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Boeing swipes at Starlink as it finishes two internet slinging satellites

5,000 redirectable beams in each bird

Boeing has delivered a pair of O3b mPOWER satellites to telecom network provider SES – and had a dig at rival space broadband technologies along the way.

The spacecraft are scheduled for launch into a Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) of about 5,000 miles (8,000km) next month.

Once in orbit, the satellites "will provide low-latency, high-throughput connectivity to users around the world," said Boeing. The satellites will do this using 5,000 steerable beams in each bird.

SES chief technology officer Ruy Pinto explained the satellites would provide connectivity to government and businesses in remote regions – areas often devoid of such services.

"In times of natural disasters, when networks are disrupted, O3b mPOWER's low-latency services can quickly restore critical communications networks," added Pinto.

The satellites will also have the ability to be redirected so they won't be locked to a particular customer.

"Instead of relying on fewer, larger, fixed beams or a proliferated Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation covering vast regions – systems that struggle to fulfil high-density demand – the software-driven O3b mPOWER system is equipped with shapeable beams that can be repositioned based on real-time data from SES customers' terminals, delivering a superior end-user experience," said Boeing.

That's a swipe at SpaceX's controversial Starlink satellite broadband constellation, and Amazon's planned rival called "Project Kuiper". Both require thousands of satellites, irking astronomers and creating an orbital hazard that other satellite operators must navigate.

Low Earth Orbit sats have proliferated, to the point at which the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in September it is "no longer sustainable to leave satellites in LEO to deorbit over decades." The agency wants to require space operators to pull their equipment from orbit after five years of residency. Previous rules allowed for 25 years.

Predictably, SES and other operators have pushed back.

Satellites in MEOs experience other challenges – like increased exposure to radiation. And for this reason, these O3b mPOWER satellites are equipped with toughened custom designed solar arrays. Other features are Boeing's 702X software-defined payload that includes those 5,000 beams per satellite. The full constellation will include multi-terabit capacity and electronically steered phased-array antennas.

According to the aerospace giant, the remaining nine satellites SES contracted it to make are still being built, tested, or integrated. When ready, they can be launched in pairs or groups of three. Two additional launches are planned for the first quarter of 2023, and the service is slated to be available months later in the third quarter. ®

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