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OneWeb and Musk spat gets legal

March 26, 2019

A bitter war of words between two would-be ‘mega-constellation’ satellite operators is getting extremely legal.

The spat became highly public back on February 21st when Elon Musk’s SpaceX “Starlink” (which wants to launch up to 12,000 smallish satellites to provide global broadband connectivity) published a no-holds barred response to Greg Wyler’s OneWeb (which wants to launch an initial 900 smallish satellites to provide global broadband connectivity) and which was highly critical of OneWeb’s attempts to curb the frequencies and orbital plans of SpaceX’s Starlink.

Late last year SpaceX modified its initial application to the FCC and saying it now wanted to launch the first phase of 1584 satellites (out of an already approved 4425) to a lower operational orbit of 550 kms high.

OneWeb complained. It had already grumbled about Starlink’s initial orbital scheme, at 1100-1300 kms, and a tad too close to OneWeb’s plan to orbit its fleet at about 1200 kms. In essence, OneWeb demanded that the FCC forbid any activity below its designated 1200 kms orbital heights. The Starlink plan to operate about one-third of its fleet well below that of OneWeb created another flurry of OneWeb objections.

This prompted Starlink’s lawyers to state, on February 21st: “OneWeb is now challenging SpaceX’s plan to reduce altitude to further enhance the space safety attributes of its system. Considering OneWeb’s frequent request that SpaceX take this exact step of moving farther away from OneWeb’s proposed constellation, one is left to wonder whether OneWeb would be satisfied with SpaceX operating at any altitude whatsoever.”

This squabble could run and run as the two space giants battle it out for supremacy. Starlink has two test satellites in orbit (Tintin A and B) and will be adding many more this year and in 2020. OneWeb launched its first 6 craft in February. Well before the end of this year OneWeb will be launching its fleet at a rate of 30 per rocket, and providing demonstration services next year.

However, there are plenty of independent suggestions that both outfits might find it difficult to monetise their ambitious plans.

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