Starlink gets almost all of the satellite press in the U.S., which is fair since the company now serves a lot of homes and RVs with broadband. The company now has over 4,600 active satellites in orbit, and if it sticks with its original business plan it will eventually have 30,000. But there are a few other satellite companies working in the broadband space that don’t get the press.
Not all competitors want to chase the residential market that is the bread and butter for Starlink. OneWeb went through start-up pains and came out of bankruptcy in 2020. Since then, the company was reorganized to include ownership from the British government and a few other large carrier investors. OneWeb now has 634 satellites in space parked at about 1,200 miles above Earth – twice the height of Starlink. The company is still in the process of constructing the ground stations needed to be able to provide broadband connections around the world.
OneWeb recently announced a successful test of using satellite broadband to connect to Britain’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Argus. This is the first successful test for the company with a mobile military application, and OneWeb intends to emphasize using its satellites to support governments and militaries around the world.
The U.S. military recently inked an arrangement with Starlink to provide basic broadband, but the military is not comfortable using Starlink satellite broadband for mission-critical applications. There are valid concerns by the military of relying on broadband connections for active troops with an ISP that could refuse service in times of conflict.
The ability of OneWeb to support military operations will be enhanced with the pending merger with the French company Eutelsat, which operates geostationary satellites parked at 22,000 miles above Earth. The combination of the two satellite fleets should be able to guarantee the connections that the military demands. OneWeb is already in the process of upgrading its satellites to support military applications. It’s planning to start replacing existing satellites with ones that contain two separate platforms for military and commercial applications. The company is focusing the rest of its business on bringing broadband to governments, telecommunications carriers, and energy companies.
Another company that is enhancing its satellite fleet to remain relevant is Intelsat. The company has been signing contracts with the militaries of smaller countries who want to make sure that troops always have connectivity. Intelsat can provide reliable broadband to militaries but is also working with countries that want to put up their own military and government satellites.
Intelsat is also exploring the expansion of its fleet by using Medium-Earth-Orbit (MEO) satellites that are parked at between 6,000 and 13,000 miles above Earth. There are a few applications like GPS today that use MEO satellites, and Intelsat thinks there are a lot of advantages to having satellites that have less latency than the higher orbit geostationary satellites.
There still is not a lot of news from Amazon’s Project Kuiper. The company has been trying for several years to launch its first test satellites and has been plagued by problems with the planned use of the RS1 rocket from ABL Space Systems. Amazon now plans to use rocket launches from the United Launch Alliance and others to start getting its fleet into space. Amazon has supposedly made great progress in the design of its satellites and still has plans to launch over 3.200 satellites to compete with Starlink.
For those interested in keeping track of events in space, I highly recommend the Payload newsletter.