Facebook building “Internet satellite” system

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According to a report in Wired and which details an FCC Freedom of Information Act request, social media giant Facebook is indeed building – or planning to build – an initial satellite but which could lead to a system to “efficiently provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world”.

This is far from the first such report that Facebook has such ambitions. Advanced-Television has previously reported on assorted schemes, notably for a lease – booked via Eutelsat – of capacity on an Israeli satellite owned by Spacecom. That satellite (AMOS-6) was lost in a pre-launch explosion of a SpaceX rocket back on September 1st.

More rumours were reported this past May by the well-regarded IEEE Spectrum publication with FCC filings by a business which appeared to be a subsidiary of Facebook, PointView Tech (incorporated as a Delaware business only in April 2017) and using the name ‘Athena’ for its proposed system, and due to launch its first Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellite/s some time in 2019 aboard a smaller Arianespace Vega rocket.

Athena is designed to use E-band spectrum and the FCC filing talks of it delivering 10 Gb/s. Each Athena satellite will weigh around 150 kgs, and much the same as those craft proposed by SpaceX itself and the SoftBank-backed OneWeb satellites.

The FCC filing states: “PointView’s request for experimental authority also encompasses two earth station that will conduct E-band communications with the satellite. The mission will be to determine whether such satellite communications can effectively provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world.”

The Facebook/PointView filing talks of using a ground-based teleport near Ventura, California or possibly operated from an 80,000 sq ft office facility reported being refurbished in the Northridge area of Los Angeles.

However, as detailed reports in the technical press suggest, if the ‘Facebook’ satellite is a singleton then its downlink time will be limited to eight minutes per overhead pass, and to even begin global coverage it would have to have “thousands” of orbiting satellites in operation.

Furthermore, E-band spectrum suffers badly from rain or high-humidity levels in the lower atmosphere. Part of the scheme’s plan is to test how efficient the concept could be.

Wired magazine says that Facebook has confirmed its project, adding that the company believes satellite technology will be an important enabler of the next generation of broadband infrastructure.


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