Low Earth Orbit Constellations Could Pose Interference Risk to GEO Satellites

Jeff Foust

October 26, 2015

WASHINGTON — A proposed wave of low Earth orbit communications satellite constellations could become an interference hazard for satellites in geostationary orbit even if those new systems comply with existing rules, some satellite operators fear.

Rules enacted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2000, during the previous wave of proposed nongeostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite systems, gives frequency priority to satellites in geostationary orbit. NGSO systems must take measures, such as reducing their power output, to avoid interfering with geostationary satellites.

The problem, said company representatives attending the fourth annual Space and Satellite Regulatory Colloquium here Oct. 22, is that advances in geostationary satellites allow them to operate at lower power levels. That creates the potential for interference with NGSO systems, even if they are in compliance with ITU rules.

“As we’re moving to the new higher-capacity satellites and technology has improved, the sensitivity of our satellites is quite a bit higher than what was envisioned back in the day,” said Daryl Hunter, senior director of regulatory affairs for ViaSat, a company that operates high-throughput satellites in geostationary orbit.

“Even when these new NGSO constellations meet the equivalent power flux density limits that were established by the ITU, they actually cause interference to the new high-capacity GSO satellites,” he said. “But we have to live with it. That’s the law.”

Hunter said that problem could be exacerbated if a number of the proposed NGSO satellite systems are launched over the next several years. If some of them violate the ITU rules, he said, it could be difficult to determine which ones are causing the excess interference.

“Who’s doing the interference? All we know is that our noise floor is raised,” he said. “It’s really going to be a tough problem.”

Hunter and others at the meeting, though, said they were not pressing for near-term changes to the rules that could require NGSO systems to further reduce their power to avoid interference, since it was not clear how serious any interference would be. “We haven’t made a proposal yet to go back and revisit them,” he said of the current rules.

“We’re really cautioning against any rapid changes that could have some drastic consequences,” said Mariah Shuman, regulatory counsel for O3b Networks, which operates a constellation of NGSO satellites. That includes taking no action on the issue at November’s World Radiocommunication Conference, known as WRC-15, in Geneva.

“We support studies at this point,” she said of the interference issue. “We would not want to see any decisions made at WRC-15.”

“Pulling the rug from underneath the NGSO operators at this point — prematurely, I think — will actually hurt the industry in general,” said Hazem Moakkit, vice president for corporate and spectrum strategy at Intelsat, which both operates a fleet of geostationary satellites and has a stake in NGSO satellite company OneWeb. “It’s better to wait until we advance a little bit further.”

While industry is willing to wait on interference issues, some raised questions about another aspect of ITU rules regarding NGSO systems. Current regulations consider an NGSO system to be brought into use, and its frequency rights confirmed, when the first satellite of a constellation is launched, regardless of the number of satellites in the constellation.

“This makes sense when you have a constellation of 10 or 12 satellites,” said Jose Albuquerque, chief of the satellite division of the Federal Communication Commission’s International Bureau. “But when you’re talking about constellations of 800 or 4,000 satellites, you cannot acquire rights by bringing one satellite into service.”

Many of the concerns about NGSO systems discussed at the colloquium are based on the assumption that several of the systems under development now will actually be deployed. At least one attendee, though, has his doubts.

“We are probably on the back side of the bubble” of investment in the industry, said J. Armand Musey, president of Summit Ridge Group. “It’s not clear that there’s going to be a whole lot of OneWebs. There’s probably going to be one, maybe two, big LEO constellations that come out of this phase. There’s not going to be five of them.”

via Low Earth Orbit Constellations Could Pose Interference Risk to GEO Satellites.

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OneWeb Fails (At Least for Now) To Soothe Satellite Interference Fears – SpaceNews.com

Peter B. de Selding

September 18, 2015

PARIS — Satellite fleet operators fear that start-up OneWeb Ltd.’s 700 low-orbiting satellites will disrupt their established businesses by unintentionally interfering with millions of user antennas installed around the equator.

Some of these companies said they hope their concerns are resolved by OneWeb’s stated commitment to abide by international regulatory guidelines on the operation of low-orbiting satellites using Ku-band radio frequencies also used by almost all of the world’s biggest fleet operators.

Others said they are worried that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a global frequency and orbital-slot regulatory notoriously lacking in enforcement power, will not be up to the task if interference develops after OneWeb is deployed in orbit between 2017 and 2019.

Aware of what seems to be a groundswell of concern about their system expressed here Sept. 14-18 at the World Satellite Business Week conference, an annual gathering of industry, OneWeb officials repeatedly said they will not interfere with satellites in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator.

OneWeb founder Greg Wyler said the company would be filing, in December, an ITU S-1503 submission that will allow regulators and geostationary-satellite operators to assess, with precision, OneWeb’s conformity with ITU rules forbidding interference with geostationary satellites by satellites in non-geostationary. OneWeb’s satellites will orbit at around 1,200 kilometers in altitude.

In a Sept. 15 interview, Wyler said the company’s Progressive Pitch technology is designed to modify the orientation and power level of the OneWeb satellites as they pass over the equator so that they do not disturb the millions of satellite dishes pointed toward the geostationary satellites.

“We want to make allies of the established operators,” Wyler said. “It would be crazy for us to interfere with them.”

The relevant metric is called equivalent power-flux density (EPFD), an ITU requirement developed in the 1990s as two other non-geostationary-orbit systems, Teledesic in Ka-band and SkyBridge in Ku-band, sought regulatory approval for large constellations of satellites.

Geostationary satellite operators ultimately were persuaded — or at least they accept a hard-fought ITU conclusion — that low-orbiting satellites could in fact adjust their operations to avoid interference around the equator and should be granted regulatory approval.

Brian Holz, OneWeb’s vice president for satellite, launch and fleet operations, said that until the company filed to the ITU the required documents, geostationary operators could make no allegations about threatened interference.

That has not prevented established fleet operators from beginning to apply pressure, ultimately intended for the ITU, to assure a coordinated industry response in the event OneWeb transgresses the regulations.

“We spent at least three weeks prior to this conference evaluating all the public-domain information about OneWeb,” said Tom Choi, chief executive of fleet operator ABS of Bermuda. “Obviously they have to operate on a non-interference basis. But from every calculation that we are doing, we can’t see how they can avoid creating interference.”

Choi said the OneWeb satellites will be emitting at about the same power levels as geostationary-orbit satellites, meaning that around the equator, “we could be looking at hours of downtime” per day.

“I think they need to better explain to the global satellite industry how they are going to avoid doing that,” Choi said. “Our math shows that it is going to be very difficult, even with the progressive pitch they are talking about. At certain latitudes it’s going to be virtually impossible to avoid interference.”

Among OneWeb’s partners and investors is fleet operator Intelsat of Luxembourg and the United States, which has as many Ku-band customers around the equator as anyone else.

Intelsat Chief Executive Stephen Spengler said he understood the concerns of geostationary satellite operators, especially since OneWeb has not yet produced its detailed operational plans to the ITU.

“There are power limits that are well defined at different latitudes and our view is that OneWeb will be operating within those ITU regulations,” Spengler said, adding that Intelsat would not have partnered with OneWeb, and invested $25 million in it, if it thought Intelsat’s customers would see their signals jammed.

One of the goals of the Intelsat-OneWeb partnership is to be able to hand off customers easily between OneWeb and Intelsat satellites. Spengler said this is one solution for OneWeb when its satellites cross over the equator. “So there are opportunities for geo operators, ourselves and others, to participate” in the system, he said.

Other satellite operators privately questioned this idea, saying that if the interference is so bad as to require a handoff to an Intelsat satellite, then OneWeb’s business model would need too many such handoffs – and need to pay Intelsat and others accordingly — to close its business case.

Huang Baozhong, vice president of Hong Kong-based fleet operator APT Satellite Co., and William Wade, chief executive of AsiaSat, also of Hong Kong, both said they are worried that OneWeb will provoke interference.

Michel de Rosen, chief executive of Paris-based Eutelsat, said the industry has too often dealt with unintentional interference.

“It can happen because there has been insufficient respect for one player by another player,” de Rosen said Sept. 15. “So whenever a newcomer arrives to the game, it is the duty of the newcomer to make sure his initiative will not hurt the quality of service that our customers have a right to expect.

“We are looking at this topic now at Eutelsat because we cannot simply hope it will work,” de Rosen said of the OneWeb system. “It has to be an issue that will be solved before the constellation is operational.”

via OneWeb Fails (At Least for Now) To Soothe Satellite Interference Fears – SpaceNews.com.

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Space X and Google, OneWeb and Virgin Galactic, and now Samsung…

It’s time to pay attention to this idea.
As OneWeb put’s it:

  • Constellation of satellites — 648 satellites circling the earth will enable affordable access.
  • Faster — OneWeb’s satellites are closer to the earth allowing for better web performance.
  • Coverage — OneWeb’s constellation of satellites logically interlock with each other to create a coverage footprint over the entire planet.
  • User terminals — Small, low-cost user terminals talk to the satellites in the sky, and emit LTE, 3G and WiFi to the surrounding areas, providing high-speed access for everyone.
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Internet by Satellite Is a Space Race With No Winners | WIRED

Klint Finley

June 12, 2015

Another space race is on.

On one side: Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX (and Tesla Motors), backed by Google. On the other: Musk’s friend Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb, backed by Virgin Galactic parent company The Virgin Group and its eccentric billionaire founder Richard Branson.

The prize: the chance to sell high-speed satellite internet connections to the billions of people throughout the world who don’t yet have access—and in the process become a global telecommunications company to rival giants like Comcast and Verizon. And, in Musk’s mind, the opportunity to sell internet access to Martian colonists, when the time comes.

Late last month, as first reported by DCInno, SpaceX filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to begin testing such a system. Unfortunately, the idea of cheap, ubiquitous high-speed satellite Internet may be just as science fictional as Musks’s dreams of planetary migration.

Sky-High Ambitions

Satellite internet has been around for years, but extreme latency—the gap in time between the satellite receiving a request and responding—is a problem, making it impractical for real-time or near real-time applications such as online games or teleconferencing tools like Skype. Both Musk and Wyler plan to eliminate that latency by placing their satellites in what’s called low Earth orbit, which ranges from roughly 100 to 1,250 miles above Earth. By bringing their satellites closer to home than other satellites, SpaceX and OneWeb could cut latency from 500 milliseconds to 20 milliseconds, which is about what you’d expect from a fiber optic home internet connection in the US.

The catch is the signal from those satellites won’t be able to cover as much of the planet as satellites in geosynchronous orbit some 22,000 miles up. That means the companies will have to launch far more satellites to make up for the difference. Wyler told Business Week earlier this year that OneWeb plans to build a network of around 700 satellites to blanket the earth. Musk, on the other hand, told the magazine SpaceX is planning a network of 4,000 or so.

That may sound ambitious, and it is. But humans have been sending satellites to space for decades. The real trouble with these plans is that they could be astronomically expensive.

The prize: the chance to sell high-speed satellite internet connections to the billions of people throughout the world who don’t yet have access.

Musk and Wyler are far from the first to propose low Earth orbit constellations as a way to provide high-speed internet. Several companies launched with that mission in the 1990s, the most famous of which was Teledesic, funded by Bill Gates, early cellular service entrepreneur Craig McCaw, and Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The much hyped company planned an 840-satellite constellation but was plagued with setbacks until it suspended operations in 2002 and relinquished its wireless spectrum rights to the FCC in 2003. The failure of Teledesic and its contemporaries has left many observers cynical about the prospects of the latest crop of would-be satellite providers.

“These large constellations are very inefficient,” says Roger Rusch, a satellite communications industry analyst. He acknowledges that the small satellites SpaceX and OneWeb hope to use are less expensive today than they were in the 1990s, but says they’re still too costly. “They’re cheaper, but you need 4,000 of them, so they need to be 1,000 times cheaper,” he says.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned the possibility of providing satellite internet service via the Internet.org initiative—a non-profit he co-founded to expand internet access throughout the world — is a blog post last year. But he’s already shelved the idea due to its cost, according to The Information.

A Matter of Control

Controlling costs is especially important since SpaceX and OneWeb will be going after people in developing countries, not wealthy entrepreneurs and executives who want to check their email while vacationing in exotic locales. That means everything from the subscription cost to the satellite dishes must be cheap. Plus, Rusch says, both fiber optic internet connections and wireless mobile data plans are spreading rapidly throughout the world. It could end up being far cheaper to connect these billions of unserved people with an old-fashioned wire.

Even if SpaceX and OneWeb can make the pricing work, they’ll have to contend with the earthbound politics of telecommunications. And that’s one area where OneWeb has an edge: Wyler owns Teledesic’s old slice of the wireless spectrum. And Virgin’s Branson says there’s not enough to go around.

“Greg has the rights, and there isn’t space for another network—like there physically is not enough space,” he told Business Week. “If Elon wants to get into this area, the logical thing for him would be to tie up with us, and if I were a betting man, I would say the chances of us working together rather than separately would be much higher.”

Musk has floated the idea of using laser-based transmission—another unproven technology—to avoid licensing, though last month’s FCC application makes no mention of such a scheme.

Internet, Grounded

But if anyone knows the costs of trenching fiber optic pipe and building satellite networks, it’s Wyler. After selling his first company, a computer parts outfit called Silent Systems, for $100 million in 1999, he founded Terracom, an Internet service provider in Rwanda that had to build much of its own network infrastructure, including fiber optic pipes and cell towers. After selling that company for $20 million, he started satellite Internet company O3b in 2007.

O3b provides Internet service via mid-Earth orbit satellites. By compromising between low Earth orbit and geosynchonous orbit, the company is able to provide a reasonable 150 millisecond latency without the need for hundreds of satellites. But instead of providing service directly to end users, as SpaceX and WebOne want to do, it sells connectivity to Internet service providers in places like the Cook Islands, which in turn provide their customers with service via cellular networks or fixed line connections.

Wyler, who left O3b last year before working briefly at Google, has some specific ideas to to deal with costs. He told BusinessWeek that instead of having every user buy their own dish, he expects them to be installed in public places like schools and hospitals, which will then provide WiFi connections.

And as for SpaceX, the company’s entire purpose is to find ways to make space travel less expensive. It’s possible that Musk and company could find ways to manufacture and deploy satellites more cheaply than anyone has ever expected.

The real problem, though, is that it might not be possible to predict how much the system will cost until it’s too late. “It’s really difficult to test the concept without building out the network,” says William Ostrove, an aerospace and defense analyst at the firm Forecase International. “That’s going to be extremely expensive.”

Sure, it’s possible that one or both sides in this race will succeed in creating an affordable satellite Internet service and bringing the entire world online. But it’s just as likely that they will burn through billions in a competition that’s as much about astronomical egos as innovation.

via Internet by Satellite Is a Space Race With No Winners | WIRED.

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SpaceX, OneWeb Unveil Rival Broadband Constellation Plans | Space content from Aviation Week

Jan 21, 2015

Amy Svitak | Aviation Week & Space Technology

In the span of one week, two space startups that have made good on far-fetched promises unveiled plans to develop competing global satellite Internet systems.

Whether there is room for two such multibillion-dollar constellations is unclear, but the announcements by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) founder Elon Musk and OneWeb Ltd. – a company financed by Virgin Group, chip-maker Qualcomm and O3b Networks founder Greg Wyler – are backed by people who have demonstrated the ability to attract both capital and engineering talent.

On the one hand is Musk, who announced plans last week to build a spacecraft production plant in Seattle, an effort to transform satellite manufacturing in much the same way he has the space-launch business. Less than a week later, SpaceX announced a $1-billion round of financing with two new investors, Google and Fidelity, which will collectively own just under 10% of the company.

In a Jan. 20 statement, SpaceX said the money would pay for continued innovation in space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing.

“In order for us to really revolutionize space, we have to address both satellites and rockets,” Musk said Jan. 16 during a Seattle event where he unveiled his plans. “We’re going to start by building our own constellation of satellites, but that same satellite bus and the technology we develop can also be used for Earth science and space science, as well as other potential applications that others may have.”

Musk said the satellite plant would start small—about 60 people—and that engineers could move between SpaceX’s core business of rocket manufacturing in Hawthorne, California, and the new satellite venture in Seattle. He said the project would take 12-15 years to complete and cost $10-15 billion to build.

He also said the new company would not be drawing from the Puget Sound’s established space propulsion community to supply the vehicles.

“We’re going to build our own propulsion unit,” he said, adding that the constellation of 4,000 broadband satellites weighing a few hundred kilograms each and orbiting at 1,100-km (683-mi.) altitude will be powered using all-electric Hall- effect thrusters, a technology he says is relatively easy.

In the meantime, OneWeb, formerly WorldVu Satellites based in Britain’s Channel Islands, has announced plans for a startup satellite broadband venture. Unveiled Jan. 15, the new company is to be lead by Wyler, who founded O3b Networks, a constellation of 12 Ka-band broadband satellites that provides Internet trunking to telecom companies and corporate and government customers globally in a band around the equator.

Wyler, who is no longer directly affiliated with O3b operations, has said the amount of overlap between OneWeb and O3b is minimal given the latter’s focus on large telecom companies. He says the OneWeb satellite system would introduce the first-ever telecom-class micro satellites with a fleet of 648 spacecraft providing low-latency, high-speed Internet access to small-user terminals deployed around the world.

OneWeb plans to work with local operator partners to provide this access, though it is unclear what kind of terminals will be used, or how much they will cost.

Wyler also said OneWeb’s first satellite launch vehicle would be Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne.

Both announcements prompted comparisons with past Internet satellite ventures that flopped, notably Teledesic and Skybridge, two well-financed startups with plans for global constellations of low-orbiting satellites that could deliver high-speed Internet to corporate and individual customers. Both companies spent substantial resources to obtain regulatory licensing with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which coordinates orbital frequencies in an effort to avoid radio interference among spacecraft. But neither constellation was ever developed, owing largely to technical issues.

Despite such comparisons, some industry observers are optimistic that these technical setbacks could be overcome today.

“Ten or 15 years ago we had similar business models appear, all of which collapsed,” says Francois Auque, head of the space division at Airbus Defense and Space here. “But today we appear to be in a new phase, with more technical and financial capabilities being brought to bear on these new projects.”

Still, Musk’s presentation, which was posted on youtube.com, left a number of technical questions unanswered.

For example, while OneWeb already has Ku-band slots filed with the ITU that Wyler obtained through WorldVu, it is unclear whether Musk will have access to frequency slots in low Earth orbit.

“There’s the ITU filings, and we’ve done the filings associated with that,” Musk said during his talk. He was also vague regarding the ground system for his constellation, and whether he could make high-throughput ground terminals for low-Earth-orbiting satellites affordable for individuals.

“The user terminals will be at least $100 to $300, depending on which type of terminal,” he said, without explaining the challenge of developing antennas designed to track multiple satellites passing overhead.

Musk has long said his ultimate goal is to establish a permanent colony on Mars, and that his satellite venture could support this in multiple ways. First, he says, because satellites provide a better means to generate revenue than launchers, but also because Mars will need communications, too.

“A lot of what we do in developing an Earth-based communication system could be leveraged for Mars as well, crazy as that may sound,” Musk said.

via SpaceX, OneWeb Unveil Rival Broadband Constellation Plans | Space content from Aviation Week.

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Not in the same time zone? No Problem.

You don’t need to be in the same room. You don’t even need to be on the same continent.

Collaboration technologies are reaching a critical mass of adoption, making it possible to work efficiently with almost all of your colleagues and clients remotely. You meet, share computer screens, edit documents, and have quick chats without being physically together. Talked about for years and it’s now common place. Are you in?

When adopting any technology, there is a learning curve. Which technology suits which purpose? Will the technologies be a distraction? What is the etiquette for using a specific technology? Some conclude that these technologies are trivial, and not worth the time required to answer these questions. Springbok completely disagrees.
Springbok has many years of experience working with colleagues and clients in the next town over, on the west coast, and as far away as Africa and Australia.

Watch for upcoming posts for lessons we’ve learned and pitfalls to avoid.

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Comprehensive Redesign

Springbok’s website has undergone a comprehensive redesign and we are confident that the changes will make the site easier to use and more up-to-date. We’ve included some new areas of expertise, particularly staffing for defense. In addition, we have included our current projects and contact information.

Our plan is to update our website frequently with our new projects, ideas, and white papers. In addition, we plan on listing jobs that we are working to fill, check out our careers page to see if you are a fit.

Our new website will be a work in progress as we add and tweak things. We welcome your comments or suggestions.

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