. 24/7 Space News .
We'll soon have ten times more satellites in orbit - here's what that means
by Christopher Newman, Space Law and Policy, Northumbria University, Newcastle
London, UK (The Conversation) Jul 30, 2018

The Iridium Next constellation is being launched now.

The Iridium-7 mission has successfully launched from the Vandenberg air force base in California, placing the latest ten satellites from the American company's second-generation network into orbit. Deployed by Elon Musk's SpaceX, Iridium now has 65 new NEXT satellites in the sky, just one away from the intended total. The plan is to be fully operational by the autumn.

Iridium provides satellite phone services and other communications support to everyone from the US government to airlines, from mining companies to mountaineers. With around 500,000 billable subscribers on the books, the company aims to drive that upwards with the new network.

It will offer enhanced connectivity and broadband speeds for a whole range of customers eager for secure data and communications in hard-to-access areas. It is also seen as having an important role to play in helping machines talk to one another in the Internet of Things, including driverless cars.

Iridium's big selling point is that it is the only provider that offers truly global coverage. It competes with the likes of US rivals Globalstar and Orbcomm; and the UK's Inmarsat, which leads the market with a much smaller network of satellites at a higher orbit, whose attraction is ultra-reliability if you are in the right location. Iridium believes its NEXT offering will enable it to properly compete against Inmarsat on broadband for the first time.

The company was set up in the late 1990s with heavy backing from Motorola to launch its original fleet of 77 satellites, and later bailed out by the US government when it ran out of money. With that first network approaching the end of its operational life, Iridium raised several billion dollars to buy 81 new satellites (the remaining 15 are spares). Iridium has already started taking the old satellites out of orbit.

Upstart alert
Alongside Iridium and the other established providers, a new generation of space companies is starting to emerge. The cost of launch is decreasing at a faster pace than at any time in the history of space exploration. Where traditional launch providers charge between US$14,000-17,000 per kg to put satellites in low Earth orbit, the Falcon 9 from Space X can do it for just under US$5,000. This will drop even further thanks to the emergence of launch systems that can be fully reused, like the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and also Falcon 9 Block 5, which was used for the first time a few days ago.

Soon to be joined by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin rocket, the cost per kg could drop below US$2,000 in the near future. And with the development of smaller satellites and horizontal launch systems, such as the one proposed by Virgin Orbit, it could soon come down to even a few hundred dollars per kilo.

The second crucial change in the offing is the miniaturisation of satellite technology. This promises a shift away from the traditional architecture of large, heavy and expensive satellites like the Iridium NEXT and Globalstar networks towards "mega constellations" of much smaller devices. This threatens to have a major impact on the satellite broadband business.

Until now, satellite broadband has had significant disadvantages compared to Earth-based alternatives like ADSL and fibre optic. Due to the distance the signals have to travel and the weather, there are issues with latency and sluggish responses, which is problematic for the likes of gamers. The speed of satellite internet is substantially slower than even the cheapest cable-based provider. It's currently seen as little more than a back-stop in rural or hard-to-access areas.

The vision is to use mega constellations of satellites to disrupt the domestic and home broadband market with affordable, low-latency, global internet coverage at speeds comparable to ASDL. At the forefront is OneWeb, a US-based start-up launching the first in its series of satellites later this year. It hopes to have "fully bridged" the divide with cable-based broadband by 2027.

Where Iridium NEXT uses 66 satellites weighing 860kg each, OneWeb is starting with over 640 satellites, each weighing 150kg. Other companies, meanwhile, such as the UK's Sky and Space Global, are proposing to use a constellation of 200 very small satellites, each only weighing 10kg, to provide voice or text communications on mobile phones to people in hard-to-access areas.

The picture becomes even more competitive when the ambitious plans of SpaceX are factored in. Elon Musk is looking to do much more than be a launch provider. In 2016, SpaceX announced a plan to launch a mega constellation of over 4,000 satellites providing global high-speed broadband by the mid-2020s.

Satellites galore
There are currently 1,738 active satellites in orbit. Mega constellations will increase that by an order of magnitude in the next few years. As well as the strain on bandwidth, the Earth's orbit is going to become much more congested.

This raises important environmental questions. Some operators such as OneWeb have made encouraging noises about managing the end of life of their satellites, but serious concerns remain. There's an opportunity for the next generation of space entrepreneurs to be true pioneers by establishing a sustainable way of working in space.

This aside, the industry's growth potential looks staggering. A recent report from Morgan Stanley predicted the space industry would grow from US$350 billion in 2016 to over US$1.1 trillion by 2040. But one vital question is, where will it leave incumbents like Iridium?

These players have crucial advantages: above all, they are there. They have attracted the investment and have put the hardware into space. They offer an established platform based on reliable, proven technology; many customers will prefer that over cheaper, experimental solutions.

Iridium argues that while it may not be able to offer broadband speeds to compete with new arrivals, its global coverage means it will continue to play a vital role offering back-up when other services fail. It also points out that its satellites operate on the L-band frequency, whereas the likes of OneWeb will be on the less reliable Ku-band.

Whether the new arrivals and incumbents manage to carve out different segments of a bigger market will be fascinating to watch in the coming years. For my money, reliability will always trump everything else. But whatever happens, big changes are coming: the satellite communications business will look entirely different in ten years.

Related Links
Space Industry News
The latest information about the Commercial Satellite Industry

Thanks for being there;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5+ Billed Monthly

paypal only
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal

Rockwell Collins and Iridium Partner to Deliver Next-Generation Aviation Services
McLean VA (SPX) Jul 24, 2018
Iridium Communications Inc. has announced Rockwell Collins as the newest Iridium Certus service provider for the aviation industry. Rockwell Collins will be adding the service to its comprehensive suite of aircraft connectivity applications for commercial, government and ARINCDirect business customers. In addition to being a service provider, Rockwell Collins is also a value added manufacturer (VAM) for the design and production of Iridium Certus terminals. As a VAM and a service provider, Rockwel ... read more

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Sky's no limit: Japan firm to fly wedding plaques into space

NASA to Name Astronauts Assigned to First Boeing, SpaceX Flights

Boeing's quest to take astronauts to space station hits snag

NASA Marshall Awards 43 New Small Innovation and Technology Research Proposals

SpaceX launches, lands rocket in challenging conditions

Russia's Khrunichev Center Develops Concept of Reusable Rocket

Latest Blue Origin Launch Tests Technologies of Interest to Space Exploration

Roscosmos' Research Center's Staff Suspected of Leaking Data Abroad

Is Mars' Soil Too Dry to Sustain Life?

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Discover Why Mars Is So Dusty

NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Finds That "Stolen" Electrons Enable Unusual Aurora on Mars

Liquid water lake discovered on Mars

China developing in-orbit satellite transport vehicle

PRSS-1 Satellite in Good Condition

China readying for space station era: Yang Liwei

China launches new space science program

Rockwell Collins and Iridium Partner to Deliver Next-Generation Aviation Services

27 Satellites in 3 Years: Indian Private Sector Shifts Focus to Space Projects

Aerospace Workforce Training A National Mandate for 2018

Head of Roscosmos Research Center Paison Hands in Application for Dismissal

Researchers unravel more mysteries of metallic hydrogen

NASA Interns Develop and Release Navigation Software Simulating Star Tracker Navigation

Millennium Space Systems ALTAIR Pathfinder Satellite Surpasses 10,000 Hours in Orbit

Manipulating single atoms with an electron beam

WSU researcher sees possibility of moon life

How Can You Tell If That ET Story Is Real

X-ray Data May Be First Evidence of a Star Devouring a Planet

Glowing bacteria on deep-sea fish shed light on evolution, 'third type' of symbiosis

'Ribbon' wraps up mystery of Jupiter's magnetic equator

Radiation Maps of Jupiter's Moon Europa: Key to Future Missions

The True Colors of Pluto and Charon

Dozen new Jupiter moons declared

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.