More than half of the world’s population does not have internet access today. Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, announced plans for OneWeb Ltd. to launch the largest ever satellite network which could improve global internet access as soon as 2017. Bringing internet to remote locations will provide access to better education, business opportunities, healthcare, financial systems, not to mention convenience and entertainment. But first we need a better way to get network satellites into orbit.
Delighted to share news of an incredibly exciting project that could transform the world: we are creating a new constellation of satellites to make high speed internet and telephony available to billions of people who don’t currently have access.
Small satellites have traditionally been expensive to get into space; they usually hitch rides with larger missions. A new orbital launch vehicle is now being designed specifically for the small satellite market. Virgin Galactic and Qualcomm Incorporated are the principle investors in the new vehicle called LauncherOne. Each mission will be able to deliver either 500 pounds to Low Earth orbits or 265 pounds to high-altitude orbits for less than $10 million.
According to Branson, Virgin Galactic received an order for putting satellites into space that is so large that by the time they have developed their second constellation the company will have launched more satellites than there are in the sky today.
The plan is for 648 micro-satellites to provide low-latency, high-speed internet access through Wi-Fi, LTE, 3G or 2G connections. Additionally, the new satellite constellation will provide networks for global emergency and first responder access. The satellites will each be able to deliver at least 8 gigabits per second of throughput. OneWeb has started to work on terminals that use antennas that combine mechanical steering and a phased-array antenna. They will provide internet access at 50 megabits per second.
OneWeb is the only satellite operator with an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) license for a nongeostationary global Ku-band network. It won’t be easy for competitors to secure licenses that don’t interfere with satellites that are already in the ITU reservation system.
In order to avoid interference from satellites in geostationary orbit or non-geostationary satellites in other frequencies used by higher-orbit satellites, OneWeb’s system will use “progressive pitch”—a technique in which the satellites turn slightly in order to avoid interference with Ku-band satellites in geostationary orbit. OneWeb is working to launch the satellites in 2017 in order to meeting ITU’s “Bringing into Use” rules that require the network to start operation before a certain date in order to hold its reservation.
LauncherOne is still in the design and testing phase. If you are interested in helping to design the orbital launch vehicle and improve global internet access, Virgin Galactic is now hiring electrical engineers for their Pasadena and Los Angeles locations.