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Telesat ups LEO plans

May 29, 2020

Notwithstanding the financial challenges head – and a string of bankruptcies from those pushing for satellite mega constellations – Ottawa-based Telesat is asking US regulators to approve a significant expansion of its planned 209-craft constellation. Now it wants 1671 satellites.

Earlier this week it was reported that OneWeb, despite being in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, wants to boost its constellation to a massive 48,000 satellites in orbit from the current planned 648. Just 74 were orbited prior to it entering bankruptcy protection.

Back in November 2019 LeoSat, a would-be constellation operator, failed and suspended operations having struggled to put financing in place. LeoSat, which was backed in part by Thales Alenia Space, wanted 108 satellites in orbit. Its initial finance came from Hispasat and SkyPerfect/JSAT of Japan but the two declined to participate in a further funding round.

Telesat already has two test/debut satellites in orbit, but is just one business that on May 26th filed applications to the FCC to modify its plans. OneWeb made its similar 48,000 satellite expansion plan on the same day.

Telesat initially wanted just 117 satellites in its Low Earth orbiting plan. Then its plans expanded to 298 craft. Now it wants a 1671 constellation in two orbits for efficient delivery of broadband connectivity.  However, it has yet to confirm who will build or launch the satellites but has signed provisional contracts with two – unnamed – prime contractors.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is also extremely active in this space with his ‘Starlink’ system already having launched some 420 satellites. Another 60 were due to launch on May 27th but the planned – and now delayed – launch of two astronauts to the International Space Station interfered with the Starlink launch schedule. The next launch for Starlink is now expected in early June. Musk has firm plans for an initial 12,000 satellites and eventually another 30,000 on top of that.

The ‘Holy Grail’ for these low-orbit satellites is low latency broadband connectivity, and delivering that bandwidth to anywhere on the planet.

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