Today’s announcement by Lynk Global of its “Shannon” satellite going into operation is the start of a path that could lead to truly global cellular services and the production of over 200 satellites per month to build a production constellation of 5,000 satellites in total.
“You could call [Shannon] a production prototype,” said Lynk CEO Charles Miller. “It’s still an experimental satellite, but it’s at the core a production design that’s designed for mass manufacturing as well as to be scalable to much larger sizes if we so choose. We’ve taken everything we’ve learned from the first four satellites and put it into the fifth satellite.”
Shannon is not a CubeSat-standard spacecraft but a “small” satellite designed to fit onto an ESPA-standard ridesharing “ring” to get to orbit, among other things. It is a 1 meter by 1 meter by 0.15 meter “pizza box” with no springs to deploy whip antennas or fold out solar panel wings or other mechanics that add complexity and require testing time before being shipped for launch.
“We’re keeping it simple,” Miller stated. “There’s no deployables. This is designed for speed of production and low risk, high reliability…. The more moving parts, you have more risk. There’s a reason why that moving parts in satellites are the bane of existence, there’s so many lessons learned from people building satellites as the more moving parts you have, it’s just an opportunity [for failure] for the entire satellite… We’ve eliminated that source of risk.”
Shannon’s box form factor and simplicity means the satellite can be scaled “significantly larger” in the future, Miller said, but he didn’t suggest how much larger the satellite could go. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) filings indicate that the company could enlarge its satellite up to 1.5 meters square in the near-term, but the simplicity of design and stock shape suggests future spacecraft could essentially be sized to fill up the volume of a Falcon 9 or other launch vehicle fairing, with multiple satellites stacked on top of each other akin to the deployment of SpaceX Starlink satellites.
An initial 10 to 12 satellites will be built at Lynk’s headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, with options open for a dedicated factory to product up to 200 satellites per month, located in an area with available skilled engineers and high quality production people, such as Northern Virginia, Florida, Seattle, California, or Huntsville, Alabama. Financial incentives offered by local and state governments are likely to play a role in site selection as well. With countries and overseas partners expressing interest in Lynk satellite manufacturer, some subassemblies may be manufactured off-shore but the majority of satellite systems will built in the U.S. along with final assembly.