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FCC gets five new applications for non-geostationary satellite constellations

Tuesday, March 7, 2017 4:42
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Boeing’s plan to deploy a constellation of V-band satellites in non-geostationary orbit has prompted at least five companies, including SpaceX and OneWeb, to file me-too proposals with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC had given companies until March 1 to disclose whether they also had plans to use the same V-band that Boeing had applied for in November of last year. 

The five companies — SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat, O3b Networks and Theia Holdings — all told the FCC they have plans to field constellations of V-band satellites in non-geosynchronous orbits to provide communications services in the United States and elsewhere. So far the V-band spectrum of interest, which sits directly above Ka-band from about 37 GHz to the low 50 GHz range, has not been heavily employed for commercial communications services.

Boeing also submitted a new application to the agency asking to use the 37.5 to 42.5 GHz range of V-band for downlinking from spacecraft to terminals on Earth, and two other swaths, (47.2 to 50.2 GHz and 50.4 to 52.4 GHz) for uplinking back to the satellites. The company’s proposed constellation would consist of 1,396 to 2,956 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for providing connectivity. The FCC originally deferred on Boeing’s request to operate in 42 to 42.5 and the 51.4 to 52.4 GHz range back in November.

The wave of new applications follows those that 11 companies, including Boeing, filed in November when the FCC set a deadline for any operators to come forward if they had plans to operate in the same bands that OneWeb proposed for its constellation of low-Earth-orbiting internet satellites. All of the companies that met the FCC’s March 1 deadline for V-band plans had participated in the November processing round as well.

Most companies are describing their potential use of V-band satellites as follow-ons to pre-existing plans for constellations in Ku- or Ka-band. SpaceX, for example, proposes a “VLEO,” or V-band low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellation of 7,518 satellites to follow the operator’s initially proposed 4,425 satellites that would function in Ka- and Ku-band. Canada-based Telesat describes its V-band LEO constellation as one that “will follow closely the design of the Ka-band LEO Constellation,” also using 117 satellites (not counting spares) as a second-generation overlay.

Newcomer Theia asked the FCC to allow it to use V-band frequencies for gateways on the ground that would have originally only used Ka-band. The company wants to operate a constellation of satellites for both communications and remote sensing, and claims that because its spacecraft will have “regenerative” payloads, that “there is no specific relationship between V-band uplink frequency bands and downlink frequency bands.”


OneWeb told the FCC it wants to operate a “sub-constellation” of 720 LEO V-band satellites at 1,200 kilometers, and another constellation in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) of 1,280 satellites. Added together, that expands the OneWeb constellation by 2,000 satellites — a move the company said last week that it would decide on making by the end of this year. OneWeb said in its March 1 filings that the company would “dynamically assign traffic” between the LEO and MEO V-band constellations based on service requirements and the data traffic within coverage areas.

OneWeb’s application for MEO follows that of ViaSat’s in November for 24 MEO satellites to augment ViaSat-3, the company’s trio of terabit-per-second-throughput satellites currently underway. ViaSat bundled its request for use of V-band together with its application for MEO Ka-band. O3b this March told the FCC that it wants market access to V-band for up to 24 additional satellites that would operate in a circular equatorial orbit as a constellation called O3bN.

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