On May 23rd entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX launched 60 Starlink communication satellites aboard a single rocket. Within days skywatchers worldwide spotted them flying in formation as they orbited Earth and reflected sunlight from their shiny metal surfaces. Some people, unaware that artificial satellites can be seen moving against the starry background every clear night, reported UFO sightings. Astronomers, on the other hand, knew exactly what they were seeing — and immediately began to worry.
When the contract was announced in June 2015, it seemed like a blockbuster deal: satellite Internet provider OneWeb had placed an order for 39 launches with options for 100 more for Virgin Galactic’s (now Virgin Orbit’s) LauncherOne.
What made the order extraordinary was not just the large number of launches, but the fact that the rocket really didn’t even exist yet. (The fact that Richard Branson’s Virgin Group was an investor in OneWeb probably helped.)
Four years later, the blockbuster deal is a bust. According to a lawsuit filed this week by Virgin Orbit, OneWeb last year canceled 35 of the 39 planned launches., slicing most of the value from the $234 million deal.
SpaceNewsreports that Virgin Orbit orbit is suing for $46.32 million it claims OneWeb owes it from a $70 million contract termination fee.
We continue to track the progress of the Starlink satellites during early orbit operations. At this point, all 60 satellites have deployed their solar arrays successfully, generated positive power and communicated with our ground stations.
Most are already using their onboard propulsion system to reach their operational altitude and have made initial contact using broadband phased array antennas.
SpaceX continues to monitor the constellation for any satellites that may need to be safely deorbited. All the satellites have maneuvering ability and are programmed to avoid each other and other objects in orbit by a wide margin.
Also, please note that the observability of Starlink satellites is dramatically reduced as they raise orbit to greater distance and orient themselves with their phase array antennas toward Earth and their solar arrays behind the body of the satellite.
Editor’s Note: During a talk at MIT earlier this week, President Gwynne Shotwell said 56 satellites were performing as expected and that four had problems. She did not elaborate on the nature of the problems.
On the heels of the launch of 60 SpaceX Starlink satellites on Thursday comes news that SpaceX has raised $1.02 billion since the beginning of the year. CNBC reports:
SpaceX continues to accelerate its fundraising, as SEC filings indicate the company sought equity rounds of $500 million in January and $400 million in April. CEO Elon Musk had said those rounds were oversubscribed in terms of investor interest.
The filing on Friday, an amendment of the company’s April filings, shows that SpaceX did bring in more funding than expected. The company raised $1.02 billion since the beginning of the year – greater than the $900 million it sought across the two rounds. Gigafund, led by Luke Nosek (a PayPal co-founder and SpaceX board member) and Stephen Oskoui, once again invested in the round for SpaceX, people familiar with the fundraising told CNBC.
Meanwhile, things at Musk’s electric car company aren’t nearly as rosy.
Update: SpaceX scrubbed for Thursday to update satellite software and make additional checks. Next launch attempt will be in about one week.
SpaceX was forced to cancel a Falcon 9 launch with 60 Starlink satellites on board on Wednesday night due to high upper-level winds. Tonight’s launch window opens at 10:30 p.m. EDT, or 2:30 UTC on May 17, and closes at 12:00 a.m. on May 17, or 4:00 UTC. The launch webcast will go live about 15 minutes before liftoff at spacex.com/webcast. The ground weather forecast is 90 percent go for launch.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave a media teleconference during which he describes elements of the Starlink satellite constellation, which is designed to provide high-speed broadband and other communications on a global basis. Here are the highlights:
although the constellation could eventually number nearly 12,000 satellites, it would be economically viable with about 1,000 spacecraft;
Musk said “it looks like we have sufficient capital to get to an operational level”;
Starlink would be able to provide coverage to limited areas of the globe with 400 satellites, which would require a total of seven launches;
the constellation would be able to provide coverage for the United States with 12 launches, most of the world’s population with 24, and the entire planet with 30 launches;
the 60 satellites being launched are equipped with phased array antennas and ion propulsion units that use krypton instead of more expensive xenon gas;
the spacecraft do not have inter-satellite communications links, which will be added to future iterations of the spacecraft;
Starlink satellites should last four to five years in orbit before they burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere;
spacecraft will be able to detect and avoid orbital debris;
ground terminals are about the size of a small or medium pizza and use phased array, electronically steered antennas that can switch between satellites in under a thousandth of a second with a latency of under 20 milliseconds;
SpaceX has not signed up any customers yet, but is targeting telecommunications companies, governments, maritime industries, aviation and under served areas of the globe;
Musk sees Starlink as providing a revenue stream to fund SpaceX’s Starship launch system and his dream of establishing settlements on Mars;
annual revenues could approach more than $30 billion per year, 10 times the approximately $3 billion that the launch side of SpaceX’s business brings in; and,
60 satellites weigh about 18.5 tons, which is the heaviest payload ever launched by Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy.
CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX is targeting Wednesday, May 15 for the launch of 60 Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. SpaceX’s Starlink is a next-generation satellite network capable of connecting the globe, especially reaching those who are not yet connected, with reliable and affordable broadband internet services.
The launch window opens at 10:30 p.m. EDT on May 15, or 2:30 UTC on May 16, and closes at 12:00 a.m. on May 16, or 4:00 UTC. A backup launch window opens on Thursday, May 16 at 10:30 p.m. EDT, or 2:30 UTC on May 17, and closes at 12:00 a.m. on May 17, or 4:00 UTC. The Launch webcast will go live about 15 minutes before liftoff at spacex.com/webcast.
Elon Musk tweeted this photo of 60 Starlink satellites inside the fairing of a Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to launch on Wednesday from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The satellites are part of a constellation of nearly 12,000 spacecraft designed to provide fast global broadband services.
OTTAWA, Ont. and WASHINGTON, DC, May 6, 2019 (Telesat PR) – Telesat announced today that the two teams it contracted with to develop system designs for Telesat’s global low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation have successfully completed the System Definition and Risk Management Phase of the program. One of the teams is Airbus Defence and Space. The other is a consortium of Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies, the owner of SSL and MDA.
Jeff Bezos’ Amazon has jumped into a crowded field of companies seeking to provide high-speed broadband, data and other communications services to the entire globe.
Amazon’s Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites brings the total number of spacecraft in the 16 announced systems to 20,241 spacecraft. The competition includes SpaceX, Boeing, Telesat, SES and government-backed companies in China and Russia.
EVRY, France (Arianespace PR) — OneWeb is the developer of a new global, high-speed, low latency satellite-based network designed to address the most demanding global connectivity challenges worldwide. Ariane 6 will be available to OneWeb from the second half of 2020 to provide launch capacity that supports the full deployment and replenishment of the OneWeb constellation.
The launch service agreement specifies the use of the qualification launch of the Ariane 62 version, scheduled for the second half of 2020; the two Ariane 6 options (either in its 62 version, accommodating up to 36 OneWeb satellites, or in the 64 version, up to 78 OneWeb satellites) will be utilized starting in 2023.
New funding to start mass production of satellites
Combined with its successful first launch of satellites, OneWeb gains clear first mover advantage
New fundraising demonstrates strong investor support for OneWeb
March 18, 2019 (OneWeb PR) – OneWeb, a global communications company with a mission to bring connectivity to everyone, everywhere, announces it has secured its largest fundraising round to date with the successful raise of $1.25 billion in new capital. This brings the total funds raised to $3.4 billion. This round was led by SoftBank Group Corp., Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies Inc., and the Government of Rwanda.
OneWeb signs major agreement with Talia to deliver broadband connectivity to Africa and the Middle East
First client signing with Intermatica for telecommunications services in Europe
Signing ceremonies with Talia and Intermatica take place at #MWC19
McLean, Va., 27 February, 2019 (OneWeb PR) – OneWeb, the global satellite-powered communications company with a mission to bring connectivity to everyone, everywhere, announces during #MWC19 that it has secured its first customer contracts to deliver its high speed, low latency, global communications services.
KOUROU, French Guiana (Arianespace PR) — Arianespace played a significant role in improving global connectivity with today’s Soyuz launch that deployed the initial six satellites in OneWeb’s constellation – which will provide affordable high-speed internet access for users around the world.
The cluster of spacecraft – produced by the OneWeb Satellites joint venture of OneWeb and Airbus – was successfully deployed into a circular low Earth orbit on Arianespace’s first Soyuz mission of 2019 (and the launch services company’s second mission overall this year).
Launch of first six satellites is the first step on the path to delivering true global connectivity and bridging the digital divide
Launch signals the beginning of the largest satellite launch campaign in history and the transition from successful proof-of-concept to the commercialization of OneWeb
London, UK, February 28, 2019 (OneWeb PR) —OneWeb, a global communications company with a mission to bring connectivity to everyone, everywhere, today announced the successful launch of its first six broadband satellites aboard a Soyuz launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.
LONDON (UKSA PR) — Affordable worldwide internet coverage is one step closer today, after £18 million [$23.5 million] of UK Space Agency funding was awarded to OneWeb through the European Space Agency, to aid the development of its next generation satellite constellation.
A global communications network in space, the system will be comprised of approximately 650 satellites initially and scale to more than 900 satellites over time.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore is visiting the European Space Agency in the Netherlands today. He will say:
Fast internet access is something many people take for granted but in many areas of the world connectivity is still hit and miss.
This new £18m investment will go towards meeting the significant technical challenges of the project, putting the UK at the forefront of cutting-edge research and development.
The commercial potential for a cost effective worldwide telecoms satellite system is huge, and the UK space sector is playing a leading role in delivering it. It is made possible by our ongoing commitment to the European Space Agency and our world-leading capabilities in space and telecommunications, which we are supporting through our modern Industrial Strategy.