Tampa, Fla. SpaceX launched a technology demonstration satellite for OneWeb’s second-generation broadband constellation on May 20, along with spare parts for the British company’s existing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) network and another network operated by US-based Iridium Communications.
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 21 spacecraft lifted off at 9:16 a.m. EAST through dense fog at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on a polar trajectory to the south.
All five Iridium segments deployed an hour later, followed by 16 OneWeb satellites separating in pairs.
The rocket’s first stage successfully landed on an unmanned vessel in the Atlantic Ocean for reuse after its eleventh flight.
OneWeb and Iridium separately confirmed contact with all of their satellites after the mission, which was delayed a day for reasons not disclosed by SpaceX.
OneWeb now has 633 first-generation satellites in LEO, though it only needs 588 to provide global coverage, with the rest serving as backup in orbit.
The satellites powering OneWeb passed the mark of 588 satellites launched on March 25, and the company recently said it was on track to launch global commercial services by January.
The satellites were built by prime contractor Airbus OneWeb Satellites, the Florida-based joint venture the operator shares with Airbus.
Iridium has selected European company Thales Alenia Space as the prime contractor for the Iridium NEXT connectivity constellation of 66 operational satellites in low Earth orbit. SpaceX launched all of these satellites between 2017 and 2019, plus nine reserve satellites into orbit.
The May 20 mission launched five of the six backup satellites that Iridium had been holding in storage for at least four years. Iridium made no mention of plans to deploy a final ground reserve.
Gen2 in OneWeb
One of the satellites launched for OneWeb, JoeySat, is designed to test capabilities for a second-generation constellation that the company said could be deployed as early as 2025.
Among the many new technologies on JoeySat is the ability to target beams and signal strength remotely, according to OneWeb, allowing the satellite to increase capacity in areas of higher usage in response to increased demand.
Israel-based SatixFy built the JoeySat payload, backed by funds from the European Space Agency and the British Space Agency, for assembly by Airbus OneWeb Satellites.
JoeySat uses the same satellite platform as the first-generation 150-kilogram OneWeb spacecraft.
French geostationary fleet operator Eutelsat, which is seeking regulatory approvals to buy OneWeb, said on May 11 that its second-generation satellites will be larger than the first-generation and capable of delivering three to five times more capacity .
The companies also expect to need only a constellation of about 300 second-generation satellites, in part because they can take advantage of Eutelsat’s network in geostationary orbit over high-demand areas.
Eutelsat and OneWeb have not yet selected a second generation satellite manufacturer.