Start-up Firm To Announce Eight-Satellite Global Broadband Network

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PARIS — A start-up company backed by Liberty Global is designing an eight-satellite constellation to provide interactive broadband links globally and expects to sign initial satellite manufacturing contracts the week of Sept. 8, according to industry officials familiar with the project.

O3B Networks Ltd., headquartered in Britain’s States of Jersey, has designed a system whose satellites would be in an unusual orbit 8,000 kilometers in altitude to assure minimal latency for high-speed two-way users. The satellites would use the Ka-band of the radio spectrum.

O3B Networks is expected to sign initial agreements with satellite manufacturer ThalesAlenia Space of Cannes, France, with an announcement to be made during a satellite-finance conference here, officials said.

Gregory Wyler, chief executive of O3B and one of its major shareholders, declined Sept. 4 to discuss the project. ThalesAlenia Space officials also said they would not comment on the manufacturer’s relationship with O3B.

One industry official said Wyler and his partners, which include Englewood, Colo.-based Liberty Global Inc. and HSBC bank, will need around $600 million, and perhaps more, to build and launch the system.

To be launched into an equatorial orbit, the 800-kilogram satellites would cover the globe between 45 degrees north and 45 degrees south latitude.

Thales
Alenia Space is prime contractor for the 48 satellites that will make up the second-generation spacecraft constellation for the Globalstar mobile data and voice service. Those satellites will be in an orbit with an altitude of 1,414 kilometers. An industry official said the O3B spacecraft would be slightly larger than the 700-kilogram Globalstar 2 satellites but would borrow heavily from the Globalstar 2 design.

The fact that O3B is viewed as a credible project highlights the turnaround of the commercial satellite industry in recent years following a boom-and-bust cycle that began in the late 1990s.

It was at the boom end that ideas for constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit for voice or data communications became popular. Many of them have never been built because of a lack of available financing, while others that were built eventually were forced into bankruptcy restructuring.