International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

OneWeb constellation for Internet from the Skies

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : OneWeb, LEO

Mains level : Space internet concept

Following the successful launch of 36 satellites, OneWeb’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation reached 218 in-orbit satellites.

What is OneWeb?

  • OneWeb is a global communications company that aims to deliver broadband satellite Internet around the world through its fleet of LEO satellites.
  • OneWeb satellites are built at a OneWeb and Airbus joint venture facility in Florida that can produce up to two satellites a day.
  • The launch roll-out of the satellites is facilitated by French company Arianespace using Russian-made Soyuz rockets.
  • The company has announced plans to enter the Indian market by 2022.

About its constellation

  • The company has one more launch to complete before it obtains the capacity to enable its ‘Five to 50’ service of offering internet connectivity to all regions north of 50 degrees latitude.
  • The Five to 50 service is expected to be switched on by June 2021 with global services powered by 648 satellites available in 2022.

What are LEO satellites?

  • LEO satellites have been orbiting the planet since the 1990s, providing companies and individuals with various communication services.
  • They are positioned around 500km-2000km from earth, compared to stationary orbit satellites which are approximately 36,000km away.
  • Latency, or the time needed for data to be sent and received, is contingent on proximity.
  • As LEO satellites orbit closer to the earth, they are able to provide stronger signals and faster speeds than traditional fixed-satellite systems.
  • Additionally, because signals travel faster through space than through fiber-optic cables, they also have the potential to rival if not exceed existing ground-based networks.
  • However, LEO satellites travel at a speed of 27,000 kph and complete a full circuit of the planet in 90-120 minutes.
  • As a result, individual satellites can only make direct contact with a land transmitter for a short period of time thus requiring massive LEO satellite fleets and consequently, a significant capital investment.

Criticisms of LEO satellites

  • During the days of the Sputnik and Apollo missions, governments dominated and regulated space-based activities.
  • There are logistical challenges with launching thousands of satellites into space as well.
  • Satellites can sometimes be seen in the night skies which creates difficulties for astronomers as the satellites reflect sunlight to earth, leaving streaks across images.
  • Satellites traveling at a lower orbit can also interrupt the frequency of those orbiting above them, an accusation that has been leveled against Starlink satellites already.
  • Another worry is that there are already almost 1 million objects larger than 1cm in diameter in orbit, a byproduct of decades of space activities.
  • Those objects, colloquially referred to as ‘space junk,’ have the potential to damage spacecraft or collide with other satellites.
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