While SpaceX, OneWeb, O3B and other multi-billion dollar satellite constellations garner most of the press, other lower cost initiatives demonstrate a different and potentially consequential approach.
Sky and Space Global, for example, plans to launch 200 nano-satellites (under 10 kg each) into low earth orbit in order to provide telecommunications services in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere. The satellites, which adhere to CubeSat standards, will be deployed in near-equatorial planes, reaching 15 degrees north and south of the equator.
Satellites will be launched aboard LauncherOne, the air-launched rocket from Virgin Orbit. Satellites will communicate with ground antennas which provide wifi hotspots, or potentially with a new generation of $20 Android phone capable of direct communications with the satellites.
Sky and Space Global aims to build and launch the entire constellation of 200 satellites for $200 million, a fraction of the cost of even one geosynchronous communications satellite.
Coca-Cola is planning to build wifi hotspots across sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In partnership with Intelsat, Coca-Cola is launching its “Ekocenter” program to promote local development and community. Each Ekocenter will provide local wifi, as well as power and clean water.
The program initially is targeting sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Future expansion will include Latin America.
When possible, Ekocenters will be run by women, consistent with Coca-Cola’s 5×20 goal of empowering 5 million women by 2020.
The FCC has given conditional approval to the SpaceX Starlink satellite network, the first “mega-constellation” to receive government approval. The Starlink program proposes to launch 4,425 satellites into low earth orbit to provide global broadband services. Service will begin with the first 800 satellites in place, sometime in 2020. SpaceX recently launched two trial satellites that are currently undergoing tests.
The FCC approval was conditional on SpaceX providing updated deorbiting plans for satellites taken out of operations.
Gwynne Shotwell, COO of SpaceX, comments “Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected.”
FCC press release and approval documentation are available online.