issues they had previously filed against each other.

“Given this positive development, the Parties encourage the Commission to quickly approve each second-round system so that they may begin deploying these cutting-edge systems and offering even more advanced services as soon as possible, they said.

SpaceX has permission to deploy 4,408 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) that use Ku-band spectrum to connect users to its Starlink network, and is seeking approval to add nearly 30,000 more to improve its broadband services.

The company has a separate FCC authorization to launch 7,500 V-band satellites, which Starlink’s first generation needs to reach a total of around 12,000 satellites for global services.

OneWeb has permission for 648 satellites that are currently designed to use Ku-band in LEO to connect users, and wants to grow its constellation to roughly 7,000 satellites. The British startup has also secured permission to add V-band payloads to its fleet.

There are currently 2,404 Starlink and 427 OneWeb satellites in orbit, according to statistics maintained by spaceflight analyst and astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

Starship, the heavy-lift launch vehicle SpaceX is developing in Texas, is critical to the company’s plan to upgrade its Starlink constellation.

Gen 2 Starlink satellites will be nearly seven meters long and five times bigger than its first generation, according to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk.

On June 13, the Federal Aviation Administration concluded a long-awaited review that enables Starship orbital launches from Texas — if the company completes dozens of mitigations to reduce impacts on the environment and the public.

SpaceX has been using Falcon 9 rockets to launch batches of typically 53 Starlink satellites at a time. The next Starlink launch has been slated for June 17 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Arianespace had been using Russian Soyuz rockets to launch 32-36 satellites per OneWeb mission, however, it had to pause deployments in March following sanctions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

OneWeb has signed contracts with SpaceX and the commercial arm of Indian space agency ISRO to resume launches this year.

Amazon and Canadian satellite operator Telesat, which are planning to deploy their own LEO broadband constellations, declined to comment on Starlink and OneWeb’s coordination plan.

Regulatory battles

In a separate June 13 regulatory filing, SpaceX said it had raised nearly $1.68 billion through a private offering of shares as it continues to invest heavily in Starlink and Starship.

Starlink is already the world’s largest megaconstellation, and its expansion plans have met fierce resistance from U.S.-based geostationary satellite broadband operator Viasat.

Viasat has called on the FCC to perform an environmental review of Starlink before allowing the company to expand its network, and in May pointed to light pollution issues it says remain unresolved.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is seeking to block Viasat’s $7.3 billion plan to buy British satellite operator Inmarsat to expand its business internationally and across multiple orbits.

In a letter filed with the FCC June 10, SpaceX said Viasat is unfit to take control of Inmarsat’s spectrum licenses because Viasat is allegedly violating its current frequency rights.

SpaceX accused Viasat of using Ka-band frequencies designated for operators in non-geostationary orbit on a primary basis without first meeting FCC conditions. SpaceX said it relies on this spectrum for communications between its satellites and gateway Earth stations.

“The public interest is not served by giving a company with such blatant disregard for the Commission’s rules control over the Inmarsat satellite system,” SpaceX said in the June 10 letter.

Viasat denies it has violated FCC rules.

“Viasat has previously refuted SpaceX’s baseless claims at length,” Viasat spokesperson Jessica Packard said in a statement. 

“There is nothing new here. We continue to believe that the transaction will serve the public interest and remain confident that the FCC will reach that same conclusion after reviewing the complete record.”

Packard said Viasat remains on course to complete the Inmarsat acquisition before the end of 2022, subject to regulatory clearances and the approval of Viasat shareholders who are due to vote on the deal June 21.