Tech

Satellite constellation: Great Britain and Indian network operator buy Oneweb

The operators of the Oneweb satellite constellation had to file for bankruptcy in March due to financing problems caused by Softbank, now the company appears to be saved. As reported by Oneweb, the shares went to an auction to a consortium made up of the Indian telecommunications company Bharti Global Limited, one of the largest worldwide with over 400 million customers, and the “Government of Her Majesty” of the United Kingdom.

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The total purchase amount is around one billion US dollars, which should ensure the launch and operation of the first 650 satellites in the constellation. Oneweb satellites accounted for half of all Arianespace rocket launches planned for 2020 and 2021, its chief was very satisfied with the outcome of the auction. However, the company’s financing gap is twice as large and the search for additional lenders will probably be the first task of the new shareholders. In addition, the remaining creditors, the competent bankruptcy court and the regulatory authorities have to agree. This process is expected to continue until the end of the year.

British government wants Galileo replacement

While Bharti plans to focus on commercial telecommunications with customers in India and Africa, the UK government sees Oneweb’s stake as a strategic investment. The American military in particular has made use of similar constellations such as Iridium, Globalstar or Orbcomm in the past and is currently testing Starlink’s operation.

In addition, a global navigation system for Great Britain is to be created using the satellites. The step caused irritation in some circles, since the similar systems GPS, Glonass, Galileo and Beidou were built in much higher orbits and Oneweb was only planned for communications satellites. However, the satellites consist of a flexible bus that can accommodate various payloads and that could be modified for the purpose. The higher orbits were chosen in other systems only to have fewer satellites to launch for global coverage.

Expansion plans endanger astronomy

However, they cause much greater irritation Licenses requested by Oneweb to operate approximately 48,000 satellites in an orbit of around 1,100 km. By definition, these are low earth orbits, but they are twice as high as the Starlink satellites. These satellites were originally supposed to fly so high, but SpaceX changed the plans because defective satellites and space debris remain in stable orbits for thousands of years and can disrupt astronomical observations for much longer at night.

Astronomers are horrified by the possible effects, in case the plans are realized. Because of the higher orbits and smaller dimensions, the Oneweb satellites cannot be seen with the naked eye in the night sky, but they move more slowly in the sky than those from Starlink. They stay longer over every pixel of the CCD sensors and therefore have similarly harmful effects on science as Starlink satellites of the first generation without the parasols currently being tested.

Because of the higher orbits, the satellites are illuminated by the sun for much longer at night and almost no longer disappear in the earth’s shadow in summer. Virtually all astronomical observations with a medium or very wide field of view would be strongly affected by the reflected light from the satellites. While astronomical associations such as the European Southern Observatory (ESO) praised the collaboration with SpaceX as very successful, there is no regular exchange between astronomy and the Oneweb consortium.

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