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OneWeb to lead beam-hopping satellite project funded by UK

The satellite will be designed to hop between beams, in order to remotely direct beams of coverage to certain locations to deal with demand.

OneWeb has been tapped to lead a consortium of space companies to develop a satellite that can beam hop, switching which part of the world it covers. The group has received about £32m ($45m) from the UK Space Agency, through the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sunrise Programme. A demonstration satellite is set for launch in 2022.

The satellite, nicknamed ‘Joey-Sat’ for its beam-hopping abilities, will be able to remotely direct beams to boost coverage in certain locations, such as areas of high usage where the network is struggling to cope with demand.

Speaking about the project, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “From helping during a disaster to providing broadband on planes, this amazing technology will show how next-generation 5G connectivity can benefit all of us on Earth. It is fantastic to see some of our finest space tech companies joining forces on this exciting project which will put the UK at the forefront of satellite communications technology.”

The new funding, which builds on the UK Space Agency’s previous investments in the Sunrise Programme, will see OneWeb team up with other UK companies, SatixFy, Celestia UK and Astroscale UK, to demonstrate the technology for its second-generation constellation of satellites.

Massimiliano Ladovaz, Chief Technical Officer at OneWeb, added: “Innovation and collaboration are at the core of OneWeb. Working together with our partners, OneWeb will accelerate the development and expansion of our cutting-edge technologies and manufacturing capabilities for the benefit of communities, enterprise and governments around the world. This is an exciting opportunity to work with talented potential supply chain partners and we are delighted with the support from ESA and the UK Space Agency to bring continued innovation across the whole of OneWeb’s connectivity ecosystem.”

The satellite’s pilot beam-hopping payload will be developed by SatixFy, based in Farnborough. The user terminal to support this satellite is also being developed by SatixFy, who have been awarded over £25m.

Charlie Bloomfield, CEO of SatixFy Space Systems, commented: “We are really excited to be demonstrating new game-changing satellite payload capabilities in space next year, in collaboration with OneWeb. The £25m funding from the UK Space Agency via ESA, matched with SatixFy’s own internal investment, will not only demo best-in-class future payload capability, but will also result in the lowest-cost and highest performance electronically-steered multibeam user-terminals on the market. UKSA and ESA support has been fundamental in unlocking these new technologies and we look forward to a fruitful and ongoing partnership with them.”

Celestia UK, based in Edinburgh, has been given £4.4m to develop and trial smart ground-station technology featuring multibeam electronically steered antenna to reduce the footprint and costs of each ground station and increase the efficiency of the whole ground network.

José Alonso, President of Celestia UK, stated: “The business opportunity that OneWeb and UK Space Agency have presented to Celestia UK in the context of the Sunrise Programme is outstanding. The pioneering project we are developing looks set to become a game-changer in the satcom ground segment market. Gateways and user terminals are key elements in the OneWeb constellation, and Celestia UK’s products will be state-of-the-art and fit for commercial purpose. We are very proud to be part of Sunrise.”

The Sunrise Programme has maintained a clear focus on encouraging the development of Responsible Space using debris removal technologies, and this element is being developed by Astroscale UK, based at Harwell Campus, Oxfordshire. Astroscale UK has received close to £2.5m to develop novel technologies to safely de-orbit unresponsive satellites.

John Auburn, Managing Director of Astroscale UK and Co-Chair of the In-orbit Servicing and Manufacturing Working Group at UK space, said: “Astroscale UK will deliver important innovations in space debris removal, develop new expertise on Harwell Campus, and provide UK commercial leadership to help protect space for future generations. Following our ELSA-d mission demonstrations later this year, the Sunrise programme will help to mature our debris removal technologies ready for commercial service launch by 2024.”

OneWeb currently has 182 satellites with another launch of 36 satellites scheduled for May 27. 

Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, added: “Joey-Sat will be used to demonstrate how next-generation 5G connectivity can benefit life on Earth. ESA is proud to support the space industry in Europe to bring such innovation to the competitive global telecommunications market. We congratulate all the partners involved.”

With the support of these British companies, OneWeb is already starting to create the roadmap for its future generation constellation so as to be launch-ready for its Gen2 constellation in 2025.