Successful launch propels OneWeb to $1.25B in new funding

Following the successful launch and deployment of the first six satellites in a planned constellation of hundreds, OneWeb has raised $1.25 billion in funding to kickstart mass production. It’s a powerful endorsement of and ambitious plan to create an entirely new layer of global connectivity.

To blanket the world in internet, OneWeb means to send up about 650 satellites at first, with a few hundred more later to expand and reinforce coverage. The original schedule has slipped considerably, as is expected in pretty much any space endeavor, but last month’s test launch means they’re ready to move to the next phase: mass manufacture and deployment.

“With the recent successful launch of our first six satellites, near-completion of our innovative satellite manufacturing facility with our partner Airbus, progress towards fully securing our ITU priority spectrum position, and the signing of our first customer contracts, OneWeb is moving from the planning and development stage to deployment of our full constellation,” said CEO Adrian Steckel in a press release.

It isn’t cheap filling low Earth orbit with satellites, though. OneWeb’s craft currently cost about a million dollars each, which, when combined with all the other costs of launch and administration, quickly add up to the point where even a three-comma round doesn’t cover things. (The company’s total raised is now $3.4 billion.)

But those costs should come down as the company moves to a more efficient manufacturing platform: its own special facility, built with partner Airbus. Part of the cash will be going to putting the finishing touches on that and getting it up to speed.

The current plan is to get enough birds in the air (at a rate of about 30 per monthly launch) to demo connections next year, then offer limited commercial service in 2021. And OneWeb already has its first customer: Talia, a telecom serving Africa and the Middle East.

Of course, OneWeb isn’t without competitors. SpaceX is perhaps the most visible, and plans a constellation of thousands, though with only a pair of prototypes in orbit it’s considerably far behind in logistics. And it may not be able to spare many rockets for its own purposes if it wants to remain solvent for its grander schemes of interplanetary travel and Mars colonization.

Swarm Technologies is aiming for an ultra-low-cost solution, and Ubiquitilink is leveraging new IP to bring satellite connections directly to existing phones — which may end up coexisting with the other satcom and terrestrial telecoms. Who knows? It’s something of an open field right now.

That said, the powers that be are definitely putting a lot of their chips on OneWeb, which has a great team, powerful partners and a big lead on the competition. This $1.25 billion round was led by SoftBank (which telegraphed its continuing investment at the time of the launch), with participation by Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm and the government of Rwanda.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Watch OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites launch today

After four years and more than $2 billion in funding, OneWeb is ready to launch the first six satellites out of a planned constellation of 650 with which it plans to blanket the world in broadband. The Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket will take off at 1:37 Pacific time from Guiana Space Center. You can watch it live at OneWeb’s site here.

OneWeb is one of several companies that aims to connect the world with a few hundred or thousand satellites, and certainly the most well-funded — SoftBank is the biggest investor, but Virgin Group, Coca Cola, Bharti Group, Qualcomm, and Airbus have all chipped in.

The company’s plan is to launch a total of 900 (650 at first) satellites to about a 1,100-kilometer low Earth orbit, from which it says it will be able to provide broadband to practically anywhere on Earth — anywhere you can put a base station, anyway. Much cheaper and better than existing satellite connectivity, which is expensive and slow.

Sound familiar? Of course SpaceX’s side project Starlink has similar ambitions, with an even greater number of satellites planned, and Swarm is aiming for a smaller constellation of smaller satellites for low-cost access. And Ubiquitilink just announced this week that its unique technology will remove the need for base stations and beam satellite connections directly to ordinary phones. And they’ve all launched satellites already!

The launch vehicle fueling today at GSC.

OneWeb has faced numerous delays; the whole constellation was originally planned to be in place by the end of 2019, which is impossible at this point. But delays are the name of the game in ambitious space-based businesses, and OneWeb hasn’t been just procrastinating; it’s been girding itself for mass production, raising funds to set up launch contracts, and improving the satellites themselves. Its updated schedule, as it states in the mission summary: “OneWeb will begin customer demos in 2020 and provide global, 24-hour coverage to customers in 2021.”

At a reported cost of about a million dollars per satellite — twice the projected cost in 2015 — just building and testing the constellation will likely rub up against a billion dollars, and that’s not counting launch costs. But no one ever said it would be cheap. In fact, they probably said it would be unbelievably expensive. That’s why SoftBank and the other investors are “committing to a lot more capital,” as CEO Adrián Steckel told the Financial times last month.

The company also announced its first big deal with a telecom; Talia, which provides connectivity in Africa and the Middle East, signed on to use OneWeb’s services starting in 2021.

Soyuz launches could carry more than 30 of these satellites each, meaning it would take at least 20 to put the whole constellation in orbit. This first launch, however, only has six aboard; the other spots on board the mass launch system have dummy payloads to simulate how it should be going forward.

A OneWeb representative told me that this launch is meant to “verify the satellite design and validate the end to end system,” which is probably a good idea before sending up 600 more. That means OneWeb will be testing and tracking these six birds for the next few months and making sure the connection with ground stations and other aspects of the whole system are functioning properly.

Full payloads will start in the fall, after OneWeb opens its (much-delayed) production facility just outside Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

You can watch the launch at OneWeb’s site here.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Watch a space harpoon impale a piece of space debris

The harpoon in action.
The harpoon in action.
Image: University of Surrey

NASA tracks 500,000 chunks and bits of space junk as they hurtle around Earth. Some 20,000 of these objects are larger than a softball.

To clean up the growing mess, scientists at the University of Surrey have previously tested a net to catch chunks of debris. Now, they’ve successfully tested out a harpoon.

The video below, released Friday by the university’s space center, shows a test of the experimental RemoveDEBRIS satellite as it unleashes a harpoon at a piece of solar panel, held out on a 1.5-meter boom.

The harpoon clearly impales its target. 

[embedded content]

“This is RemoveDEBRIS’ most demanding experiment and the fact that it was a success is testament to all involved,” Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, said in a statement. 

Next, the RemoveDEBRIS team — made up of a group of international collaborators — is planning its final experiment: responsibly destroying the satellite.

In March, the RemoveDEBRIS satellite will “inflate a sail that will drag the satellite into Earth’s atmosphere where it will be destroyed,” the university said a statement. This is how the group intends to vaporize the future dangerous debris it catches. 

Human space debris hurtles around Earth faster than a speeding bullet, with debris often traveling at 17,500 mph, or faster. The threat of collisions is always present, though in some orbits the odds of an impact are significantly lower than others. The International Space Station, for instance, is in a relatively debris-free orbit, but even here there is the threat of “natural debris” — micrometeors — pummeling the space station.

Other orbits have considerably more debris spinning around Earth. In 2009, a derelict Russian satellite slammed into a functional Iridium telecommunication satellite at 26,000 mph, resulting in an estimated 200,000 bits of debris. In 2007, the Chinese launched a missile at an old weather satellite, spraying shrapnel into Earth’s orbit.

This risk amplifies as more satellites are rocketed into space. SpaceX now has government-approved plans to launch thousands of its Starlink satellites into orbit — perhaps by the mid-2020’s, should they amass money for the pricey program. 

This would double or triple the number of satellites in orbit.

“The sheer number, that’s the problem.”

“It is unprecedented,” said Kessler, NASA’s former senior scientist for orbital debris research told Mashable. “The sheer number, that’s the problem.”

Kessler has long warned about the potential of catastrophic chain reactions in Earth’s orbit, wherein one collision creates enough weaponized debris to create a cycle of destruction. 

Designs to harpoon dangerous chunks of debris are just being tested in space today, but the technology could prove critical as Earth’s orbit grows increasingly trafficked with large, metallic satellites.  

Uploads%252fvideo uploaders%252fdistribution thumb%252fimage%252f85981%252f120f5e1f 7646 4214 ac05 8e5ec6b6f03d.png%252foriginal.png?signature=xh6iamctwja5xroqir8hv1skfzy=&source=https%3a%2f%2fblueprint api production.s3.amazonaws

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

To rebuild satellite communications, Ubiquitilink starts at ground level

Communications satellites are multiplying year by year as more companies vie to create an orbital network that brings high-speed internet to the globe. Ubiquitilink, a new company headed by Nanoracks co-founder Charles Miller, is taking a different tack: reinventing the Earthbound side of the technology stack.

Miller’s intuition, backed by approval and funding from a number of investors and communications giants, is that people are competing to solve the wrong problem in the comsat world. Driving down the cost of satellites isn’t going to create the revolution they hope. Instead, he thinks the way forward lies in completely rebuilding the “user terminal,” usually a ground station or large antenna.

“If you’re focused on bridging the digital divide, say you have to build a thousand satellites and a hundred million user terminals,” he said, “which should you optimize for cost?”

Of course, dropping the price of satellites has plenty of benefits on its own, but he does have a point. What happens when a satellite network is in place to cover most of the planet but the only devices that can access it cost thousands of dollars or have to be in proximity to some subsidized high-tech hub?

There are billions of phones on the planet, he points out, yet only 10 percent of the world has anything like a mobile connection. Serving the hundreds of millions who at any given moment have no signal, he suggests, is a no-brainer. And you’re not going to do it by adding more towers; if that was a valid business proposition, telecoms would have done it years ago.

Instead, Miller’s plan is to outfit phones with a new hardware-software stack that will offer a baseline level of communication whenever a phone would otherwise lapse into “no service.” And he claims it’ll be possible for less than $5 per person.

He was coy about the exact nature of this tech, but I didn’t get the sense that it’s vaporware or anything like that. Miller and his team are seasoned space and telecoms people, and of course you don’t generally launch a satellite to test vaporware.

But Ubiquitilink does have a bird in the air, with testing of their tech set to start next month and two more launches planned. The stack has already been proven on the ground, Miller said, and has garnered serious interest.

“We’ve been in stealth for several years and have signed up 22 partners — 20 are multi-billion-dollar companies,” he said, adding that the latter are mainly communications companies, though he declined to name them. The company has also gotten regulatory clearance to test in five countries, including the U.S.

Miller self-funded the company at the outset, but soon raised a pre-seed round led by Blazar Ventures (and indirectly, telecoms infrastructure standby Neustar). Unshackled Ventures led the seed round, along with RRE Ventures, Rise of the Rest, and One Way Ventures. All told, the company is working with a total $6.5 million, which it will use to finance its launches and tests; once they’ve taken place, it will be safer to dispel a bit of the mystery around the tech.

“Ubiquitilink represents one of the largest opportunities in telecommunications,” Unshackled founding partner Manan Mehta said, calling the company’s team “maniacally focused.”

I’m more than a little interested to find out more about this stealth attempt, three years in the making so far, to rebuild satellite communications from the ground up. Some skepticism is warranted, but the pedigree here is difficult to doubt; we’ll know more once orbital testing commences in the next few months.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Gaze Into the Giant Storm Swirling Over the Pacific Ocean

Image: Colorado State University

Forget Bad Winter, a season of Boring Winter is upon us. At least, if you live in the Northeast U.S. Head on over to the North Pacific, and it’s a different story.

There, a massive winter storm is churning that’s been perfectly captured by not one but two satellites. Despite its prodigious size, it has no name. It is just storm. (An unnamed Gizmodo editor said it should be called Oscar.)

Advertisement

Himawari-8, the Japanese satellite centered over the western Pacific, caught the storm as it ramped up while GOES-17, the spiffy new American satellite over the eastern Pacific caught it as it swirled toward North America. From both sides, the storm is absolutely gorgeous. You can see the Himawari-8 image up top, and here’s the GOES-17 iteration as it wraps toward Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

I mean just look at that storm.
Image: Colorado State University

Big boys like this bomb out in the North Pacific with some regularity each winter, thanks to sharp gradient of cold air in the Arctic and warm air in the tropics coupled with a potent jet stream. But this sucker is impressive even by North Pacific standards. On Thursday, the storm’s central pressure bottomed out at 937 millibars, pressure commonly associated with powerful hurricanes (Hurricane Florence hit 939 millibars for comparison). It runs from Alaska to California tip to tail.

Advertisement

The National Weather Service Ocean Prediction Center, which remains in operation despite the shutdown, tweeted that the storm was churning up waves up to 56.7 feet in height in the North Pacific. As it continued its march toward the West Coast, the storm kept its comma-shaped structure that makes it look like a classic nor’easter. The storm is one of a parade of low pressure systems is expected to continue into next week, bringing rain and snow to the West Coast as well as the possibility of more meteorological eye candy.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source