Satellite Internet is not something new, but only in the last five years large companies and states have begun to be interested in this topic. Previously, the desire to launch constellations of thousands of satellites was expressed by Amazon, as well as the Chinese government. However, only two major competing projects are currently being rumored – these are Starlink and OneWeb. What they are, we will find out in this material.
Through the thorns to the stars
The Starlink project was announced back in 2015 – Elon Musk promised a system of unprecedented scale that would provide Internet access from anywhere in the world. At the same time, the billionaire talked about low ping and speed, at least comparable to home wired Internet.
It was only in 2018 that the first test satellites TINTIN A and TINTIN B were launched, which were used to debug algorithms for interacting with base stations on Earth. In the same year, the US Federal Communications Commission issued SpaceX permission to launch two main constellations of 4425 and 7518 satellites.
TINTIN A и TINTIN B
On May 24, 2019, the first group of 60 satellites was launched into orbit. After that, SpaceX averaged 2-3 launches per month, sending 46-60 vehicles into space at a time. The existing constellation of satellites already allows providing Internet access services.
OneWeb began its journey in 2012, when American entrepreneur Gregory Wyler founded WorldVu, whose goal was to deploy a constellation of compact satellites to provide broadband Internet access. After re-registration in 2015, the company was renamed OneWeb, and also received investments from Virgin, Qualcomm, SoftBank, Airbus Group and other companies in the amount of $3.4 billion.
On February 28, 2019, the first six test satellites were launched, and from February 2020, OneWeb began to send production models into orbit. However, already in March of the same year, the company filed for bankruptcy, after which the British government and the Indian conglomerate Bharti bought the firm by auction. A launch planned for March using the Russian Soyuz-2.1b rocket was canceled, so according to the latest information, direct competitor SpaceX will take over the launch.
Comparison of Starlink and OneWeb
Since both constellations of satellite Internet are still at different stages of deployment, it would not be entirely correct to make any comparison. The hardware and software of satellites and terminals are gradually being improved, so the outcome of this confrontation is unpredictable. The presented information is given to get acquainted with the technical features of each project and to assess the prospects.
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Starlink as of March 19, 2022 includes 44 launches, during which a total of 2335 devices were launched into orbit. Part was deorbited due to uselessness (test versions) and various breakdowns (geomagnetic storm). 2086 devices are in working condition. Thus, the initial plan for the launch of 11926 satellites was implemented by 17.5% in 35 months.
However, do not forget that SpaceX intends to launch second-generation satellites into orbit – the final constellation will include 29,988 vehicles. A Falcon 9 launch would be too long for that number, so it is assumed that these vehicles will already be launched using Starship.
OneWeb sent 428 vehicles out of 648 planned into orbit, completing the program by 66%. Thus, due to the smaller planned number of satellites, the OneWeb constellation is nearing completion. If the company can maintain the pace of one launch per month (36 satellites), then in six months it will be possible to complete the project.
Technical parameters of satellites
starlink . SpaceX has its own production, where the devices are developed. The satellites are packed in two stacks of 30 under the Falcon 9 fairing. It is assumed that the upcoming Starship will already be able to put 240 to 400 vehicles into orbit in one launch.
The Starlik satellite is made in the form of a panel, the plane of which is parallel to the Earth’s surface. At the top there is a folding solar panel. Unfortunately, there are no official specifications regarding the parameters of the device, so the data presented here is only indicative. Panel dimensions – length 3.2 m, width 1.5 m, thickness 0.2 m, weight is estimated at 260 kg (v1.0) and 295 kg (v1.5). The solar array consists of 12 segments, so the estimated peak power is about 6 kW. The operating altitude of the operating satellites of the first group is 550 km.
There are six antennas on the body. Two parabolic feeder antennas – for communication with the Gateway (ground gateways) operate in the Ka-band (17.8-19.3 and 27.5-30.0 GHz). For communication with subscriber stations, four flat phased array antennas operating in the Ku-band (10.7-12.7 and 14-14.5 GHz) are used. Three of them work for transmitting information, and one for receiving.
For maneuvering and increasing the working orbit, an electric rocket engine (EPR) is used, or more precisely, an electrostatic ion one on krypton. The fuel reserve will last for a period of operation of five years, after which the satellite can be deorbited, where it will burn up in the dense layers of the atmosphere. Specifications are not stated, however, enthusiasts suggest that the engine is capable of delivering about 100 mN.
Each satellite at an altitude of 550 km covers a zone with a diameter of 1900 km. It is assumed that 16 directional beams are used for communication with subscriber terminals, the diameter of which depends on the degree of inclination. Each beam passes sector-by-sector along a certain route, collecting information from each user terminal and transmitting it to the Gateway (gateway). Thus, the satellites manage to serve hundreds or thousands of terminals with a limited number of beams.
The devices of the first generation do not have inter-satellite communication (ISL – Inter Satellite Link), which was announced at the presentation. However, some of v1.5, such as polar satellites, already have laser communication terminals on board.
Based on SpaceX’s pricing of $67 million to launch a single Falcon 9 rocket, it costs approximately $1.12 million to put a single satellite into orbit. SpaceX’s production allows the creation of about 120 satellites per month, for comparison, the creation of one device for the geostationary orbit takes about 2-3 years.
one web. The satellites are manufactured at Airbus Defense and Space’s facility in Florida. Until March 2022, the vehicles were delivered into orbit using Soyuz-2.1b rockets and Fregat-M upper stages. The satellites were packed around the perimeter of the cylindrical base – in one launch, the Soyuz rocket launched up to 36 pieces.
Officially, information on technical characteristics is also practically not presented. The device has a cubic shape with dimensions of 1x1x1.3 m, weight 147 kg. On the sides is a pair of solar panels. There are two pairs of antennas on board – for communication with the gateway, a pair of antennas in the Ka-band (17.8-18.6, 18.8-19.3 and 27.5-29.1, 29.5-30.0 GHz) is used, and for communication with user terminals – the second pair of antennas with phased arrays in Ku-band (10.7-12.7 and 14-14.5 GHz). The latter are made in the form of small planks, each of which is inclined at a certain angle. This is to reduce signal loss from the electronic steering.
OneWeb satellites also use ERE, but another subspecies is a plasma engine. All launched devices are equipped with the Russian development SPD-50M. However, after the imposition of sanctions, developers will have to look for an alternative, and what exactly is still in question.
The project provides for 648 devices at an altitude of 1200 kilometers. The system can use 16 subscriber beams. For example, the picture below shows the formation of a coverage area for three different satellites.
Thus, a higher orbital altitude makes it possible to cover the entire globe with a smaller number of devices, but at the same time, the load on one satellite increases.
Since OneWeb will no longer be launched by the efforts of Roskosmos, it is not yet possible to talk about upcoming launches – the details of the deal with SpaceX remain secret. Production in Florida, according to various sources, produces two satellites per day or 60 per month.
You can compare coverage areas of Starlink and OneWeb here .
Starlink coverage area
Starlink satellites can be called more technologically advanced – they have four Ku-band antennas versus OneWeb’s two, a more cost-effective ion engine (krypton is cheaper than xenon), and supposedly better traction. The latter will allow faster maneuvering in case of threats of collision. At the same time, the specificity of the design allows you to send more devices into orbit in one launch with a larger mass of one satellite in comparison with OneWeb.
The question remains how much it costs to build one satellite and maintain them. Starlink already has more than 2,000 satellites in orbit, and it takes a lot of resources to analyze the huge amount of data. For example, in May 2020, when there were only 420 machines in orbit, more than 5 TB of telemetry data was generated daily.
Declared speeds, user terminals and real tests
If the OneWeb satellite constellation, unlike Starlink, is close to completion, then the opposite is true with subscriber equipment. However, first, let’s look at what data transfer options each company offers:
It should be understood that the presented speeds are only estimates. For example, during the first test of a system of six OneWeb satellites, an engineer was able to achieve a download speed of 400 Mbps. However, the real figure in the presence of many subscribers will be much lower.
SpaceX has a similar situation – real speeds are constantly changing in the course of software upgrades and an increase in the constellation of satellites. After the devices begin to support laser communication with each other, Elon Musk promises speeds up to 10 Gb / s, which is much higher than originally announced.
Subscriber terminals Starlink. When applying to the FCC, SpaceX presented five options for the terminal. Now the company has two models in its assortment:
In addition to the plate, the kit includes a Qualcomm IPQ4018 SoC-based router and a power supply with cables. There are also two versions of routers, the latter has more advanced features.
According to the news, starting May 10, the following tariffs will take effect: the cost of the kit will cost $599, and the monthly fee will be $110 per month. It is assumed that both of these kits are only the first version of the terminals, which means that the design will still be modernized.
OneWeb subscriber terminals are still at the prototype stage, according to open sources. The initial version was made as a rooftop structure with a dish under a dome and built-in solar panels. It was also stated that the router will have support for Wi-Fi / 3G / 4G.
The cost of this version for the end consumer turned out to be sky-high, so a more compact version, OW1, was introduced in 2021. This is a flat phased array antenna measuring 50x43x10 cm and weighing 10 kg. No other technical specifications, as well as prices, have been announced. It is assumed that the entire kit will cost in the region of 200-500 dollars.
There is no point in comparing terminals yet, since SpaceX is actively upgrading its kits, and OneWeb has not yet presented anything to users.
Real internet speed measurements. Since OneWeb does not provide its services to customers, there are no real tests. According to various sources, users will be able to count from 50 to 100 Mbps per terminal.
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SpaceX is already actively providing its services around the globe, so users are sharing their results. In August 2020, the first measurements showed download speeds in the region of 35-60 Mbps and ping from 30-95 ms.
As of November 2021, Starlink was able to deliver results of 100-320 Mbps for downloads and pings in the region of 40ms depending on geographic location. The results will only improve with the increase in the number of satellites and the introduction of new gateways.
SpaceX has made more progress in deploying Starlink satellite internet, with more than 2,000 satellites in orbit and sales of subscriber stations. However, the project provides for the launch of 30 thousand satellites, and when the system will work at full capacity remains a question. OneWeb, in turn, is completing the deployment of satellites, but even here, against the backdrop of recent events with Roscosmos, there have been hitches. It will be necessary to wait for the sale of the first user terminals not earlier than the beginning of 2023.