Last week, OneWeb, Viasat, and SES were among the companies filing paperwork with their respective regulatory agencies to launch more satellites into orbit. OneWeb wanted to put up to 48,000 satellites into orbit, while ViaSat and SES sought somewhat more modest numbers for their Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband and IoT projects respectively.
OneWeb said it wanted a larger constellation to permit greatly flexibility to meet “soaring global connectivity demands,” but analysts and the public were left scratching their heads as to how a company in Chapter 11 bankruptcy would ever need that many satellites since it had only put 74 satellites into orbit before its March 27 filing. Several parties are interested in purchasing OneWeb’s business assets, but they would need an estimated $3 billion to complete the building and launch of over 600 more satellite to complete the company’s first-generation Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband network.
Viasat’s request to launch nearly 300 satellites in Low Earth Orbit comes as an about face to longstanding company philosophy that GEO satellites are more cost effective than LEO and MEO networks. In its Q4 and Fiscal 2020 Shareholder Letter published at the end of May, Viasat says it was seeking a modification to its FCC Ka/V-band Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) license to move it down to LEO in response to a $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund rules, where latency is favored in bidding offers. Should the FCC grant the license modification, Viasat believes its new LEO constellation would win a chunk of the FCC RDOF funds, with a “modified LEO’ constellation entering service by 2026.
The most modest filing came from SES. The GEO-based communications company is seeking to launch a constellation of 36 LEO satellite to provide high-speed Internet of Things (IoT) service and serve as a relay network for other digital traffic, according to Space News reporting. SES currently operates around 50 GEO communications satellites and another 20 O3B communications satellites in MEO.
Eutelsat and EchoStar are also building LEO IoT satellite constellations, with Eutelsat operating leased capacity from a third party and EchoStar planning to build and launch number of cubesats to supplement its existing S-band IoT coverage worldwide.