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OneWeb shareholder secures US Air Force as crucial customer for Arctic operations

OneWeb Svalbard.jpg

The US Air Force has emerged as a significant customer for UK/Indian satellite network OneWeb, saying it will use it for Arctic services.

The Air Force’s research lab says it will use OneWeb and Hughes Network Systems — one of OneWeb’s smaller shareholders — to connect the Arctic region to sites around the globe.

Dylan Browne, head of government services with OneWeb, said: “The OneWeb constellation has been designed to enable low-latency broadband access across the globe, allowing connectivity in previously unreached areas — a capability that is ideal for tactical, multi-domain operations in the polar region and beyond.”

Hughes said late on Thursday UK time that the deal is between Hughes Network Systems and the US Air Force (USAF). “The USAF customer is contracted with Hughes Network Systems and OneWeb acts as a subcontractor to Hughes.”

OneWeb already has a gateway (pictured) on the Norwegian island cluster of Svalbard, well into the Arctic circle. Built by Hughes, it is capable of 10,000 hand-offs a second, said OneWeb, which is planning to launch a total of 648 low Earth orbit (LEO), and thus low-latency satellites before mid-2022.

It has already launched 182 and initial services are due to start later this year, between 50° north latitude and the North Pole.

Only last week Capacity reported an industry executive close to the satellite business telling us that “OneWeb has an overlooked capability — 74 LEOs over the Arctic. With recent Russian and Chinese activity in the Arctic, it is now a zone of potential conflict with poor communications. OneWeb could be the solution.”

It is clear that this source was well informed about the Pentagon’s thinking, which has led to yesterday’s announcement.

Under the agreement, Hughes will test and implement these end-to-end services on the OneWeb system between selected US Northern Command locations, which OneWeb describes as “a first step in harnessing the power of LEO satellites for high-speed, low-latency broadband access in the Arctic”.

Rick Lober, VP and general manager of the defense and intelligence systems division at Hughes, said: “This opportunity reinforces the relationship between Hughes and the US Air Force to ensure resilient, flexible satcom networks for tactical, multi-domain operations.”

He said “the strategic Arctic region” was somewhere “where connectivity has been limited — until now”.

Geostationary satellites do not cover Arctic and Antarctic regions, as they are well below the horizon. The only significant satellites that have coverage in the polar regions until now have been those belonging to Iridium, which replaced its fleet in an expensive process that was complete two years ago.

OneWeb’s Browne said that with Hughes it will deliver “an interoperable and secure solution” to the US Air Force.

 

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