Satellite operator OneWeb is drastically reducing the expansion plans for its Internet service. For the second expansion phase, the Indo-British company is planning “only” 6,372 satellites instead of 47,844 satellites. That is a reduction of 41,112 satellites or 87 percent. That reveals a request from OneWeb to the US regulator FCC last week.
OneWeb presents its austerity package as proof of its responsibility. Scientists had rejected the enormous number of satellites that should one day orbit at an altitude of 1,200 kilometers. So many artificial celestial bodies would have seriously affected astronomy. It would have been the largest satellite constellation by far.
The currently ongoing first expansion phase is relatively modest with 716 satellites. It was originally planned to be a little larger with 950 artificial satellites. After a Russian rocket launched 36 OneWeb satellites for high-speed internet in December, 110 of the company’s satellites are now orbiting there. Although Russia’s state space company Roskosmos is making good money with the satellite launches, Russia is considering a ban on foreign satellite internet in its own country.
Softbank invests again
OneWeb hopes the FCC will support the new plan of the second expansion phase as a “minor” deviation from the already approved 48,000 satellite project. The amendment promises better data throughput with more efficient use of radio frequencies. It is unclear whether the original mega-project was meant seriously at all. Maybe it was a move to secure valuable radio frequency rights. OneWeb had applied for and received approval last year during its bankruptcy proceedings.
In November, OneWeb was saved through a partial nationalization. Since then, the Indian Bharti Group (42.5 percent) and the United Kingdom government (42 percent) have been the largest shareholders. The Japanese group Softbank, which had held 37.4 percent before OneWeb’s bankruptcy, took another nine percent stake in November. Satellite supplier Hughes Networks also secured a small share again. Together, the new partners brought one billion US dollars to OneWeb in the fall.
SoftBank is now increasing its stake. The Japanese group is investing another 350 million US dollars and is thus getting a seat on the board again. Hughes Network brings in another $ 50 million. According to OneWeb, the funds now available are sufficient to put 648 satellites into operation by the end of next year. OneWeb would like to start a partial operation this year, namely for customers in the Arctic and Great Britain.