Elon Musk has made a lot of crazy promises and proposals over the years, which inevitably leads people to pester him about deadlines. Whether it’s reusable rockets, affordable electric cars, missions to Mars, intercontinental flights, or anything having to do with his many other ventures, the question inevitably is “when can we expect it?”
That question has certainly come up in relation to his promise to launch a constellation of broadband satellites that would help provide high-speed internet access to the entire world. In response, Musk recently announced that SpaceX will launch the first batch of Starlink satellites in May 2019, and will continue with launches for the next five years.
This represents a major milestone for the company, which has effectively moved from the development phase of this project to production. Another was reached back in February of 2018 when the company launched two Starlink demonstration satellites. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of details about this constellation that are still unclear.
Knowing OneWeb LEO satellites are zipping around overhead I often wonder where they are. I found a free app for my iPhone and iPad that lets me track specific satellites in real time. The app is called SatSat, and it runs on both my smartphone and an old iPad. SatSat is satellite tracking software for use by radio amateurs, scientists or hobbyists. It displays current and next passes for any satellites listed in the index. It also provides amateur radio satellite beacons frequencies for radio detection. SatSat automatically fetches updated satellites data. No public beacon frequencies for OneWeb, just Amateur Satellites.
I have been using SatSat to track OneWeb birds and the SpaceX’s test satellites Tintin A and Tintin B, with the ISS creeping into the target display.
This afternoon I opened up SatSat on my iPhone and discovered that the WebOne string of satellites would become directly over my location, OneWeb 0011 already above the detection horizon.
I popped open the iPad for a larger view and hoped to do a screen capture. I got the larger picture, but could not get the iPad to do a screen capture. Using Plan B, I used the iPhone camera to capture the iPad screen. My apology for the fuzzy photos, but they are good enough to see the location of the satellites come over the horizon. When in the line of site it is possible to acquire a signal (AOS), and when they are out of range over the horizon (LOS) the signal is lost. As OneWeb 0011, 0006, 0007, and 0008 transition overhead the AOS periods were from 14 to 17 minutes. OneWeb 0012 was a laggard, somewhere over the Southern Indian Ocean when the string was approaching my location in the Central Valley of California headed North.
Although I did not calculate it precisely, with the string to OneWeb birds overhead, I would have had more than 30 minutes of coverage, and perhaps a little more as OneWeb 0012 final showed up much farther to the West but could have provided some AOS time.
SpaceX has announced a launch target of May 2019 for the first batch of operational Starlink satellites in a sign that the proposed internet satellite constellation has reached a major milestone, effectively transitioning from pure research and development to serious manufacturing. R&D will continue as SpaceX Starlink engineers work to implement the true final design of the first several hundred or thousand spacecraft, but a significant amount of the team’s work will now be centered on producing as many Starlink satellites as possible, as quickly as possible.
With anywhere from 4400 to nearly 12,000 satellites needed to complete the three major proposed phases of Starlink, SpaceX will have to build and launch more than 2200 satellites in the next five years, averaging 44 high-performance, low-cost spacecraft built and launched every month for the next 60 months.
My question is how many in the first batch, twenty-five, or more. One estimate:
Using a Falcon 9 at 25 satellites per launch it would take 177 flights, about 36 flights per year. Using a Falcon Heavy with 40 satellites it would take 112 flights, over 5 years that’s about 22 flights per year. Using a BFR assuming 350 satellites per launch, until someone comes up with a better number, would need 13 flights total.
It has been reported that Facebook globally has two billion users, on today’s networks with large segments of the global population living in internet deserts. Places were there is no connectivity, making the use of social media extremely difficult. China’s social media sites are reported to have half a billion users. Add another half a billion to include all the other social network sites, and it’s clear we are becoming a connected world.
Space-based internet will cover the planet from 57 degrees North to 57 degrees South. Industry experts estimate this will bring 4 billion more users to the internet that do not have access today.
That would be four billion new customers for Amazon, many living in rural areas far from the local store. It is also four billion potential social media users. Social media giants Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a plethora of others are struggling to manage the current customer base, with news of data breaches in the daily news. Can they handle four billion more customers?
While writing this, I had another thought. Amazon Prime Members are offered free two-day shipping. Satellite internet is going to connect hundreds of millions of new rural customers, many at the end of a 40-mile driveway. Once Amazon has added hundreds of millions of rural customer will shipping still be free?
Amazon is working on Project Kuiper, which would put 3,236 satellites into orbit to provide high-speed internet to any point on the globe.
“You can see the clear profit motive here for Amazon: 4 billion new customers,” Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson said.
CNBC spoke to more than a dozen space industry analysts and executives about Amazon’s proposal and the customers, competitors and costs involved.
In my opinion, this is the money quote:
Two industry officials said that this move “validates the market model” for these immense internet satellite networks, especially since “Amazon is a publicly traded company” with a broader shareholder base, unlike other space companies. Additionally, Amazon’s entrance “makes an already challenging market even more competitive,” one executive said.
Full Article is HERE.
There are still challenges ahead, as some dictator controlled countries do not want an open internet overhead, especially one selling ideas contrary to their socialist/communist doctrine. Interesting times ahead.
If Project Kuiper comes to fruition, would Amazon, SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat and other broadband players be chasing after the same customers in remote or underdeveloped regions of the world? Or would there be market segmentation?
You could argue that the biggest users of Amazon’s satellites will be … Amazon and its customers.
For example, Prime Video could offer streaming services worldwide via satellite (which could provide an edge over Netflix). The ability to provide cloud computing services to virtually anywhere in the world would be an attractive differentiator for Amazon Web Services (which already has a cloud-based platform for satellite management known as AWS Ground Station). And a global data network would make it a lot easier for Amazon to manage drones, robotic ground vehicles and all the other next-generation delivery channels it’s developing.
When you add the potential for taking orders and serving ads via a ubiquitous internet service, Project Kuiper looks less like a far-out fantasy and more like the final frontier for commerce. Amazon isn’t posting any job openings for satellite service marketers yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time.
Full Article is HERE. This is another opportunity for Amazon to change the business model once again. Another delivery systems totally under their control. This is more than just a broadband delivery system. Another Amazon Game Changer! Stay Tuned!
Satellite Magazine has the full details HERE, below is a summary of the services that Telesat a Canadian satellite operator plans to provide with a fleet of 117 LEO satellites starting in 2020.
Mobility: Targeting vessels on the ocean and aircraft flying polar routes concentrating capacity into areas of highest demand, such as major airports and seaports.
Carrier Backhaul and Enterprise Connectivity: Backhaul for 4G/5G networks with a focus on rural institutions such as schools and hospitals, plus remote enterprises, mines, and factories providing high-speed connectivity just like urban entities.
Government and Defense: The government is exploring ways to leverage the advantages of next-generation broadband LEO mega constellations, especially the low latency and high resiliency that results from their full global, pole-to-pole coverage for military programs including unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as other sovereign applications diplomatic communications, border control, and protection are listed in the article.
The focus is not on supplying individual users broadband services but institutional organizations that can server their members.