Tampa, Fla. — SpaceX launched a technology demonstration satellite for OneWeb’s second-generation broadband constellation on May 20, along with parts for the British company’s existing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) network and another network operated by US-based Iridium Communications.
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 21 spacecraft lifted off at 9:16 a.m. EAST through thick fog at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on a polar trajectory to the south.
All five Iridium segments deployed an hour later, followed by 16 OneWeb satellites that separated in pairs.
The rocket’s first stage successfully landed on an unmanned ship in the Atlantic Ocean for reuse after its eleventh flight.
OneWeb and Iridium separately confirmed contact with all of their satellites after the mission, which was delayed by a day for reasons not disclosed by SpaceX.
OneWeb now has 633 first-generation satellites in LEO, though it only needs 588 to provide global coverage, with the rest serving as in-orbit backups.
The satellites pushing OneWeb passed the mark of 588 satellites launched on March 25, and the company recently said it was on track to launch global commercial services by January.
The satellites were built by prime contractor Airbus OneWeb Satellites, the Florida-based joint venture the operator shares with Airbus.
Iridium has selected European company Thales Alenia Space as the prime contractor for the Iridium NEXT liaison constellation of 66 operational satellites in low Earth orbit. SpaceX launched all of these satellites between 2017 and 2019, plus nine spare ones into orbit.
The May 20 mission launched five of six backup satellites that Iridium had held in storage for at least four years. Iridium did not mention any plans to deploy a final ground reserve.
Gen2 in OneWeb
One of the satellites launched for OneWeb, JoeySat, is designed to test capabilities for a second-generation constellation that the company said could begin deployments as early as 2025.
One of the many new technologies on JoeySat is the ability to remotely direct beams and signal strength, according to OneWeb, allowing the satellite to increase capacity in higher usage areas in response to higher demand.
Israel-based SatixFy built the JoeySat payload, with support from funds from the European Space Agency and the British Space Agency, for assembly by Airbus OneWeb Satellites.
JoeySat uses the same satellite platform as the 150-kilogram OneWeb spacecraft of the first generation.
French geostationary fleet operator Eutelsat, which is seeking regulatory approvals to buy OneWeb, said on May 11 that its second-generation satellites will be larger than the first-generation and capable of delivering three to five times more capacity.
The companies also expect to only need a constellation of about 300 second-generation satellites, in part because they can take advantage of Eutelsat’s network in geostationary orbit over areas of high demand.
Eutelsat and OneWeb have not yet selected a second generation satellite manufacturer.
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