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The battlelines and alliances shift over big satellite constellations in space

Two stories today show that the competition for frequency use and orbital territory in space are shifting, partly because of international politics and partly due to changes in technology.

First the harsh conflict between OneWeb and Starlink over the positioning and frequency use of their constellations in orbit now appears to have vanished.

The companies have written a joint letter to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), declaring harmony in low Earth orbit (LEO) for spectrum coordination between their respective current and next generation broadband constellations.

In the letter, which is dated June 13, SpaceX and OneWeb request that the FCC disregard previously filed dissenting comments regarding spectrum coordination in LEO. SpaceX and OneWeb both submitted proposals for their first-generation internet constellations to the FCC in 2016, followed by a second round of proposals in 2020 for each company’s next-generation broadband satellites. Simultaneously, both SpaceX and OneWeb submitted complaints with the FCC in an attempt to get a leg up on each other. Now, it seems the companies are operating on friendlier terms.

The article I think correctly speculates that this new-found cooperation probably resulted from OneWeb’s need to use SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets to get its satellites in orbit, caused by Russia’s confiscation of 36 OneWeb satellites in response to Europen sanctions over the Ukraine War. During the launch negotiations I am sure SpaceX demanded both iron out their differences relating to the satellite constellations. While SpaceX might have been able to gain some advantages in that negotiation due to its strong position, I also suspect that OneWeb has not been hurt in any major way.

In the second story, SpaceX ramped up its opposition to a Dish 5G system in a wavelength used by its Starlink satellties.

SpaceX warned June 21 that its Starlink broadband network would become unusable for most Americans if a proposal to use the 12 GHz band for terrestrial 5G is approved.

U.S.-based satellite broadcaster Dish Network is seeking permission to operate a high-power mobile service in the 12 GHz band, which is part of the Ku-band spectrum that Starlink, OneWeb and other satellite operators use to connect with user terminals.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, SpaceX said tests it conducted in Las Vegas shows how the proposed network would cause Starlink users to “experience harmful interference” more than 77% of the time. Starlink would be “subjected to total outage of service 74% of the time,” wrote David Goldman, SpaceX senior director of satellite policy.

Dish’s network would be ground-based.

Meanwhile, the older satellite communications company Viasat has been trying to get Starlink shut down entirely in its own letters to the FCC.

Thus, the battlelines appear to drawn. On one side we have the new low orbit smallsat satellite constellations (SpaceX and OneWeb). On the other we have ground-based companies and older large satellites in higher orbit (Viasat and Dish).

Where Amazon’s not-yet-launched Kuiper constellation fits in remains unclear. In ’21 it also attacked SpaceX’s proposed full Starlink constellation. Since this constellation’s launch seems to be forever delayed, its position in this battle seems at this point somewhat irrelevant.

Conscious Choice cover

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  • Jay

    You are correct about OneWeb, they need SpaceX to launch their birds, and soon. The Russians are still holding 36 satellites hostage and will not release them. All the OneWeb launches that were to come after that one are now gone.
    OneWeb is probably now negotiating for launches with SpaceX. I would not be surprised if some sort of deal between StarLink and OneWeb will happen similar to how the cell phone companies use each other’s towers to increase coverage.

    As for Kuiper, still no announcements on launches this year and as a reminder they have to get a certain percentage of their birds up in a year and a half with their agreement with the FCC.

  • Jay

    Hahaha! Thanks Bob, I even commented on that post too! I am glad you remembered it.

  • Jeff Wright

    I have been a fan of Orbital Antenna Farms. Fewer sats…less disruption to astronomy, could double as a powersat demnstrator above the reach of ASATs, etc.

    But opponents ignore all that over the great god “latency.”
    5G has just rendered that arguement moot…Tesla plants are costing Musk billions as per the New York Post.

    Therefore I call upon Elon to have Super Heavy to launch/assemble a massive SPS-antenna farm whose transmission is so powerful that it interferes with 5G and Dish.

    Either they back off…or he gets into energy sectors more lucrative than comsats anyway. Starlink can be finished and the SPS-farm turned into a solar electric tug and be a Mars-sat.

    This concludes my presentation.

    Now-where’s my check?

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