SpaceX and OneWeb bury the satellite constellation hatchet

Will play nicely in Earth orbit


A letter has been filed with America's communications watchdog confirming that SpaceX and OneWeb, which are building mega-constellations of broadband satellites, are content to play nicely.

The letter sweeps all the unpleasantness between the two neatly under the rug "after extensive good-faith coordination discussions." Despite what could charitably be described as snarky remarks about each other to the FCC over the years, the duo have agreed that their first-generation broadband satellite services can, after all, co-exist.

"Their respective second-round systems can also efficiently coexist with each other while protecting their respective first-round systems," the memo, dated June 13 and shared by Reuters' journo Joey Roulette today, reads.

Both companies hold US-market access authorizations issued in 2016 for their first-round satellite systems and both have subsequently applied for second-round systems.

At time of writing there were 2,372 total working SpaceX Starlink internet satellites in orbit, according to astronomer Jonathan McDowell and 425 working OneWeb satellites. Both companies have plans to add to this total, although OneWeb (which requires fewer satellites than Starlink) has seen its launch cadence stall somewhat in recent months.

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Originally launched atop Soyuz rockets, OneWeb has had to look elsewhere for its ride to orbit. In April it inked a deal to use Indian vehicles to launch its satellites, and in March it turned to SpaceX for its rockets. We asked OneWeb if the requirement to use SpaceX's Falcon might have played a part in this coming together of minds. A spokesperson told us that the events were "Totally unconnected."

The spokesperson went on: "Negotiations and discussions have been underway for considerable time. They reflect that the FCC does not recognise our ITU priority position on spectrum filings for its National spectrum regulation. This is a USA coordination and we are delighted it has been achieved."

And the batch of OneWeb spacecraft that were supposed to have flown atop a Soyuz? "The satellites remain in Baikonur."

OneWeb was granted access to the US market for its V-band satellites in 2020. That filing proposed adding a V-band payload to the 720 Ku/Ka band constellation already approved and an additional 1,280 V-band satellites at a nominal altitude of 8,500km. SpaceX was given permission to add more than 7,000 satellites in 2018 [PDF] and things have grown in the years since.

Amazon (which has its own satellite constellation plans) memorably took exception to SpaceX's goals last year, with a strongly worded letter sent to the FCC in light of an attempt by Musk's rocketeers to sling up another 30,000 broadband satellites. The Register contacted Amazon to get its take on the coordination promised by SpaceX and OneWeb, and the cloud giant had nothing to share on the matter.

Finally, SpaceX has lodged a formal protest against Viasat's proposed takeover of Inmarsat. ®

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