OneWeb March 24 2021 launch (Source: Roscosmos)

OneWeb announces sixth broadband satellite launch, Innovation Challenge

OneWeb plans to launch 36 more satellites into low earth orbit (LEO) on April 26, marking the company’s sixth so far.  The launch will increase OneWeb’s total in-orbit broadband constellation to 182 satellite. It also announced its first Innovation Challenge.

The Soyuz launch being conducted by Arianespace from the Vostochy Cosmodrome in Russia is expected to take place at 6:14 PM ET with the mission to place the satellites into an initial orbit expected to last around four hours.  Commissioning will take place in that orbit before raising all the satellites into their final operational orbit.

This flight will mark a total of 108 satellites placed into orbit in 2021, with OneWeb ramping up to a monthly launch schedule. OneWeb says it is on schedule to provide initial service from the North Pole down to 50 degrees latitude by June 2021. The “Five to 50” program (5 launches to cover 50 degrees latitude upward to the North Pole) will deliver broadband data services to the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada, with commercial service ready to start by the end of the year.

Global service is expected to be available in 2022 when there are around 648 satellites in orbit, with the company already gearing up marketing efforts around the world.  This month it signed MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding) with the AST Group and the Government of Kazakhstan and local partners.  OneWeb will build a ground station in Kazakhstan to provide connectivity to Central Asian countries and provide broadband to remote and hard-to-reach rural communities.

OneWeb’s 2021 Innovation Challenge is soliciting proposals to “innovate a new generation of satellites,” inviting its industrial and engineering partners, academia, and research professionals to participate.  The company is looking for new ideas in satellite design, production, orbit, flight operations and responsible de-orbiting, looking for ways to continue to “improve and transform satellite-based connectivity solutions and bring forward new design ideas” for future LEO satellite communications technologies.

“Space is the future for communications on Earth,” said OneWeb CTO Massimiliano Ladovaz. “To get there, we are building a technology roadmap that continuously redefines existing mindsets with new ideas, innovations, and exciting partnership opportunities. The opportunity is to play an active part in the definition and execution of OneWeb’s next generation satellite program. The winners will join a growing list of companies with access to OneWeb’s resources to help grow their ideas and be part of our global supply chain,”

OneWeb expects ideas to emerge from industries outside the traditional space sector, including automobile, aeronautical, microelectronics, materials sciences, and other industries.  Entrants must register in either the Industrial Partners or Student/Research category, then submit short written proposals before May 17, 2021.  Industrial Partners will get the opportunity to supply components to OneWeb’s new satellite constellation while Student/Research winners become eligible to attend a rocket launch and up to five paid internships working on OneWeb’s satellite programs.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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