LEO Satellites Constellations: The New Space-Race For Global Internet Access

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Space exploration and exploitation, an old domain of government agencies, entered a new exciting chapter. Right now there are more than 800 private companies operating in the commercial space sector, a business that is growing bigger and bigger.

Satellite internet has been around for quite a while but up until now it was considered like the “service of last resort” for a restricted number of people who live in places that can’t be reached by the cable.

The technology wasn’t fast and reliable enough and it was very expensive to send into space huge and heavy piece of equipment,  that can weight up to 11 tons.

Things are about to change very soon thanks to an amazing new wave of innovation in the space sector that sees small satellites constellations as a solution to foster a space-based internet connection service that can reach every single place on the globe and is preparing to disrupt traditional home broadband services.

Low Earth Orbit Satellites (LEO) and Satellite Constellations

A big shift in satellite internet services is coming thanks to the Low Earth Orbit satellites, a new kind of satellites that are designed to orbit between 400 and 1,000 miles above the earth’s surface.

Unlike traditional satellites, they are much smaller and lighter and definitely much cheaper. They already cost around $1 million and it is about to drop in a very short time thanks to the standardization of many satellite parts and the production on assembly lines. It is an industry that is gradually becoming less and less capital intensive.

This has the potential not only to grow the number of satellites around the earth, but also to change the management of the satellites constellations: with a much cheaper and numerous satellites, a company can decide to integrate or replace many satellites or an entire constellation if things don’t work properly.

Many expect the LEO industry so literally “skyrocket” in the near future, presenting many groundbreaking opportunities as technological progress advances.

It is a big deal for the future of internet, because a satellite constellation was once an enormous and expensive effort.  In the recent years satellite design changed, making building, launching, and operation of “smallsat” constellations increasingly feasible.

In order to achieve a global coverage with LEO satellites, large constellations are required, indeed they are made up by thousands of small satellites instead of few bigger ones.

Large LEO constellations can provide a constant and 100% world coverage,  and this is extremely important for a number of reasons.

If you are reading this article I guess that you live in a place with an internet connection, that might be taken for granted in developed countries but it’s not the case for the entire globe.

Source: Our World in Data

Right now, the number of users connected to the internet are roughly a half of the world population. That means that half of the world is offline and that is a waste of potential.

LEO constellations can really change that in a matter of years and offer their services to a market that has billions of users.

The New Space-Race for Internet Connectivity

LEO satellites are a relatively new technology and there is a number of companies that are pioneering new solutions.

The new private sector space-race is now open with the aim of building massive low earth orbit satellites constellations that can really bring high-speed wireless internet access to every corner of the world, a market that is very attractive.

The following here are just some of the biggest and more promising projects, big plans that overshadow our current satellite infrastructure:

  • SpaceX is working at the Starlink project to build and launch a colossal 4000+ small satellites constellation for a $10 billion effort. It will beam down cheap and easily accessible WiFi internet access to users all over the world, even in regions that never had coverage before. This new infrastructure of satellites, weighting between 100 and 500 kilograms, has really the potential to make the global space-based internet service a reality.

  • OneWeb is another promising player in the small satellites sector. With a partnership of investors like Virgin Galactic and Qualcomm, they are planning to build a network of 700 micro-satellites for a $2 billion effort that will aim to be competitive both on price and connection speed when compared to standard internet services on earth.

  • Amazon is currently working on Project Kuiper, that would lead to the deployment of a fleet of 3,236 satellites into low earth orbit with the aim to provide high-speed internet connection everywhere around the globe. Global internet is a huge opportunity for everyone, even more for Amazon that is the leader in cloud services and ecommerce.

They are not the only ones, companies like Boeing, Telesat, Planet Labs, Digital Globe and many others are working to put small satellites into orbit e provide new services to new customers.

The space-based wireless internet revolution is here and it is all made possible by constellations of small LEO satellites. New technologies, the reduction of costs, the increase of internet users will have an enormous impact on many applications like communications, market intelligence, weather monitoring, surveillance, and much more.

LEO satellites are the new frontier of internet connection and have significative advantages over traditional geostationary satellites in terms of costs, latency, building, launching and operations.

One thing is sure, the coming of space-based internet will be a complete game changer for the future of internet, big data and digital services. A future that might be nearer than we perceive.

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