OneWeb, which is partly owned by the UK Government and aims to deploy a global network of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites for ultrafast low-latency broadband provision, is to lead a group of UK space tech companies in the development of a £32m experimental beam-hopping Satellite called ‘Joey-Sat‘.
According to the blurb, the new Satellite will be able to remotely direct beams – in real-time – to boost coverage in certain locations, such as areas of high usage where the network is struggling to cope with demand (e.g. managing real-time surges in commercial demand or responding to emergencies such as natural disasters).
Some £32m of funding for this experimental satellite will come from the UK Space Agency, via the European Space Agency’s Sunrise Programme. Assuming all goes to plan, the first demonstration satellite will be due for launch sometime in 2022. The other companies involved are SatixFy, Celestia UK and Astroscale UK.
The satellite’s pilot beam-hopping payload will be developed by SatixFy, based in Farnborough. The user terminal to support this is also being developed by SatixFy, who have been awarded over £25m. Meanwhile, Celestia UK will receive £4.4m to develop smart ground-station tech featuring a multibeam electronically steered antenna, while Astroscale UK will get £2.5m to support in-orbit servicing and debris removal (ELSA-d and ELSA-M).
Massimiliano Ladovaz, CTO of OneWeb, said:“Innovation and collaboration are at the core of OneWeb. Working together with our partners, Oneweb will accelerate the development and expansion of our cutting-edge technologies and manufacturing capabilities for the benefit of communities, enterprise and governments around the world.This is an exciting opportunity to work with talented potential supply chain partners and we are delighted with the support from ESA and the UK Space Agency to bring continued innovation across the whole of OneWeb’s connectivity ecosystem.”
Amanda Solloway, Science Minister, said:“From helping during a disaster to providing broadband on planes, this amazing technology will show how next-generation 5G connectivity can benefit all of us on Earth.It is fantastic to see some of our finest space tech companies joining forces on this exciting project which will put the UK at the forefront of satellite communications technology.”
At present OneWeb has a total of 182 small LEO platforms in space and the initial plan is to build a constellation of 648 satellites, which is enough for a reasonable level of global coverage by around the end of 2022. The first initial (beta) commercial broadband services are due to go live across parts of the UK, Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and the Arctic seas in November 2021.
After that the company also have future approval for a total of 2,000 satellites and 1,280 of those will be a second-generation model that sits in a higher Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) of 8,500km (some of these might also feature global navigation technologies to complement GPS), but that would require much more investment.
By the sounds of it, some of the new technologies in OneWeb’s “Joey-Sat” demonstration could end up being used in the company’s “future generation constellation so as to be launch-ready for its Gen2 constellation in 2025,” which gives us a good indication of how long we might have to wait.
We should point out that the idea of adding steerable beams to broadband satellites is nothing new (e.g. Avanti’s HYLAS 2, HYLAS 3 and HYLAS 4 all have steerable beams) and the press release isn’t particularly clear about what will make their approach so different, other than being a smaller and more compact, as well as more cost-effective, refinement of what has come before.