The UK Space Agency has provided £18 million in funding to UK-based communications company OneWeb, which wants to establish a global satellite-based internet network by the year 2027 that brings connectivity to every part of the world.
London-based OneWeb is aiming to build a worldwide internet network using a constellation of 650 satellites operating in a low-earth orbit. Initially the project hopes to provide global connectivity at speeds of 500mb/s with a latency under 50ms.
The service could be instrumental for emergency services as it would provide instant connectivity in hard-to-reach locations. Through the use of a OneWeb mobile terminal, first responders will be able to avail of 200m wide LTE coverage circles when they are out of range of cellular towers.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore commented on a visit to an ESA station in the Netherlands: “The commercial potential for a cost effective worldwide telecoms satellite system is huge, and the UK space sector is playing a leading role in delivering it. It is made possible by our ongoing commitment to the European Space Agency and our world-leading capabilities in space and telecommunications.”
OneWeb Project Ready for Launch
Currently nearly 45 percent of the world’s population does not have access to the Internet according to Internet World Stats. OneWeb is aiming to have full global coverage by the year 2027.
The project currently has no satellites in orbit: the first batch of six are due to be launched from the EU’s launch site in French Guiana on February 26.
The satellites for the project are being manufactured by ‘OneWeb Satellites’, a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus. The new venture has focused on bringing innovations from the automotive and aviation manufacturing industries to satellite production.
Normally satellites are handcrafted pieces of technology that take significant time to produce. OneWeb Satellite production facilities will potentially be able to produce up to 15 satellites a week at a considerably lower cost than standard spacecraft. OneWeb founder Greg Wyler commented on Twitter that the launch is slightly delayed, but it will go ahead on the 26th.
New Date: Tuesday, Feb 26. Four day slip! This is new territory launching so many autonomous spacecraft, and they were factory built. Two firsts, so we are moving carefully in every way. A few days here or there to double check rockets, routines and process is ok by me 🙂
— Greg Wyler (@greg_wyler) February 12, 2019
Mr Wyler also commented today that they are looking into ways to use: “Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to develop novel automation techniques that could help manage our constellation in future and ensure we do so safely and responsibly so that we can protect space for future generations.”
Investing From the Ground Up
Work has already begun on the ground stations that will service the network. Hughes Network Systems has two contracts with OneWeb valued at over £232 million.
The company has “designed a ground system capable of supporting hundreds of LEOs with seamless handoff of broadband traffic between satellites presented a significant challenge,” commented John Corrigan, senior VP of Engineering at Hughes back in 2017. Each ground station will act as gateway locations around the world and will house custom switching complexes and power amplifiers.
While the £18 million from the UK Space Agency has been welcomed by OneWeb, the communications enterprise is not short of cash.
In 2016 the company raised $1.2 billion in investment from a SoftBank led fundraising round, much of that investment will be used to build a high volume satellite production facility in Florida. Previously in a Series A funding round it received investment from companies such as Airbus, Coca-Cola, Virgin Group and Qualcomm, which brings the total amount raised by OneWeb to $1.7 billion.
Magali Vaissiere, ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications said of the OneWeb investment: “It represents the exciting and required new direction ESA is taking in support of our Member States’ industry to remain at the forefront of not only the most advanced developments within the space world, but also to enable the necessary complement to the terrestrial networks that satellites will have to play to ensure a successful and fully inclusive digitalisation of industry and society.”