The mega constellations of low-orbit internet-providing satellites may well become serious alternatives to underground cable networks tomorrow. If Elon Musk’s firm remains the most advanced in the field, notably thanks to deployments via SpaceX rockets, it is not the only one to want to deploy this technology. Other private and public players have already started to deploy their own constellations of satellites, and real competition will probably settle in this market over time.
OneWeb is a multinational project created in 2014 to provide high-speed Internet connection to individuals, anywhere in the world. The project is strongly similar to Starlink, but is not as advanced and does not expect the same performance. The service will offer a connection of 50 ms and 50Mb / s minimum.
OneWeb will place its satellites in orbit 1200km from Earth. The firm has passed through several hands, but is currently owned by the British government, Indian conglomerate Bharti Global and satellite telecommunications company Eutelsat.
To make its network usable, the company must reach 648 devices in orbit, but it is only at 182. To send them into orbit, OneWeb uses Russian Soyuz rockets, so the Russian state has a certain interest in it. the project, even if it will deploy its own constellation of satellites.
The Kuiper Project was announced in 2019 by Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos. The firm in turn wants to launch a constellation of satellites to compete with Starlink and Oneweb, this time 600km away from the earth.
The project is still at an early stage, because no satellite has yet been put into orbit, the FCC (US Federal Communications Commission) has, however, already granted the dispatch of 3236 devices into orbit to constitute the Amazon constellation. To keep its license, Kuiper will have to deploy half of them before 2026, and the other before 2029.
For the launch of the network, Amazon will be able to benefit from its aerospace subsidiary Blue Origin, but the firm also intends to use other services to accelerate the deployment.
Lynk differs from other constellation projects because its goal is not to deploy an Internet connection service, but cellular telecommunications. The goal is to provide a satellite telecommunication service for any mobile phone. And this mainly in remote areas that do not have a traditional mobile network. Currently, the only way to use the means of satellite telephony services is to have a suitable device or to add an accessory to a conventional smartphone.
The Lynk firm claimed to have developed software for their satellites which allows conventional telephones to be deceived in order to have them receive the Lynk network. The firm thus succeeded in 2020 in connecting an unmodified smartphone to space thanks to a test satellite deployed from the International Space Station.
Lynk’s satellites are expected to weigh just 25kg and orbit about 500km away from Earth. To deploy a 4G network, Lynk will have to launch more than a thousand. The ultimate goal is to sell satellite services to traditional telecommunications operators and the general public.
SatRevolution is a Polish company launched in 2016. The company stands out completely from other projects of its kind, as it aims to deploy a real-time and ultra-precise terrestrial observation service, in a satellite constellation.
The firm plans to deploy around 1,024 low-orbit satellites by 2026 to allow full Earth observation at all times. They will be located at about 500km altitude and should be synchronized with the illumination of the Earth by the Sun. To deploy its arsenal, SatRevolution has established a partnership with the American firm Virgin Galactics to launch its first satellites.
The service will, for example, make it possible to collect photographs and multispectral data for the fields of agriculture or energy.
Russia also wants its share of the pie in the deployment of fast internet access by satellite in constellation at low altitude. Although the country participates in the launch of OneWeb devices, it opposes the deployment of the firm’s services to its citizens, the same is true of SpaceX. Indeed, Russia is particularly concerned about its national sovereignty in telecommunications.
One of Sfera’s particular goals is to provide a broadband connection around the northern sea route, above the Arctic Circle, an important strategic point for Russia.
A constellation of 600 satellites should be gradually deployed at an altitude of 870km, the complete and operational Sfera network is scheduled for 2024.
China is no exception and will also deploy its constellation of low-orbit satellites to provide sovereign Internet access to Chinese people who live in many remote areas of the country. The network will cleverly be called “Guowang”, which translates to “national network”.
To do this, China will deploy no less than 12,922 satellites between 500km and 1,145km away from the Earth. The mega constellation should however extend to the entire Asian continent, while Sfera focuses on Russia, and OneWeb, Amazon and SpaceX on the United States and Europe at first.
One could thus consider Guowang as an integral part of the Chinese program of the new silk road, tool of international influence vis-a-vis the other powers.
The European project
It is the turn of the European Union to deploy its own Internet network by constellation of satellites at low altitude. The project is still in its infancy and does not have an official name. Presented in early 2021, the project aims to provide an efficient Internet network, where it is not otherwise available. In remote areas, on the move or on a plane, for example.
The constellation will not be deployed before 2027 and it is expected to send around 600 aircraft into low orbit, between 500 and 1500km away from Earth. While the costs are substantial – around 5 billion euros – the aim is to maintain the EU as a space power.
Indeed, the deployment of such a device will allow Europe to establish its strategic independence in situations where a quality connection is not available other than by satellite. The stakes are high, because this will guarantee secure data exchanges in times of crisis, without going through foreign third parties.
The Lightspeed constellation project will be deployed by the Canadian satellite telecommunications firm Telesat. Like its competitors, Telesat aims to cover the whole world with a high speed and fast Internet connection.
The project should be completed by 2023. Initially, the Lightspeed constellation will consist of 298 satellites located in polar orbits between 1015 and 1325km away from Earth.
Unlike its competitors, Lightspeed will only cater almost exclusively for professional services and will arguably be more expensive. Telesat thus promises a connection of several terabits per second.