Airbus earned the laughter of the industry at the Paris Air Show by announcing a “contract” to manufacture a constellation of 900 150Kg Low Earth Orbit satellites for OneWeb.
Of course OneWeb does not have any money. So, the Airbus release obliquely hints, it is only actually making 10 satellites with the rest an aspiration to be made, apparently at some as yet to be built factory in the USA, for reason not explained. Clearly OneWeb subsidy maestro Greg Wyler thinks he can persuade some US rust belt politicians to offer manufacturing incentives. Rumour had it that Airbus has actually financed these 10 satellites costing a few hundred of thousand dollars each. Eric Bernager, the Airbus executive who bought Vizada for $900 million, shortly to be sold on for a tiny fraction of this, will be hoping that his reputation in the industry for picking commercial winners is burnished.
However, of course 10 satellites out of a planned constellation of 900 is meaningless as a business so what’s it about? The purpose is to initiate the process of seeking spectrum filings through the laborious ITU filing process, getting a system into the queue ahead of the recently announced Spacex project to launch a few small demonstrator satellites.
This will not however persuade the world’s Geo Ku band operators to happily accept the potential radio interference that such a system could cause. We have been here before, and at present the industry sees no way that catastrophic harmful interference could be avoided, so the giants like Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat will bring a hammer down fast on the idea – in fact all three have made references to this in recent public filings.
Neither does it solve the problem that the dish and modem technology required does not exist, and the only company even trying hard to research flat panel, shape shifting phased array antannae required in science fiction to make OneWeb work, Kymeta, signed up to develop it’s tech exclusively with Intelsat, reported here before as a canny move by the Americans to shut down speculation over the emergence of such Fairy Tale tech.
At a few million dollars invested, this won’t break the bank at Airbus. But Motorola and Loral were financially wrecked by similar LEO adventures in the 90s. Airbus shareholders will no doubt keep a close eye on this fantasy.