Tag Archives: OneWeb

OneWeb: LauncherOne too expensive

In asking that Virgin Orbit’s lawsuit against internet satellite manufacturer OneWeb be dismissed, OneWeb has claimed that their contract allowed for the cancellation of launches without cause, and that they have a cause anyway, which is that LauncherOne is too pricey.

In its court filing, OneWeb said the $6 million price tag for a LauncherOne mission is two to three times current market prices.

…The original contract, OneWeb claims, allowed for termination without cause, and for prior payments to apply to the termination fee. Those contract termination rules, and the fact that Virgin Orbit has yet to conduct any LauncherOne missions, invalidate Virgin Orbit’s revenue expectations, according to OneWeb. [emphasis mine]

Based on my estimate of the launch market, LauncherOne’s price is higher than others, but not by very much. I think the highlighted text is more significant. LauncherOne had announced plans to fly its first mission last summer. More than a year later that inaugural flight has still not taken place.

In the meantime, this decision by OneWeb is a boon to Russia’s space industry, especially its Soyuz rocket, as it will now get the contracts for launching the majority of OneWeb’s 648-satellite constellation.

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Russia denies OneWeb permission to operate in Russia

Russian government agencies this week denied permission to OneWeb to operate and provide internet services within Russia, even though Russia is launching a large bulk of OneWeb’s satellite constellation.

One agency denied them permission to use certain radio frequencies. Another has said no because it claims the satellites could be used for espionage. The first denial, in 2017, came from Roscosmos, which is also the agency launching OneWeb’s satellites.

The latest refusal of OneWeb was a sign that the country’s authorities remain keen to continue tightening their control of internet access, said Prof Christopher Newman at Northumbria University.

“[Satellite internet] presents an existential strategic threat to their trying to limit internet activity within their boundaries,” he told the BBC. “There are going to be large swathes of Russian territory… that are going to become very dependent on internet from space.”

Russia continues its sad slide back to Soviet-style authoritarianism and poverty.

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Virgin Orbit sues OneWeb over canceled launches

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit this week filed a lawsuit against the satellite company OneWeb for its cancellation of 35 of 39 launches.

According to a complaint Virgin Orbit filed June 4 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, OneWeb quietly canceled 35 of a planned 39 launches last June, triggering a $70 million termination fee spelled out in the contract. Virgin Orbit says OneWeb still owes $46.32 million. The lawsuit was first reported by Law360.com.

The real significance of this story is the decision of OneWeb to back out of its deal with Virgin Orbit. Richard Branson is an investor in both, which is why I think Virgin Orbit got the contract originally, when they were nowhere close to flying.

The timing of OneWeb’s cancellation in June 2018 is interesting. In July 2018 Virgin Orbit announced that it had received a launch license from the FAA for a flight it hoped to do before the end of the summer. That flight never happened.

So, did OneWeb’s cancellation cause the Virgin Orbit flight schedule to stall, or did OneWeb realize in June 2018 that the schedule was unrealistic, and that it was time to get out?

Either way, the lose of this income is a serious blow for this Branson company, and probably does explain the lack of flights in the past year.

If I was to rank the American smallsat orbital rocket companies at this point, Rocket Lab leads, with Vector and Firefly tied for a distance second. I would also consider EXOS Aerospace up there among the leaders, even though they are not yet building an orbital rocket. Instead, they are flying their reusable SARGE suborbital rocket on commercial flights (the next is scheduled for June 30), and using it as a guide for developing the orbital rocket to follow. Virgin Orbit should be among these leaders, but the lose of this contract and their failure to fly as scheduled makes me want to lower them in the rankings.

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Ariane 6 gets OneWeb launch contract

Capitalism in space: Arianespace announced this week that it has signed a three-launch contract with OneWeb that will use its new Ariane 6 rocket, including the rocket’s maiden flight.

The launch service agreement specifies the use of the qualification launch of the Ariane 62 version, scheduled for the second half of 2020; the two Ariane 6 options (either in its 62 version, accommodating up to 36 OneWeb satellites, or in the 64 version, up to 78 OneWeb satellites) will be utilized starting in 2023.

The OneWeb satellites will be launched by the first Ariane 62 into a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers before raising themselves to their operational orbit.

Because OneWeb is in direct competition with SpaceX for building the first space-based internet satellite constellation, it has looked for other launch companies to put its satellites in orbit. Thus, the business to launch the company’s planned 650-plus satellite constellation has gone to Arianespace, Russia, Virgin Orbit, and others. This in turn appears to have saved Ariane 6, which is going to be more expensive than SpaceX’s rockets and was therefore having trouble getting launch contracts.

Isn’t competition wonderful? It looks like it is going to take us to the stars.

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OneWeb raises $1.25 billion

Capitalism in space: Following the launch of the first six satellites for its 650 satellite constellation to provide worldwide internet services, OneWeb today announced that it has successfully raised $1.25 billion in new investment capital.

…it has secured its largest fundraising round to date with the successful raise of $1.25 billion in new capital. This brings the total funds raised to $3.4 billion. This round was led by SoftBank Group Corp., Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies Inc., and the Government of Rwanda.

The new funds, following the successful first launch of OneWeb’s satellites, enable the company to accelerate the development of the first truly global communications network by 2021.

…OneWeb’s satellites, produced through its joint venture with Airbus doing business as “OneWeb Satellites”, will ramp-up production this spring at its new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Exploration Park, Florida. Following the company’s successful launch of satellites on February 27th, OneWeb will embark on the largest satellite launch campaign in history. Starting in Q4, OneWeb will begin monthly launches of more than 30 satellites at a time, creating an initial constellation of 650 satellites to enable full global coverage. After this first phase, OneWeb will add more satellites to its constellation to meet growing demands.

This puts OneWeb significantly ahead of everyone else, including SpaceX, in the race to launch the first space-based system for providing internet services. Their planned launch pace also illustrates why there is a flood of new smallsat rocket companies. They, and others, have a clear need for launch services, which presently cannot be provided by the existing launch companies.

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Arianespace successfully launches first set of six OneWeb satellites

Capitalism in space: Using a Russian-built Soyuz rocket, Arianespace today successfully launched the first set of six OneWeb communications satellites.

This is the first of 21 Soyuz launches to put the entire OneWeb constellation into orbit. OneWeb also has launch contracts with Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne.

The 2019 launch standings:

2 SpaceX
2 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
1 ULA
1 Japan
1 India
1 Russia

It could be argued that this Soyuz launch should be placed under Russia. I place it under Europe because they are the one’s who signed the contract.

The U.S. now leads China and Europe 3-2 in the national rankings.

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Russian engineers fix microhole in Soyuz upper stage

Russian engineers have successfully fixed the microhole that had been discovered in the fuel line of the Freget upper stage of a Soyuz rocket being prepped for an Arianespace commercial launch in French Guiana.

This quick repair suggests that the launch will not be delayed as much as first believed.

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Problem found with Soyuz set for Arianespace commercial launch

Russian engineers have found a problem with Freget upper stage used on their Soyuz rocket and set for an Arianespace commercial launch in French Guiana this spring.

According to the source, “a microhole has been found in one of the upper stage’s pipes, which apparently emerged during a long transportation of the booster to the spaceport in French Guiana.”

“Now the specialists of the Lavochkin Research and Production Association [Fregat’s manufacturer] are dealing with this malfunction, by the end of the week they should specify the types of the works needed for eliminating it,” the source said.

The launch may be postponed from late February until March due to this situation.

This problem might not be related to Russia’s ongoing quality control problems. It could simply be a consequence of the difficulty of shipping a rocket across the globe. At the same time, the thought must not be dismissed. They say the microhole occurred during transport, but there is no way to confirm this.

Either way, the problem and delay does not do the Russians good. I wonder if OneWeb, the commercial customer for this flight, is beginning to have regrets about its contract for 21 Soyuz launches to get a large percentage of its satellite constellation into orbit.

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SpaceX competitors team up to try to block its satellite constellation

SpaceX’s main competitors in creating a satellite broadband industry have all filed objections with the FCC to the company’s planned 4,425 satellite constellation that is aimed at providing worldwide internet access.

SpaceX’s plan to provide global broadband internet access using thousands of satellites in low-earth orbit has come under fire from competitors, including Boeing and OneWeb, according to Space Intel Report. The argument is playing out in a series of filings with the Federal Communications Commission, focusing on SpaceX’s request for a temporary waiver from the FCC’s time limits for putting the satellite system into full operation.

The FCC would typically require the system to provide full coverage of U.S. territory within six years of a license being issued, but SpaceX says that’s not enough time to deploy the full 4,425-satellite constellation. Instead, the company proposes launching the first 1,600 satellites in six years, which would leave the northernmost part of Alaska without coverage when the deadline hits. Full U.S. coverage would be provided after the six-year deadline, SpaceX says.

In their own filings, competitors including OneWeb, SES/O3b and Intelsat are urging the FCC not to waive the six-year requirement, Space Intel Report said.

This is garbage, and demonstrates again why it is dangerous to give government too much power. Rather than compete by launching their own satellite constellations first, these companies want the FCC to put its finger on the scale to favor them and stop SpaceX. And I bet the decision will be made based not on what is right but on who gave the most campaign contributions to the right political party.

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OneWeb wins FCC approval for 720 satellite internet constellation

Capitalism in space: The FCC has given unanimous approval to OneWeb to launch its 720 satellite constellation, designed to provide internet access worldwide.

They hope to launch the first 10 satellites in 2018 and begin service in 2019. The satellites will be put in orbit by a variety of launch companies, including Roscosmos, Arianespace, and Virgin Orbit.

This is only the beginning. SpaceX has its own internet competition planned, expected to begin launching in 2019.

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Blue Origin signs second contract for New Glenn

The competition heats up: One day after announcing its first launch contract, Blue Origin announced today a second contract for its New Glenn rocket.

In a tweet this morning, Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos said OneWeb has reserved five launches using the rocket, bringing to six the number of missions in the New Glenn manifest.

So far I can find no information about the prices being charged by Blue Origin for these launches. I suspect they are giving their customers discounts for being the first, but this is not confirmed yet.

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New commercial proposals for launching almost 15,000 satellites

The competition heats up: New applications filed by SpaceX and OneWeb with the FCC propose augmenting both companies’ previously proposed satellite constellations and raising the number of total satellites to be launched to almost 15,000 total.

SpaceX has filed a new application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for approval to launch a constellation of 7,518 satellites to provide communications in the little used V band. The system is in addition to another constellations of 4,425 satellites (plus orbital spares) SpaceX proposed in November that would operate in the Ku and Ka bands. In total, the two constellations would have 11,943 spacecraft plus spares. “When combined into a single, coordinated system, these ‘LEO’ and ‘VLEO’ constellations will enable SpaceX to provide robust broadband services on a full and continuous global basis,” SpaceX said in its application.

Competitor OneWeb has submitted a new application that would add an additional 2,000 satellites capable of operating in the V-band to its planned constellation of 720 satellites.

These are all smallsats, which means they can be launched in bunches. Still, even if they are launched in groups of 100, it will still take 150 launches to get them all into orbit. That is a lot of business for the launch industry.

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OneWeb raises $1.2 billion in investment capital

The competition heats up: OneWeb, in its effort to build a constellation of 900 satellites to provide internet services worldwide, has raised $1.2 billion.

Japan-based SoftBank invested $1 billion of the total $1.2 billion, and has also become a strategic partner, with one of its directors, Ronald Fisher, joining OneWeb’s board of directors. Combined with the $500 million OneWeb raised in June 2015, the total amount gathered now stands at $1.7 billion out of an expected total cost of $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion for the full constellation of 900 small satellites. OneWeb Founder Greg Wyler told SpaceNews that thanks to SoftBank, the company has raised more from investors than originally anticipated, allowing OneWeb to forgo a third investment round.

They plan to build a factory in Florida capable of building 15 satellites per week.

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Battle for communications spectrum between private companies

The competition heats up: One group of mobile broadband companies is fighting another group of satellite-based internet companies for control over the use of a part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

A coalition of 5G terrestrial mobile broadband companies led by Charlie Ergen’s Dish Network on June 8 asked U.S. regulators to strip future low-orbiting satellite Internet constellations of their priority access to 500 megahertz of Ku-band spectrum – spectrum coveted by prospective constellation operators including OneWeb LLC and SpaceX. SpaceX and satellite fleet operator Intelsat, a OneWeb investor and partner, immediately filed separate opposition papers to the FCC, arguing that nongeostationary-orbit (NGSO) constellations are very much alive.

In the middle is the FCC and our hapless and increasingly corrupt federal government. I sadly suspect the side that will win this battle will be the side that gives the most campaign money to the right politicians.

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OneWeb satellite factory coming to Florida

The competition heats up: OneWeb officially announces its plan to build its satellite factory in Florida.

OneWeb Satellites LLC prepares to break ground on its new estimated $85 million high volume satellite manufacturing factory in Exploration Park, Florida. Announced during a ceremony with Florida Governor Rick Scott and OneWeb founder Greg Wyler, the factory near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is set to open in 2017, with delivery of initial satellites later that year or early the next. OneWeb Satellites is a joint venture between OneWeb, a satellite based internet provider, and Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company.

I think this news report of the press conference notes the most important aspect of this satellite factory, its assembly-line approach:

Typically, communications satellites take four to five months to assemble, Brian Holz, chief executive of OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture of OneWeb and Europe’s Airbus Group’s Defense and Space said during an event near the future location of the factory. “We’re going to build one in an eight-hour shift,” he said. He did not give details but said the factory would be highly automated.

If all goes right, they should begin launch satellites in large numbers within two years, which will mean a lot of additional launch business for the smallsat rocket industry.

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OneWeb to set up operations in Florida

The competition heats up: The head of OneWeb confirmed today that his company is going to establish its base of operations in Florida.

The founder of OneWeb, Greg Wyler, confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel that his company is moving to Kennedy Space Center. Wyler plans to announce more details Tuesday morning in a news conference with Gov. Rick Scott, who will explain $20 million in state incentive dollars for the company. “It’s pretty exciting to see that Florida will be the base for a new satellite network that will extend high-speed access to 54 percent of the globe,” Wyler said in a phone interview.

OneWeb already has $500 million in funding to launch the new satellites, designed to boost internet access globally. It also has contracts with Virgin Galactic and French company Arianespace for launches. The company plans to hire at least 250 people.

The important part of this story for Florida is that OneWeb will be building its satellites there. Whether any are ever launched from Florida will depend on Virgin Galactic ever getting off the ground. Otherwise, most of these satellites will launch from French Guiana.

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OneWeb begins hiring in Florida

The competition heats up: The new satellite company OneWeb, with plans to launch a constellation of 900 satellites beginning next year, has begun hiring engineers for a manufacturing plant it intends to locate in Florida.

The article also notes the construction start of a new building that is suspected but not confirmed as the location of that manufacturing plant.

OneWeb’s existence is visible proof of my contention that if the launch business can lower the cost to orbit it will create new customers who can afford to buy the product. OneWeb is partly lowering the cost on its own by using small cubesat-like satellites, but it is also taking advantage of the renewed competition in the launch industry to get better deals on buying the rockets it needs to launch those satellites.

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OneWeb awards major launch contracts

The competition heats up: OneWeb today announced it had raised a half billion dollars in investment capital, and has also awarded two major launch contracts, one to the Arianespace/Russian Soyuz partnership and the other to Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne.

The Soyuz gets 21 launches while LauncherOne gets 39. For Virgin Galactic this contract might save the company, as their effort to fly tourists on SpaceShipOne has badly stalled. The effort to build LauncherOne, however, seems to be gaining steam.

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Virgin Galactic opens facility for developing LauncherOne

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic announced today the establishment of a new facility to design and build the company’s LauncherOne rocket, aimed at putting into orbit very small cubesats at a very low price.

LauncherOne is an air-launch system for satellites weighing up to 225 kilograms. The system will use the same aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, as the company’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, but replaces SpaceShipTwo with a two-stage launch vehicle using engines fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene.

At the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 4, William Pomerantz, vice president of special projects for Virgin Galactic, said the company has already tested engines and other “core infrastructure” of LauncherOne. “We are a fairly vertically-integrated team,” he said. “We really do control a lot of the production in house.”

As the article notes, Virgin Galactic is investing in OneWeb, which hopes to launch a constellation of 650 cubesats to provide broadband communications worldwide. It is likely that a partnership between the two companies exists to put many of those cubesats into orbit with LauncherOne.

This announcement also suggests to me that Virgin Galactic is beginning to shift its gaze from suborbital space tourism to orbital launch services, and in doing so is looking for new ways to make its investment in WhiteKnightTwo pay off.

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