In a filing that could be right out of science-fiction, the small East African state of Rwanda has formally filed an application with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva to license a huge number of low Earth orbiting satellites.
The ITU has confirmed the application which will now proceed through the its conventional application process.
The detailed application calls for two fleets of craft (Cinnamon 217 and 937) totalling 327,320 satellites.
The Rwandans want to launch 27 of what they describe as “orbital shells” with each ‘shell’ comprising 12,960 satellites. These, plus an equatorial ‘shell’ take the total to 327,320. The satellites are given orbital ranging heights of 550-643 kms.
The ITU filings have drawn some intersting comments. For example, astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell (at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics) says: “This filing seems likely to be a ‘let’s establish that not all of LEO gets owned by the Americans’ ploy. But it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
McDowell admitted that it was just possible that another country or entity could be using the Rwandans as a “front” but did not think there was any country in the world that can plausibly launch such a big constellation at the moment.
Nevertheless, Rwanda has a strong history of being interested in satellite – for educational and health connectivity. It was a founder investor in OneWeb for example, and Rwanda remains an investor in OneWeb’s post-bankruptcy activity. Rwanda built its first (extremely modest) cube-satellite (RwaSat-1) back in November 2019. It was carried from the Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center up to the International Space Station and deployed from the Space Station.
The 10 x 10 cm RwaSat-1 cube-sat weighing less than 1.2 kg was designed for space research to help the Rwandan government monitor water resources, natural disasters, agriculture and meteorology,
Rwanda, now working within its Rwanda Space Agency, stated via the RSA’s CEO Francis Ngabo on October 17th: “One vital step Rwanda has taken towards [these aims] is our first filing of a satellite constellation to the ITU. This is a necessary step for any nation hoping to become operational in space. Advances in technology – including the abilities to develop smaller satellites, and to re-use satellite launchers – means that this field has more potential than ever. Space is no longer reserved for a handful of countries, as it was in much of the 20th Century. This filing reflects that fact, and is a signal of our ambitions for the near future.”