The word ‘satellite internet’ becomes popular after Amazon’s founder spoke with the telecom ministry to provide rural internet connectivity in India.
The Satellite tech was there for decades, unlike it was solely utilized by defence personnel mostly in the past. The first communication satellite was injected into the earth’s orbit in 1957 through Sputnik-I by the USSR marking the race of space technology between global powers.
The initial day’s space tech was utilized for telecommunication and earth studies which extended its purpose in the due years, the world has witnessed space exploration triumph between The US & USSR, which indeed contributed a lot to science and technology.
Communication through satellite medium was there since the space race has begun, but the access wasn’t directly in the common man’s hand.
The subsequent era of Internet tech is satellite internet. The race to satellite internet is to deliver affordable high-speed, low-latency internet to underserved regions of the world.
Several well-funded organizations have already commenced launching satellites and more launches are scheduled. Despite the competition featuring a diverse number of space competitors, they’re all focused on the uniform solution, orbiting networks. Let’s take a closer look at those networks and the companies inventing them.
Satellite Internet – A basic understanding
A satellite dish placed in your house will receive the internet from space which is flickered by satellites. The technology will be wireless as the internet reaches ‘directly’ from satellites revolving in Lower Earth Orbit.
All these competitions among the competitors are occurring for an area called Low Earth Orbit ‘LEO’ which is situated as low as 160KM to 1000KM from Mean Sea Level.
A Low Earth orbit requires the lowest amount of energy for satellite stationing. It provides high bandwidth and low communication latency. Satellites and space stations in LEO are better accessible for crew and servicing.
This advantage is about to be exploited as they claim lots of benefits there are a lot of disadvantages as well for these LEO satellite networks which potentially orbit earth 11.3 times or once every 128 Minutes.
This promises uninterrupted connectivity in all parts of the servicing area as there’ll be a constellation of them revolving in a loop.
Unlike Geo Synchronous Satellites, those in LEO have a small F.O.V(field of vision/lower serviceable area) and so can observe and communicate with only a fraction of the Earth at a time. That means that a network (or “constellation”) of satellites is required to provide continuous coverage.
LEO satellites can’t encircle as much area as a geostationary satellite, so companies launch more of them to create clusters, called satellite constellations.
Satellites within a constellation can communicate with one another to create what amounts to an orbiting network.
Satellites in lower regions of LEO also suffer from a fast phenomenon called orbital decay which in the due period will tend to lose its spacing between the adjacent satellites which can result in a mishap and create huge space debris (Collision of Iridium 33 with Russian Satellite Kosmos 2251) which functionally affect all orbiting satellites in space by collision or interference and require either periodic re-boosting to maintain a stable orbit or launching replacement satellites.
The fore-front leader of the space internet race, started way before these new-age constellations were even conceived in 1997 which comprised of 181 LEO Satellites most of which are in the state of Orbital Decay except 73 active satellites. The initial days of a mobile network were using satellites using the iridium network. Motorola made the hardware for this 200Mhz bandwidth device
The Revolutionary US Space Company from the “Space X” with their ‘Star-Link’ project which already launched 1,735 satellites into their constellation of 42,000 of which 4,425 was expected to be completed by 2024.
The UK-based OneWeb owned by Bharti AirTel Headed by Indian industrialist Sunil Mittal has already launched 358 satellites into their constellation of 648 satellites in the LEO.
In the summer of 2018, Facebook revealed that it was working on a satellite-based network service and was expected to launch by 2019 and it’s still under the hood of development.
Project loon was a dream project of Alphabet Inc. which is the parent company of Google. This project is a little different from the LEO constellation instead google is planning to introduce a network with weather balloons as a floating network in the sky using high Bandwidth Transmitters.
Still, this has a lot of challenges when compared with LEO satellites as it is inside the atmosphere weather, objects like airplanes, drones, radar planes, passenger, military planes, etc have a hit and run chance. Because the air stream isn’t constant always and it is difficult to navigate such weather balloons and durability concerns are still a quest.
The Race Winner
Despite many of these efforts being collaborative, But picking a front-runner depends on how you define winning. Iridium is clearly in the lead in the business internet sector for decades. OneWeb has the shortest timeline but has to launch a greater number of satellites. And SpaceX has the most ambitious plan, so it might build the coolest network even if it isn’t the first one to finish.
But who are the real winners in the new space race? People. The millions of human lives that will benefit from accessing high-speed internet are the biggest perk to launching more satellites than the financial gains of the companies and billionaires behind it.
Written by Dr. Shaheed.
Dr. Shaheed is a Kerala-based tech geek, currently pursuing his master’s in data analytics at tata institute of social sciences, Mumbai.
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