WASHINGTON – OneWeb says it is drastically reducing the size of the proposed next-generation satellite constellation, originally projected to have nearly 48,000 satellites.
In a January 12 statement to the Federal Communications Commission, OneWeb requested permission to amend an application filed in May seeking to launch 47,844 satellites for its Phase Two constellation. Instead, the company offers a system with 6,372 satellites.
The revised constellation, OneWeb said in a statement on January 13, “demonstrates the commitment and vision” of its new owners, the British government and India’s Bharti Global, to “deploy a cost-effective, responsible and innovative global broadband satellite network.”
The original proposal for the second phase, submitted to the FCC, provided for a system of 32 planes of 720 satellites each with an inclination of 40 degrees, 32 aircraft with 720 satellites each with an inclination of 55 degrees and 36 aircraft with 49 satellites each with an inclination of 87.9 degrees, for a total of 47,844 satellites, all in orbits with an altitude of 1,200 kilometers. This will be in addition to the original constellation of about 650 satellites that the company currently has, which is not affected by the proposed modification.
The revised system retains the same number and position of orbital planes, but reduces the number of satellites in each of the 40-degree and 55-degree planes from 720 to 72. The satellites in the 87.9-degree orbital planes are unchanged, reducing the total size of the system to 6,372 satellites.
OneWeb expects that this redesigned plan to deploy its Phase 2 constellation will allow it to achieve superior end-user bandwidth and spectrum efficiency, while reducing funding requirements and promoting OneWeb’s vision of “Responsible Space,” the company said in a statement. “This amendment is an integral part of OneWeb’s commitment to supporting the long-term use of space for all by preserving the orbital environment.”
Despite reducing the constellation by more than 85%, OneWeb asked the FCC to consider the amendment “minor” under its priority assessment rules for various applications. The company said it was not making any other changes, such as frequency allocation, to the system, so “this proposed reduction in satellites will not increase potential interference” for other systems.
It is not clear how serious OneWeb was in its initial launch proposal for nearly 48,000 satellites. The company filed the application when it was bankrupt in Chapter 11 and stopped using its first-generation system. This implementation resumed in December after the company came out of Chapter 11 under its new ownership.
The size of the system, larger than any other constellation, has alerted some to the stability of space due to the increased risk of orbital debris. Astronomers also worried that the satellites would pose an even greater risk to their observations than SpaceX’s Starlink system.
“Clearly, a huge constellation of 50,000 satellites at high altitude is the most threatening to visible astronomy,” said Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory, during the July session of the conference on the effect of satellite megastars on astronomy.