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Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellite Internet Service Developments for 2020

I posted reviews of important LEO-satellite Internet service developments during 2017, 2018 and 2019. I’ve updated those posts during the years and have 18 new posts for 2020. In 2020 we saw increased effort from China, OneWeb’s bankruptcy and restructuring with new ownership and prospects, Amazon investng in space-related infrastructure, Telesat making steady progress, SpaceX making rapid progress and satellite and debris tracking and collision-avoidsnce service startups. The following are brief summaries of and links to the 2020 posts.

China will be a formidable satellite Internet service competitor (Jan 28) – This post describes three planned Chinese constellations, at least one of which will focus on broadband Internet service. Testing has begun and satellite mamufacturing capacity is being developed. They will serve both domestic and international users as part of China’s global Digital Silk Road infrastructure program and are funded by both private and government investment.

LEO Broadband Will Create Millions of Jobs (Feb 13) – SpcaceX is recruiting hard-working, trustworthy people with common sense regardless of their education. They will train new-hires. This was commmon practice in the 1960s, when IBM had a formal two-year training program for new hires and the 1950s when the US government paid IBM to hire and train 3,000 programmers for the SAGE early-warning system.

Geely’s LEO constellation for mobile vehicle connectivity (Mar 4) – The Geely Holding Group (GHG), a diversified, private Chinese conglomerate that is best known as an auto manufacturer, began construction of an intelligent satellite production and testing facility.

OneWeb is bankrupt—who will buy their assets? (Mar 31) – OneWeb filed for bankruptcy and partnership of the British government and Bharti Global limited, an Indian telecommunication conglomerate serving parts of Asia and Africa, bid a billion dollars to acquire OneWeb’s assets and restart the company.

SpaceX applies for a constellation re-design and announces beta test dates. (Apr 24) SpaceX applied for a redesign of their constellation. If approved, the number of satellites would essentially be unchanged, but many would be at lower altitude and some will be moved to polar orbits enabling better coverage of far northern and southren latitudes.

Can SpaceX launch 30,000 second-generation Starlink satellites? Maybe. (Jun 8) – SpaceX applied for permission to launch 30,000 “second-generation” Starlink broadband Internet satellites. This post describes the proposed constellation and speculates on their ability to fund, manufacture and launch so many satellites and the feasibility of dealing with the space debris that the effort would create.

Rural broadband subsidy—what’s the rush? (Jun 13) – The Federal Communications Commission adopted procedures for Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction to award up to $16 billion in support over 10 years for the deployment of fixed broadband networks. The post describes the program and questions the categorization of satellite-based services as high-latency and the rush to allocate the funds.

Questions on the impact of trees on SpaceX Starlink (Jun 24) – This post raises a number of questions about the impact of trees and other obstructions as well as rain and snow on SpaceX Starlink service.

Amazon Aerospace and Satellite Solutions—integrating satellites and terrestrial services (Jul 6) – Amazon announced Amazon Web Services Aerospace and Satellite Solutions to market and assist in the design and implementation of complex space/terrestrial systems. SpaceX has a substantial lead in launch and satellite deployment and Amazon has superior terrestrial resources and is building the organization and infrastructure to connect them to space.

OneWeb rises from the ashes—maybe (Jul 22) – A consortium of the UK Government and Bharti Enterprises bought bankrupt OneWeb, a company that had raised $3.2 billion and had acquired valuable spectrum rights, for $1 billion. While they lag behind SpaceX and will need more capital, they have a number of advantages and I hope they succeed.

Bill Gates has not forgotten Teledesic (Sep 17) – Gates was a founding investor in Teledesic, the first attempt at LEO satellite Internet connectivity, but it failed. Today, he is a major investor in Kymeta, a leading supplier of electronically-steered antennas and Microsoft tested satellite access to their Azure cloud services. Microsoft does not want to miss out on space connectivity and services.

A new Chinese broadband satellite constellation (Oct 2) – China applied for specturm for a major new LEO satellite constellation with 12,992 satellites, roughly half of which will orbit at around 550 km and half at 1,145 km. SpaceX is off to a fast start and will be first to offer connectivity in America and Europe, OneWeb, through Bharti, has an edge in Asia and Africa and the Chinese companies have the same in Digital Silk Road nations.

SpaceX Starlink is on a roll (Oct 23) – SpaceX entered into a partnership with Microsoft to connect to their Azure cloud, giving them an answer to Project Kuiper’s integration with Amazon Web Services and infrastructure. They also began offering beta service to a few individuals and organizations in the northern US and solicited applications for a public beta test and saw such strong demand that they requested an increase in the number of authorized US terminals. They have also registered 14 shell companies in 13 foreign nations and are deploying ground stations in north America and Europe.

SpaceX Starlink beta, phase two (Oct 28) – Starlink opened beta testing to the public. Applicants must be between 42 and 53 degrees north lattitude. The inital locations must be in the US and the price is $99 per month for the service $499 for a terminal.

Satellite and space debris tracking as a service (Nov 6) – LeoLabs and Northstar are offering satellite and debris tracking and collision avoidance as a service. LeoLabs is using terrestrial, phased-array radar and Northstar is tracking from satellites. Tracking and collision avoidance is a technical and political problem because it requires collaboration and data sharing among government and private satellite operators from all nations.

Starlink will be priced to be affordable (Nov 14) – SpaceX and others will have to charge less for connecivity in developing nations if their service is to be affordable and fully use the capacity of the constellation. Charging more in affluent markets will increase revenue and tend to reduce the “digital divide”—good business and good karma.

OneWeb is out of bankruptcy, but is not out of the woods (Nov 25) – OneWeb has emerged from bankruptcy with Bharti and the UK governmenet having 42.2% ownership each. Some of their previous agreements are in place and some inevestors are still participating. They will have to raise more capital and are well behind SpaceX, but have acquired assets that had cost $3.3 billion and have marketing advantages in several areas. We need competition and I hope they succeed.

Telesat update—proposal for a larger constellation, Canadian and DARPA contracts, a planned IPO and more (Dec 28) – Telesat has submitted a plan calling for an increase in the number of satellites they launch to 1,671. While they have not yet launched production satellites, they have run many tests and demonstrations and have research contracts with the US and Canadian governments, Canadian government support, a steady stream of income from their 50-year old geostationary satellite business, ground stations in the north and plans for an IPO to finance the LEO constellation.

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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