SES says its constellation of medium Earth orbit O3b satellites now has the ability to expand from an equatorial system to a global system thanks to new approvals from U.S. telecom regulators. U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved the Luxembourg company’s request to sell satellite connectivity services in the U.S. with 26 additional O3b satellites. Those satellites would operate in both inclined and equatorial orbits, expanding O3b’s coverage from its present 50 degrees out from the equator all the way to the poles.
With 16 satellites already in space, SES’s new authorization will permit it to operate a total of 42 satellites in medium Earth orbit. The new satellites will include four more first-generation satellites built by Thales Alenia Space for launch next year on an Arianespace Soyuz, 10 satellites in inclined orbits, and 12 satellites in equatorial orbits.
SES said the FCC approval enables the company to “triple its next-generation O3b mPOWER fleet” for which Boeing is building the first seven satellites in anticipation of a 2021 launch. Each O3b mPower satellite has more than 10 times the capacity of the first-generation satellites, according to SES. The first seven are estimated to provide some 10 terabits of total throughput.
SES, when announcing O3b mPower last September, said the first seven satellites would cover 80 percent of the Earth’s surface, but would not be limited to that coverage footprint.
“We designed O3b mPower as a system, not as a bunch of satellites, and not as limited to the first seven satellites that we launch,” Steve Collar, then CEO of SES Networks and now CEO of all of SES, said at a press conference. “O3b mPower will be and is conceived as being a fully global system.”
SES operates the O3b satellites in 8,000-kilometer orbits, roughly a fourth of the distance to Earth compared to geostationary satellites, enabling significantly lower signal lag.
To date all of SES’s O3b satellites operate in Ka-band, using high-throughput spot beams for broadband connectivity and network services. The FCC’s approval included rights to six satellites with higher frequency V-band — a region of spectrum satellite operators has been testing for commercial use. SES is the second company to obtain FCC approval for V-band satellite communications following Hughes Network Systems in March. Other companies including Boeing, Viasat, SpaceX, OneWeb, Theia Holdings and Telesat have also requested authorization for V-band satellite systems.