OneWeb breaks ground on satellite factory


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The competition heats up: OneWeb today broke ground on its new Florida satellite factory where the company hopes to build more than 2,000 satellites for its internet satellite constellation.

7 comments

  • LocalFluff

    If the satellites can communicate directly with the handheld units, like satellite telephony, it would be great. Otherwise, if one needs a pizza sized router, there will be tough competition from non-space based services. (What about a wearable iPizzaHat transmitter?) I haven’t seen any clear specification of what the proposed space based internet systems require of the hardware on the ground. It requires a lot to transmit to a satellite, but it works with Iridium and most internet usage doesn’t require much uploading.

    Space based internet would work when nothing else works, as during a power outage or catastrophic weather. I think that it would be a very valuable investment in fundamental societal function and security. As long as one can charge ones phone (and the transmitter will consume lots of battery power), one would have guaranteed access to information and financial transfers.

  • Dick Eagleson

    The original Iridium satphones didn’t need either much power or much of an antenna because they were just go-anywhere voice telephones. Voice circuits only require a few KHz of bandwidth. Even so, both the handsets and antennas were appreciably larger and clunkier than those of cell phones of the same era designed for use with terrestrial networks.

    LEO satcom-based broadband internet, according to the announced plans of most of the would-be constellation builders, is going to need at least a modest-size phased-array antenna to work. The size of said antenna seems to be a bit uncertain. Anything up to maybe a couple square feet would do for a fixed terrestrial installation. That would work for most moving vehicle applications too.

    For personal use, the antenna probably can’t be more than six inches on a side or, equivalently, 6.8 inches in diameter. Smaller would be better. Anything in that general size range could be readily adapted for military use, for example, by being applied to the top of a soldier’s helmet, if round, or the top of a camelback-type water reservoir or rucksack if rectangular. Building the antenna into a “gimme” hat, like the red ones with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan on the front, would require a smaller area.

    It would also be nice if the surface being mounted to was flat or at least wasn’t flexible. Military helmets would be okay for conformal antennas, but soft “gimme” hats probably not so much. Maybe the fashion-forward statement for the hip satcom internet user of the near future will wind up being something like a French soldier or policeman’s kepi.

    Battery technology keeps improving all the time so I think even wearable broadband internet satcom sets will have battery packs of reasonable size, though I think anything as small as an iPhone is still some ways off. For home or other fixed installation uses, though, some form of backup power would still be needed to get through baseload grid outages. The same UPS one uses for a PC and wi-fi router would probably be sufficient to keep the satcom-based broadband link up too. If you can afford one of Elon’s PowerWall units, of course, you’re golden, even with the increasingly third-world-esque power infrastructure we all suffer with here in sunny California.

  • LocalFluff

    Thanks for the clarifications, Dick Eagleson!

    So this concept is not for the individual consumer, unless they live in the wilderness and they are few and poor. Indonesia might be a market because it is a densely populated island nation, I read that an Indonesian bank has its own communication satellite in GEO to keep its offices connected.

    I think that wearable computers have to become more prosthetic-like and body-integrated in order to be widely used. People wear eye glasses in order to read or drive, and take them off whenever they can, that’s the kind of high motivation that is required. I doubt consumers will waving antennas in order to get a bit faster internet connection than what the ground cellular network offers. Although there’s some professional market for that of course. People do wear nice watches, but to show off some jewelry and status, not really to keep track of time. Luxury and status kind of requires that it is of no practical use.

    But if a phased array antenna could be carried in a pocket or hand bag, keeping the handset itself slim, it might sell. Its orientation would be known by gravity and inertia sensors and adjusted for, though I suppose that having an array perpendicular to the satellite would give better bandwidth, although being more uncomfortable to somehow carry. People already carry chargers so a PAA box is maybe not undoable. African women traditionally carry things on their heads, which actually is quite practical, and gives some shadow from the Sun. But my suggestion of a satellite radio hat was a joke, I wouldn’t invest in that. But some mobile IT business looked like jokes when they got going, so it would probably have a billion dollar IPO, I don’t understand IT stock valuations so this is not an investment advice.

    According to Wiki Oneweb has raised billions of dollars already so this is really happening. The handsets and potential devices could be developed during many years after the satellites are orbited. $500,000 per 140 kilogram satellite sounds very cheap. Many GEO comsats cost a thousand times more. If this introduces the mass production of cheap satellites, it could be a revolutionary T-Ford for space flight.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Actually, it’s for pretty much everybody. I’m really looking forward to being able to subscribe to such a service myself in a few years.

  • wodun

    Space based internet would work when nothing else works, as during a power outage or catastrophic weather.

    Assuming you have backup power to run your device.

    I have a VOIP thing from Xfinity. When the power goes out, I can technically still use the phone and internet since it runs through the same modem/router. As long as Xfinity still has power that is. But the modem/router ships without the rechargeable battery so it really doesn’t help when the power goes out.

  • LocalFluff

    @Dick
    Indirectly, of course, like we benefit from any comsat. Space based internet to consumer handheld devices would be revolutionary. But that doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. Maybe it requires nuclear powered satellites.

    @wodun
    We indivually of course have to make sure that we can recharge our batteries. There are small solar panels and even hand shaked induction chargers available. Or just have a could of charged extra batteries at hand. And a diesel power generator of course, to take care of more than phone batteries. But that plan might not work, so being able to reach the entire world, informatically, via the sky would be really nice when everything down here fails. The concept is a demonstration of how space flight is good for us.

    At least where I live the relays in the cellular phone nets have batteries for only an hour or so, just to manage ordinary short power outages. Direct communication between the individual end user and a satellite would be a breakthrough.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Localfluff,

    I think some of the new LEO broadband comsat constellations will be able to support mobile use, though the equipment might be a little clunky at first and more suitable for soldiers, first responders and others who routinely carry equipment belted or slung on their bodies as part of their jobs.

    My point about direct-to-consumer service was for fixed points of access, like homes and small businesses. That definitely is on the agenda of the new service providers. Breaking the cable monopolies is what I’m looking forward to.

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