Sunday, November 20, 2016

SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table

          By Chuck Black

"Constellations" of satellites, working in concert to provide telecommunications access to currently unserviced and under-served regions are the latest profitable area of growth for space focused ventures.

This evolving market is expected to generate $175Bln USD ($236Bln CDN) in satellite manufacturing & launch revenues over the next ten years, according to the March, 2016 Northern Sky Research paper, "Satellite Manufacturing and Launch Services, 6th Edition."

Screen grab from November 17th, 2016 You-Tube video, "SpaceX seeks approval for satellite powered internet service - Elon Musk." As outlined in the January 16th, 2015 Seattle Times post, "Elon Musk touts launch of ‘SpaceX Seattle,’" the program was publicly announced in January 2015, with the projected capability of supporting the bandwidth to carry up to 50 percent of all backhaul communications traffic and up to 10 percent of local internet traffic in high-density cities. To accomplish this, each of the 4425 proposed satellites (more than the total of all currently operational satellites) is expected to weigh approximately 850 pounds (the size of a small car) and intended to orbit at an altitude of between 1,150 kilometers and 1,275 kilometers. To see the complete video above, simply click on the screen grab. Screenshot c/o AB Video Studio.

SpaceX (FCC file number SATLOA2016111500118) is just one of eleven organizations which made filings for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licenses to launch and operate non-GEO satellite constellations on November 15th, 2016.

The other ten applications, as outlined on the most recent FCC International Bureau Queue Report for Satellite Licences (which covers 2016) include:
  • Audacy Corp (FCC file number SATLOA2016111500117) - Launched in 2015 by a team of Stanford graduates, ex-NASA employees, and SpaceX veterans, the company proposes three medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites just to speed up the connectivity of the satellites being proposed by other companies listed below. As outlined in the proposal the company requested "authority to launch and operate a non-geostationary fixed- and inter-satellite service system operating in medium Earth orbit" using a variety of frequencies and lower latency. 
  • The Boeing Company (FCC file number SATLOA2016111500109) - As outlined in their proposal, Boeing requested "authority to launch and operate a non-geostationary satellite orbit system operating in the Fixed-Satellite Service in the 17.8-19.3 GHz and the 19.7-20.2 GHz bands (space-to-Earth) and in the 27.6-29.1 GHz and the 29.5-30.0 GH." As outlined in the June 23th, 2016 Space News post, "Boeing proposes big satellite constellations in V- and C-bands," Boeing wants US and international regulators to relax constraints on low-orbiting satellite broadband constellations using those frequencies and "has specifically asked for a license to launch and operate a network of 1,396-2,956 V-band satellites."
  • Karousel LLC (FCC file number SATLOA2016111500113) - A mostly unknown start-up, with little public information available, backed by venture firms Columbia Capital & Telcom Ventures. As outlined in its FCC application, the company wants approval for a small, twelve-satellite system, composed of three groups in opposing, highly elliptical orbits. 
  • Kepler Communications (FCC file number SATLOI2016111500114) - This Canadian start-up, last profiled in the August 16th, 2016 post, "Kepler Communications Raises $5Mln in Venture Funding," has joined the FCC party for non-GEO constellations after spending most of its short corporate career attempting to sell low-cost nano-satellite re-transmitters or "repeaters." As outlined in their FCC application, Kepler plans on deploying up to 140 satellites, including spares, in a non-geostationary (NGSO) low-earth polar orbit between 500-650 km using seven orbital planes with 20 spacecraft equally spaced in each orbital plane between 2017 and 2022. The company intends to target machine to machine communications, not the conventional terrestrial telecommunications market.
  • LeoSat MA Inc. (FCC file number SATLOI2016111500112) -  As outlined on the LeoSat website, the start-up was established in 2013 by two former Schlumberger executives with "direct experience of the challenges of business data transportation." The company has partnered with Thales Alenia Space to "manufacture and launch a constellation of up to 108 Ka-band communications high-throughput satellites (HTS), which will be interconnected through laser links, effectively creating an optical backbone in space about 1.5 times faster than terrestrial fiber backbones." 
  • Space Norway AS (FCC file number SATLOI2016111500111) - The Norwegian based company has "requested access to the US market for its planned Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission (ASBM)," a high elliptical orbit, non-geostationary orbit satellite system with more than a passing resemblance to the stalled, Canadian Polar Communication and Weather (PCW) mission.

Part of a Aug 15th, 2013 presentation on "Satellite Orbit and Constellation Design" by Dr. Andrew Ketsdever. Graphic c/o Slideshare

  • Theia Holdings A, Inc (FCC file number SATLOA2016111500121) - As outlined in its proposal to the FAA, this little-known start-up has proposed launching 112 hyperspectral Earth observation & communications satellites into various orbits.
  • ViaSat, Inc. (FCC file number SATLOI2016111500120) - ViaSat is a provider of high-speed satellite broadband services and secure networking systems covering military and commercial markets. It currently possesses one operational satellite, ViaSat-1, which launched in 2011, and expects to launch its second satellite, ViaSat-2, in the first quarter of 2017. The latest proposal calls for a constellation of 24 MEO satellites operating in Ka- & V-band, operating at 8,200 km, in a variety of orbits with 20 year operational lives and MEO-to-GEO links.
The eleven applications listed above are not the only satellite constellation applications received by the FCC over the past year. Applications have also been received from WorldVu Satellites Limited, operating as OneWeb (on April 28th, 2016 as per FCC file number SATLOI2016042800041) and Spire Global, Inc. (on November 14th, 2016 as per FCC file number SAT-LOA-20151123-00078).

As outlined in the April 30th, 2016 Satellite News post, "OneWeb Petitions The FCC For LEO Satellite Constellation Access To US Markets," OneWeb set off the current round of satellite constellation expansion months ago and the other, more recent FCC applicants are simply playing catch-up to define their territory and add credibility to the concept.

Terrestrial based telecommunications firms are also defining their territory, mostly via litigation as they push back against the satellite providers attempting to disrupt their existing revenue model. As outlined in the June 9th, 2016 Space News post, "Dish Network battles OneWeb and SpaceX for Ku-band spectrum rights," they have achieved at least some success in this area.

But, as outlined in the October 16th, 2016 Newsfactor post, "Venture Capitalists Turning to Space for Their Next Big Returns," there is a great deal of money expected to be made from the upcoming generation of satellite constellations.

None of the current crop of competitors will give that prize up without a fight.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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