OneWeb Broadband Satellites Gain Platinum Score for Space Sustainability

Eutelsat’s global network of OneWeb broadband satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which was partly supported by the UK Government, has just secured a platinum score in the Space Sustainability Ratings (SSR) that is designed to encourage such companies to create and implement sustainable space missions and operations.

OneWeb (aka – Eutelsat OneWeb) currently has 634 small (c.150kg) first generation (GEN1) Low Earth Orbit (LEO) platforms in space – orbiting at an altitude of 1,200km above the Earth (588 of them for coverage and the rest for redundancy). The network was technically completed in March 2023 (here) and promises both ultrafast broadband speeds and fast latency times.

NOTE: Eutelsat has its HQ in Paris, while OneWeb is a subsidiary operating commercially as Eutelsat OneWeb with its centre of operations remaining in London. BT is currently working with OneWeb on a UK rural broadband trial (here and here).

The good news this week is that OneWeb’s network has secured the top Platinum rating badge from the SSR, which is an organisation that encourages space companies to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and then ranks those efforts via a scorecard. Just to be clear, the sustainability of space relates to efforts that are aimed at tackling the risk of space debris, on-orbit collisions, and unsustainable space operations.

The SSR is formulated as a combined score based on the evaluation of six individual modules, where different aspects of space sustainability are covered. A rated entity will receive a “Tier Score” that will determine the rating level between Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. Each of the SSR tiers are achieved after earning a certain combined score between 0 (low) and 1 (high), based on the combined evaluation of individual modules.

The six modules include the Mission Index, which calculates the impact of spacecraft on operational risk, Collision Avoidance Capabilities; Data Sharing; Detectability, Identification and Trackability; Application of Design and Operation Standards; as well as the use of future External Services. Clearly, OneWeb’s network is going in the right direction on this front.

An international consortium developed the methodology behind the rating, including experts from the European Space Agency (ESA), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, BryceTech and the University of Texas at Austin.

Eva Berneke, CEO of Eutelsat Group, said:

“With our increased presence in both LEO and geostationary orbit (GEO), we remain committed to the sustainable and responsible use of space. We are honoured to receive SSR’s recognition and congratulations to the entire team for their hard work and dedication to sustainable and safe operations.”

Just to be clear, the new rating only applies to their first-generation satellites. The operator does also plan to launch hundreds more satellites in the future (funds allowing), which are expected to reflect a GEN2 model that could sit in a higher Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) of 8,500km. The GEN2s are widely expected to have more data capacity, support for 5G mobile and may, possibly, introduce enhanced navigation and positioning features.

However, Eutelsat recently signalled that it will aim to make the GEN1s last longer than originally anticipated, while also phasing-in the GEN2s more slowly over time and with fewer satellites. The change in strategy is partly due to the low failure rate of the GEN1s and Eutelsat’s desire to spread the capital expenditure (cost) burden over a wider period of time, which helps to de-risk the investment.

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