Aerospace & Defence

Beam-hopping OneWeb satellite soars into space

22nd May 2023
Harry Fowle

OneWeb uses advanced UK technology to switch coverage between different places on Earth up to 1,000 times per second has been launched into space.

Nicknamed “JoeySat” (after a baby kangaroo) for its ability to beam hop, it will help improve broadband internet connectivity from space by adapting rapidly to changing demand from users, supporting OneWeb’s next-generation satellite constellation in low Earth orbit.

Taking off alongside 15 other OneWeb satellites from the Vandenberg launch pad in California at 2:16pm (BST) on 20th May, JoeySat was developed with £52 million funding from the UK Space Agency awarded to UK satellite technology firms through the European Space Agency’s Sunrise Programme.

UK Space Agency CEO, Dr Paul Bate, said: “OneWeb’s JoeySat will be a game-changer for satellite communications, offering the chance to improve people’s lives through reliable connectivity, whether that means better broadband services in remote places, or the ability to respond more effectively to emergency situations.

“As part of our priority to deliver missions and capabilities to our flourishing space sector, the UK Space Agency has invested more than £50 million into the mission, funding both the innovative technology behind JoeySat’s creation and the development of a wider ecosystem that will ensure a reliable and sustainable end-to-end service.”

JoeySat’s technology will be able to switch the satellite capacity between different places on Earth up to 1,000 times per second, enabling it to provide services from managing real-time surges in commercial demand, to providing broadband on planes and responding to emergencies and natural disasters.

The signal strength can also be rapidly deployed to 5G mini hubs connected to OneWeb communication network, to help meet wider service demands.

OneWeb, which employs around 400 people in the UK, received approximately £5 million of the UK Space Agency’s investment, while SatixFy received £25 million to build the digital beam-hopping and beam-steering payload – the ‘brains’ of the satellite.

Massimiliano Ladovaz, CTO at OneWeb said: “The JoeySat reflects the spirit of innovation and collaboration in space and promises to enable OneWeb to continue enhancing the performance and capabilities of our high-speed, low-latency satellite network to areas in need. The innovation behind the JoeySat would not be possible without ESA and the UK Space Agency, and we thank them for their invaluable partnership.”

Charlie Bloomfield, CEO of SatixFy Space Systems, said: “SatixFy’s JoeySat payload is truly remarkable, with in-house developed ASICs, reconfigurable software, regenerative processing and digital beamforming and hopping capabilities.

“It's a testament to our team's skill and commitment to excellence that we were able to design, develop, and fully qualify this complete payload in just 15 months."

To support the wider Sunrise programme, Astroscale was awarded £17.5 million to develop technologies to de-orbit unresponsive satellites and Celestia received £4.4 million to develop and trial smart ground-station technology using an electronically steered antenna that will reduce ground network footprint and costs.

Payload environmental tests were also completed in the UK.

Astroscale UK Managing Director, Nick Shave, said: “The launch of the highly innovative JoeySat mission is an exciting event for the space sector. With OneWeb’s advanced technology, we’re moving towards a better-connected world underpinned by ubiquitous, real-time satellite communications.

“Our collaboration with OneWeb, ESA and the UK Space Agency through the Sunrise Programme is enabling Astroscale to develop new services that will keep our orbital highways clear. Working together, we are developing world-leading technology to safely remove Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites that have reached the end of their operating lives, ensuring a sustainable operational environment for critical space-based infrastructure.”

Celestia UK CEO Malachy Devlin said: “Today is a momentous day for all partners involved and we are proud that Celestia-developed technology is at the heart of the ground-breaking project we are witnessing.

“The solution we have created for the OneWeb constellation, based on a high-performance multi-beam gateway using an electronically steered antenna with agile tracking capability, reduced footprint and cost, is ground-breaking in its own right.

“Now, with the technology aligned with the next generation of satellites by OneWeb and supported by the UK Space Agency, we have a commercial solution that helps bring global connectivity one step closer.”

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