The Federal Communications Commission has just announced that they have granted OneWeb approval to launch their 720 satellites into low-orbit, essentially providing the legal basis for the project to move forward. OneWeb already had the technology and seemingly the financial background to move on, so the global internet provider which is backed by the famous personal Richard Branson is now ready to proceed and hopefully have their first customers serviced by the end of 2018, and then covering the whole world by 2022.
OneWeb will first launch 10 satellites for testing purposes, but it won’t be long until the rest will follow as the competition race has already begun and FCC has many applications to consider. The number of satellites that each company proposes to launch and utilize ranges from hundreds to thousands, but for the time, everyone is confident that the established standards on frequency restrictions (20-30 GHz and 12-18 GHz) and orbital debris will be good enough for the start at least. OneWeb’s solution involves the use of 720 satellites orbiting at 850 kilometers (530 miles) which will beam the internet data at a rate of 6 Gbits/sec each to the user terminals on the ground, providing excellent quality of data transfer and very low latency. This makes the solution ideal for the coverage of remote areas, flying aircraft, global communications, vehicle internet, and rural coverage. The receiving antennas are relatively small in size and can receive a maximum connection speed of up to 50 Mbits/sec.
The satellites themselves are mass produced according to the highest manufacturing standards, and weigh around 200 kg (440 lbs) each. What has not been clarified yet is how OneWeb is planning to address the recycling problem of the satellites that will reach the end of their service life which is 25 years of time. The bad thing is that they are not even legally obliged to present any kind of plan of action on that part, and considering that this applies to at least another four companies who are planning to enter the field of space internet in the following couple of years, the low-orbit space debris problem will become worse than ever before. Right now, we are on the verge of experiencing high-speed global internet without limitations and only a few years before every place on Earth can enjoy internet access. The matter is that we rely on the ethics of private companies to do it responsibly, and as this market is on its emergence it is highly unlikely that their engineers will have the time to ensure that there will be a feasible and realistic way to recycle or de-orbit the thousands of satellites that they are planning to launch.