Today, radio astronomy faces a new front of enormous satellite constellations, the big three being: SpaceX’s Starlink, OneWeb, and IridiumNEXT. The SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation aims to launch around 12,000 satellites to serve the purpose of a space-based Internet system. The OneWeb constellation’s end plan is to have almost 3,000 satellites in orbit to also serve the purpose of an Internet service. Iridium NEXT, like the original constellation, is a telecommunications satellite constellation consisting of 66 satellites. Of the three, Starlink obviously grabs the most attention and instills the most fear for obvious reasons. Harvey Liszt, astronomer and spectrum manager for the NRAO, reached out to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in February 2018 to express concern over SpaceX’s constellation.
“SpaceX, which plans to use the 10.7 – 12.7 GHz band for its downlink, has not yet fulfilled its obligations under US131. Coordination between SpaceX and the AUI observatories (together with NSF) trailed off inconclusively around the middle of 2017 after a tentative and rather preliminary treatment of radio astronomy’s concerns and the manner in which SpaceX planned to address them.”
As a former Amateur Radio Astronomer and visitor to radio astronomy observatories across the nation, I understand the magnitude of the problem.I have visited the Green Bank Radio Observatory several times, and the Very Large Array was an excellent experience.
We drove up to the VLR about three in the afternoon, and as we stood outside our vehicle, all the antenna is the array started to move, sweeping across the sky toward the sun. The sun is sometimes used by an astronomer to calibrate receivers, we have no idea if this was the case this time. We drove on to the central facility, and the doors were all lock, but we found some stairs and platform that let us look in windows of the observer station. It was vacant, no observers at the controls.It was spooky watch the antenna move and knowing the control room was empty, no humans present. The VLA is monitored and controlled remotely.
This is an introductory blurb from July 2018 TechRepublic, below is an update from Satellite Markets, March 2019.
Facebook creates high-speed satellite broadband to compete for popularity with others like SpaceX and OneWeb. [Amazon has since joined the game]
Facebook plans on launching its own internet satellite in 2019, according to a Wired report on Friday. Currently, many people connecting to the internet in remote places receive very slow and little connectivity, which results in a frustrating user experience, the report noted, but satellites like those Facebook is planning could help remedy that.
The new satellites from Facebook were confirmed via emails obtained from the Federal Communications Commission, said the report. Named Athena, the internet device will look like “constellations” in the earth’s orbit, continue the report.
PointView Tech LLC. A filing with the FCC of a multi-million-dollar experimental satellite from Facebook was confirmed last July 2018. The satellite, named Athena, will deliver data 10 times faster than SpaceX’s Starlink Internet satellites.
In early 2019, PointView’s Athena will also head out to LEO, on an Arianespace Vega rocket. Athena is about the same size and weight (150 kg) as SpaceX and OneWeb’s satellites, but Athena will use high-frequency millimeter-wave radio signals that promise much faster data rates. The company estimates its E-band system will deliver up to 10 gigabits per second. “PointView is aiming to understand whether a system using E-band spectrum can be used for the provision of fixed and mobile broadband access in unserved and underserved areas,” it wrote in the FCC application.
PointView specifies three ground stations in its application that will send data to Athena in orbit and receive it in turn. One is a so-called satellite ‘teleport’ near Ventura, Calif., that is shared by a number of satellite companies. The second is Mount Wilson Observatory in the hills above Los Angeles, another popular location for communications hardware.
There are technical barriers to using E-band radio from orbit, however. High-frequency millimeter waves fade quickly and are easily absorbed by rain or other particles in the air. Part of Athena’s two-year mission will be to test just how big of a problem that is. “PointView plans to publish many of its experimental findings, including atmospheric attenuation model validation data,” says its application.
PointView expects to get download speeds of around 10 Gbps at its ground stations, with uplink speeds topping 30 Gbps. But because Athena is in LEO, it will only fly above the three ground stations a couple of times each day, and for less than eight minutes at a time.
OneWeb with six sats in space and SpaceX’s TinTin A and B have been in orbit for a year making them the leaders, as the Athena Project will spend two years testing the E-Band and Laser Communications. Amazon is just started hiring satellite engineers in Bellvue, Washington. SpaceX will start launching operational satellites in May 2019.
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.