OneWeb Gets FCC Approval for Additional 1,280 Satellites

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Satellite broadband provider OneWeb received FCC approval this week to launch an additional 1,280 satellites, increasing the size of the company’s constellation to 2,000 spacecraft.

The additional satellites will provide services in the V-band and operate at an altitude of 8,500 km (5,282 miles).

“After review of the record, we conclude that granting OneWeb access to the U.S. market for its proposed V-band satellite system would increase competition for the broadband services proposed to be provided by such systems to American consumers, particularly in underserved areas, offer a greater likelihood that such a large system is able to fulfill its ambitions and deploy the proposed services, and thereby serve the public interest, subject to the requirements and conditions specified herein,” the FCC said.

The London-based company also received approval to add a V-band payloads to the 720 Ku/Ka-band constellation that FCC previously approved.

OneWeb has launched 74 of the Ku/Ka-band satellites, which operate at a nominal altitude of 1,200 km (746 miles). Those satellites did not include V-band payloads.

OneWeb must launch and begin operations of 50 percent of the constellation by Aug. 26, 2026. The rest of the satellites must be deployed and operational by Aug. 26, 2029.

OneWeb will need approval from the British government. That is not expected to be a problem given the government’s part ownership of the company.

OneWeb declared bankruptcy in March. In July, the British government and Indian mobile network operator Bharti Global each invested $500 million to acquire the company and restart operations.

In May, OneWeb applied to the FCC to expand its satellite constellation to as many as 48,000 satellites.

“This larger OneWeb constellation will allow for greater flexibility to meet soaring global connectivity demands,” OneWeb said. “The global restrictions imposed as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic have underscored the criticality of seamless broadband connectivity for economies, businesses, communities and individuals alike.

“Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations can reach the most remote and rural areas as well as strategically important locations like the Arctic to provide government, safety and other needs requiring resilient, high-speed, low latency communications,” the company added.

OneWeb is in competition to provide satellite broadband services with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation and Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

SpaceX has already launched more than 600 Starlink satellites and begun beta testing. The FCC has given Elon Musk’s company approval to launch nearly 12,000 satellites.

SpaceX also has an application before the FCC to launch an additional 30,000 satellites to increase the constellation size to 42,000 spacecraft.

Last month, the FCC approved Amazon’s plan to launch 3,236 Project Kuiper broadband satellites into low Earth orbit.