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UK companies to build beam-hopping satellite

May 24, 2021

A group of UK space tech companies are developing a new beam-hopping satellite designed to allow satellites to switch which part of the world they cover, managing real-time surges in commercial demand or responding to emergencies such as natural disasters, thanks to Government funding.

Led by LEO satellite communications network OneWeb, the industrial partners have received over £32 million (€37m) from the UK Space Agency, via the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sunrise Programme, for a demonstration satellite scheduled for launch in 2022.

The satellite, nicknamed ‘Joey-Sat’ for its beam-hopping abilities, will be able to direct beams remotely to boost coverage in certain locations, such as areas of high usage where the network is struggling to cope with demand.

“From helping during a disaster to providing broadband on planes, this amazing technology will show how next-generation 5G connectivity can benefit all of us on Earth,” declared Science Minister Amanda Solloway. “It is fantastic to see some of our finest space tech companies joining forces on this exciting project which will put the UK at the forefront of satellite communications technology.”

The new funding, which builds on the UK Space Agency’s previous investments in the Sunrise Programme, will see OneWeb team up with other UK companies, SatixFy, Celestia UK and Astroscale UK, to demonstrate the technology for its second-generation constellation of satellites.

“Innovation and collaboration are at the core of OneWeb,” asserted Massimiliano Ladovaz, Chief Technical Officer at OneWeb. “Working together with our partners, OneWeb will accelerate the development and expansion of our cutting-edge technologies and manufacturing capabilities for the benefit of communities, enterprise and governments around the world. This is an exciting opportunity to work with talented potential supply chain partners and we are delighted with the support from ESA and the UK Space Agency to bring continued innovation across the whole of OneWeb’s connectivity ecosystem.”

The satellite’s pilot beam-hopping payload will be developed by SatixFy, based in Farnborough. The user terminal to support this satellite is also being developed by SatixFy, who have been awarded over £25 million.

OneWeb currently has 182 satellites with another launch of 36 satellites scheduled for May 27th. Designed to provide organisations and governments with global and resilient connectivity services, OneWeb’s network will feature 648 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, global gateways and air, maritime and land user terminals. In late 2021, OneWeb will begin providing commercial services across the Arctic regions and expanding to global coverage in 2022.

“Joey-Sat will be used to demonstrate how next-generation 5G connectivity can benefit life on Earth,” explained Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA. “ESA is proud to support the space industry in Europe to bring such innovation to the competitive global telecommunications market. We congratulate all the partners involved.”

With the support of these British companies, OneWeb is already starting to create the roadmap for its future generation constellation so as to be launch-ready for its Gen2 constellation in 2025.

OneWeb recently launched its first Innovation Challenge to seek further new technology to give its future constellations the capabilities to keep it at the forefront of satellite communications technology and meeting end-user demands.

The findings from the latest Size and Health of the UK Space Industry report, commissioned by the UK Space Agency, show income from the UK space sector has risen from £14.8 billion to £16.4 billion, representing growth of 5.7 per cent in real terms, while employment is up by 3,200 from 41,900 to 45,100.

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