oneweb beam hopping satellites

Beam-hopping satellites in development at Government-owned firm OneWeb

Image credit: PA

A ‘beam-hopping’ satellite that switches which part of the world it covers depending on demand or in response to emergencies like natural disasters is being developed by a group of UK space tech companies.

Led by global satellite communications network OneWeb, which was acquired by the Government last year following bankruptcy, the project has received over £32m from the UK Space Agency.

Current plans are to launch a demonstration satellite, nicknamed ‘Joey-Sat’, in 2022. It will be able to remotely direct beams to boost coverage in certain locations, such as areas of high usage where the network is struggling to cope with demand.

Edinburgh-based company Celestia UK has received £4.4m of this funding to reduce the project’s carbon footprint and increase the efficiency of the network.

“From helping during a disaster to providing broadband on planes, this amazing technology will show how next-generation 5G connectivity can benefit all of us on Earth,” said Science Minister Amanda Solloway.

“It is fantastic to see some of our finest space tech companies joining forces on this exciting project, which will put the UK at the forefront of satellite communications technology.”

The satellite’s pilot beam-hopping payload and its support terminal will be developed by the Farnborough-based SatixFy, which has been awarded over £25m.

The firm’s CEO, Charlie Bloomfield, said: “We are really excited to be demonstrating new game-changing satellite payload capabilities in space next year, in collaboration with OneWeb.”

The UK Space Agency said it was confident that the technology would result in the lowest-cost and highest performance electronically-steered multibeam user terminals on the market.

OneWeb currently has 182 satellites with another launch of 36 satellites scheduled for later this week.

The firm ultimately intends to launch a network of more than 650 low Earth orbit satellites that will be able to beam down internet services from space and possibly provide coverage to blackspots in rural areas.

A report commissioned by the UK Space Agency this week, showed income from the UK space sector has risen from £14.8bn to £16.4bn between the period 2016/2017 and 2018/2019, representing growth of 5.7 per cent in real terms, while employment is up by 3,200 from 41,900 to 45,100.

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