Established satellite operators are devising plans to stay competitive while SpaceX seeks to grow the Starlink communications network as well as market its services. Gwynne Shotwell, who serves as the SpaceX president as well as a chief operating officer, stated during Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum on April 6 that the organization is going ahead with proposals to sell Starlink satellite internet connectivity directly to customers and is targeting the US government as a client.
Meanwhile, executives from private geostationary satellite providers argued that low-Earth-orbit systems such as Starlink could not be considered the only alternative to customers’ connectivity problems. SpaceX now has 1,320 satellites in orbit, with intentions to fly hundreds more this year. It will start deploying satellites in the polar orbits this summer.
According to Shotwell, the Defense Department is getting increasingly involved in low-earth-orbit networking systems and is developing its network. However, she anticipates the government purchasing commercial facilities as well. “You could see the government beginning to dream about proliferating LEO capabilities on its own,” she stated, “so I’m not sure how many they’ll end up purchasing from commercial.” “We will be delighted to sell government consumers private bandwidth.”
Since data may be transmitted with limited interruption or lag relative to services delivered by the geostationary satellites 22,000 miles above the equator, the Department of Defense has shown interest in the Starlink as well as other LEO communications services from the other suppliers, including Iridium and OneWeb. Owing to Earth’s curvature, geostationary satellites are unable to have continuous coverage of the polar regions. On the other hand, LEO satellites at lower altitudes, under 1,200 miles, have constant global coverage as they pass.
According to Steve Collar, SES is delivering a hybrid service that incorporates satellites from different orbits, the firm’s CEO. SES has geostationary satellites as well as a network of medium Earth orbit satellites some 5,000 miles above the Earth. The government, according to Collar, requires access to a unified network that takes advantage of several orbits to channel traffic depending on consumer demand.
Commercial and government clients, according to Collar, are perplexed by the various networks and suppliers. “Customers are confronted with a fragmented market that lacks cohesive solutions,” he added. He believes the solution is a regulated infrastructure that allocates network bandwidth depending on demand. “An intelligent brain that is conscious of the demand is required.”
Hughes Network Systems’ president, Pradman Kaul, stated the firm is also working on a convergence approach with OneWeb. Hughes will have geostationary satellite services as well as LEO access through OneWeb. He said, “We think we need a combination approach.”
Mark Dankberg, Viasat’s executive director, said there are benefits and drawbacks to consider. Viasat already operates geostationary satellites but declared last year that if it may apply for funding from the US Federal Communications Commission to deliver broadband to remote regions, it will create a network of approximately 300 satellites in low Earth orbit.