Satellite horoscopes thrive on profit hopes and geopolitics

People watch the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on February 27, 2023

People watch a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lift off at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on February 27, 2023.

The huge constellation of satellites operated by SpaceX, while still growing, will soon be joined into low-Earth orbit by many commercial competitors, but also government-sponsored programs.

When companies put forward the idea of ​​expanding reach High speed internet during Satellites constellations in the lower ground orbit (LEO), analysts expected only two or three companies to succeed.

“But the number of players continues to grow,” Caleb Henry, director of research at Quilty Analytics, told AFP at the annual Satellite Conference in Washington.

He said there are now at least eight companies vying to launch or complete their own low-Earth orbit clusters, including early entrants SpaceX and OneWeb, which could see an increasing number of objects in orbit.

Amazon alone hopes to launch more than 3,200 satellites as part of its shadowy Project Kuiper.

But governments are also keen to join the rush.

China plans to launch 13,000 satellites as part of the GuoWang constellation, Canada’s Telesat is adding 300 and German startup Rivada is eyeing 600.

That would be in addition to the European Union’s Project Iris – 170 satellites – and the 300-500 satellites planned to be launched by the US Army’s Space Development Agency.

When it came to the game of satellite constellation, Henry said, “people underestimated how sovereign interests could be involved.”

sustainability in space

While about 120 satellites were launched in all of 2012, in just the first two months of this year, nearly 380 satellites were put into orbit.

The total number of satellites in LEO should rise to about 24,500 over the next decade, with more than half of them for the three largest constellations, according to a Euroconsult forecast.

Henry believes there is an open question as to how the market will absorb all this additional capacity.

Mark Dankberg, president of satellite communications company Viasat — which operates in geostationary orbit — said he would be interested in entering the low-Earth orbit market, but he didn’t want the big players in the space industry to outpace competitors.

“We’re interested in LEO, the thing we’re worried about is leaving enough competition in the market,” Dankberg said.

He also warned about the issue of sustainability – with so many objects in orbit, the risk of collisions, the scattering of debris, and the overloading of frequencies increase.

The biggest player to date in LEO is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has already launched nearly 3,600 satellites and in December secured permission to deploy 7,500 of its planned second-generation constellation of 30,000 satellites.

Gas pedal Ukraine

Starlink customers are still a million people Second place To the less well-known Hughes, also a US-based operator but whose satellites, like Viasat, are much larger and fly in geostationary orbit.

Oneweb, the British operator in its acquisition by Eutelsat, completed its penultimate launch in early March and is expected to have completed a constellation of 650 satellites by the end of the month.

Amazon’s Kuiper project lead Dave Limp said they’ll release their first two prototypes in May, and they’re “on schedule to get more than half of what we have in stock.” constellation Until mid-2026, “provided that it maintains its rights to certain frequencies.

But when it comes to government-sponsored projects, such as the EU’s Iris project, “commercial facilities come second”.

“The idea is…to work together on defence,” Henry said of Iris.

He attributes the newfound momentum behind the project to the war in Ukraine, where Starlink was used by troops and civilians in Kyiv to stay connected despite the blows to the country’s communications infrastructure.

© 2023 AFP

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