History of Satellite Communications
Before we deep dive Low-orbit satellites, let’s start with the development of satellite communication can be traced back to the 1980s, and has gone through three main stages so far.
- Late 1980s – 2000
- Development Orientation: Comprehensive Alternative Communication System Representative Enterprises: Iridium Project, Globalstar, Telides
- Construction subject: telecom equipment enterprises.
- Market reaction: The market positioning is unclear, the construction achievements are too high, the research and development cycle is too long, and most of the attempts end in failure.
At the stage of attempting to replace the terrestrial communication network, the main purpose was to provide voice and low-speed data services. However, due to various reasons such as high technical complexity, excessive investment, long R&D cycle, and weak system capabilities, in the competition with the terrestrial communication network, Declare failure. A typical representative of this stage is the Iridium Project (Iridium Communications Inc.).
- Development Orientation: Backup of Ground Communication System
- Representative companies: New Iridium Project, Global Star and Orbital Communications Corporation
- Main body of construction: Telecom equipment enterprises Market response: The investment cost and market positioning are more optimized, and it has certain competitiveness, but the scale is limited.
After entering the 21st century, satellites have entered the supplementary stage of ground communication networks. For example, in extreme environments, they provide mobile communication and navigation services to users such as aviation and navigation. About 2,000 to 30,000 kilometers), with the advancement of launch vehicle, material technology, millimeter wave communication and other technologies.
- 2014 to present
- Development orientation: form a seamless communication network that complements and integrates with ground communication
- Representative companies: Starlink, OneWeb
- Construction subject: Space X, OneWeb, Meta and other Internet technology giants
- Market reaction: It will become a seamless supplement to the ground communication system, and the prospect is promising
Since 2014, satellite communication has entered the stage of integration with global network access services, satellite Internet of Things and 5G. Musk’s SpaceX and the UK’s OneWeb have begun to lead the construction of new satellite communication at this stage, which is to operate on the surface. A low-orbit satellite at an altitude of about 300 to 1,500 kilometers.
Current Developments in LEO Satellites
Advantages of LEO satellites
Amid massive capital investment and fierce competition from large companies, technologies such as satellite mass production and low-cost rockets have gradually matured, and obstacles to the application of low-orbit satellites have been solved. They are close to the ground, have short communication delays, high data transmission rates, and are mobile The weight and volume of the terminal are almost the same as those of personal mobile devices, and its advantages such as being more suitable for mass popularization are becoming increasingly obvious. With the rapid development of modern mobile communications and electronic component technology, the problems such as call quality, data transmission rate and usage cost that restricted early low-orbit communication satellite systems have been easily solved.
How big is the market?
According to the data released by the American Satellite Industry Association in May 2020: In 2019, the total revenue of the global satellite industry was about 286 billion US dollars, accounting for about 77% of the global aerospace industry, with a year-on-year increase of 3.2%. The global satellite industry as a whole showed a steady growth trend . From the perspective of industrial structure, satellite operation services and ground equipment manufacturing constitute the main body of the satellite industry, of which satellite operation services account for the largest proportion.
The current size of LEO satellites
The launch of low orbit satellites (LOS) is represented by projects such as Starlink and OneWeb. Looking at the progress of other operators, as of the end of March, Oneweb had 618 satellites, and Telesat had 80 satellites launched, while the smaller satellite operators Iridium, Globalstar (Australia ticker: GSAT) and Inmarsat have launched a total of 104 satellites .
My book on Starlink
I discussed two companies, Starlink and SpaceX, in my recent book “The Rules of 10 Baggers“. In order not to repeat the content, the content mentioned in the book will not be repeated here:
- Sections 5-8, pages 252-268
Starlink and SpaceX
Starlink is a subsidiary of SpaceX, a space startup founded by Tesla (ticker: TSLA) founder Musk, which specializes in satellite communications.
Musk said in September 2023 that the number of Starlink satellites in orbit is expected to be twice that of all other satellites in 2024. In fact, he had stated earlier in 2023 that SpaceX might account for 80% of the world’s payloads launched in 2023. This declaration has actually reached the target.
Starlink’s current scale
As of August 2023, the total number of Starlink satellites has reached 4,940. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has allowed Starlink to launch 7,500 second-generation satellites. In order to carry more satellites, SpaceX The second-generation launch vehicle, Starship, was also launched. Although the first test launch failed in April 2023, after thousands of upgrades, Musk revealed that the next test launch will greatly improve the success Rate.
Musk’s eventual plan is to build a massive constellation of 12,000 satellites and possibly expand to 42,000 more.
Number of users
According to Starlink, by the end of July 2023, the total number of subscribers has reached more than 1.5 million.
Service available countries
The network services provided by Starlink have been officially launched in 2021 and have been launched in more than 50 countries or regions, with services covering the United States, Japan, most of Europe and some Latin American regions. In Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique, and Luanda can receive Starlink services, and more than ten other countries are expected to follow up by the end of 2024.
Service plan content
The download speed is usually about 100MB per second, and the military, telecommunications and aviation companies are all vying to subscribe to the Starlink network. Individual subscribers need to pay about US$600 to obtain the terminal, plus a service fee of US$75 per month, and the subscription fee for enterprises or governments is higher.
In February 2023, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell publicly stated that Starlink is expected to become profitable in 2023. After two years of losses, it finally made a small profit in the first quarter of 2023. Starlink’s parent company, SpaceX, has released its first earnings quarterly report in the first quarter of 2023.
- Revenue of 1.5 billion US dollars.
- The net profit was 55 million, which was the first profitable quarter for SpaceX since its establishment.
After SpaceX announced the sale of internal stock in July 2023, its valuation has approached $150 billion:
- This company valuation figure is comparable to the valuation of listed companies Intel or Disney.
- In recent years, SpaceX has continuously appeared on the world’s most valuable ranking list, and no matter which list it is, it is always in the top three.
- At the beginning of the bear market in the capital market that began in 2022, the valuations of almost all unlisted new unicorns have been greatly revised down, and SpaceX is one of the very few new startups whose valuations have not been greatly revised down.
Founded in 2012, OneWeb is currently the company that has launched the second largest number of low-orbit satellites besides SpaceX. Since 2020, it has launched more than 629 satellites, making it the second largest low-orbit satellite network service in the world after Starlink. company.
The original OneWeb plan was to build a network of 588 executive satellites and 60 spare satellites, and commercial services are expected to begin in mid-2020.
As of the end of March 2023 figures, Oneweb has 629 LEO satellites. According to its plan, it hopes to eventually achieve global coverage of more than 1,980 satellites.
OneWeb’s main investors are the British government and India’s Bharti Enterprises, which hold nearly 53% of the shares. Japan’s Softbank (ticker: SFTBY) is also a major shareholder, and once wanted to give up OneWeb when OneWeb went bankrupt in 2020. But after the UK government injected capital, Softbank changed its mind and invested another $350 million in satellite startup OneWeb.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper
Blue Origin is a space startup founded by Amazon (ticker: AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos. After Bezos stepped down as CEO of Amazon, he is currently focusing on the company’s operations at Blue Origin.
In April 2019, Amazon announced the formation of the satellite network Amazon Kuiper Project “Project Kuiper”, which will consist of 3,236 satellites and aims to provide broadband Internet services to users around the world.
In July 2021, Amazon further acquired PointView Tech, the satellite Internet subsidiary of META (ticker: META).
Note: In 2017, Facebook established a subsidiary, PointView Tech LLC, and invested millions of dollars in research and development of an experimental satellite called Athena, which will transmit data 10 times faster than the Starlink satellite network.
In June 2022, Amazon signed a multi-billion dollar deal with three companies to launch the largest rocket in the history of commercial spaceflight. The three companies will make up to 83 launches for Project Kuiper over the next five years. The first two low-orbit satellites were successfully launched on October 6, 2023.
In July 2023, Amazon announced that it will spend $120 million to increase production capacity and build its own satellite factory, which will produce Project Kuiper network satellites.
Service will begin in 2024
In March 2023, Amazon plans to provide satellite Internet services to the first customers in 2024.
An equipment provider
StaixFy (ticker: SATX) is currently one of the members of the OneWeb Satellite Alliance, the second largest low-orbit satellite factory. It mainly develops ground stations and on-board terminal-related chips for OneWeb. It is expected to expand its business and research and development after raising funds in the future strength and accelerate the development of satellite alliances.
In addition to OneWeb, StaixFy also provides low-orbit satellite data machine chips for Canadian satellite operator Telesat. By the end of 2021, 288 ground receiving antenna chips have been shipped. Other customers include STiDirect and Airbus (ticker: EADSY).
emergency communications for iPhone 14
A satellite operator invested by Apple Inc. (ticker: AAPL). The emergency communication service provided by Apple’s own iPhone from iPhone 14 uses Globalstar’s satellite system. Due to the huge number of iPhone users, Apple currently uses up to 85% of Globalstar’s network capacity.
This feature will initially only be available to iPhone 14 users in the US and Canada. And this service will also expand to France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom after December 2022, and Apple does not rule out further expansion to more countries and regions. It allows users to take out iPhone 14 and enable satellite SOS emergency contact when they need help on a deserted mountain and there is no mobile network or WiFi, and send an emergency signal to the rescue department according to the prompt on the mobile phone, and according to the The returned message is supplemented.
In November 2022, Apple said that as the iPhone 14 provides emergency text messages, it will spend at least $450 million on U.S. infrastructure to provide this service, most of which will go to Globalstar.
Invested by Apple
On March 1, 2023, Globalstar disclosed that Apple had provided it with a financial loan of US$252 million for satellite services, and the company’s stock price immediately rose by 8%.
Iridium (ticker: IRDM) is a global satellite communication network initiated by Motorola (ticker: MSI), with 66 low-orbit satellites distributed around the world as the communication center, allowing anyone in every corner of the world to communicate with the world Communicate with people anywhere.
As early as 1997-1998, the American Iridium Satellite Communications Company commissioned Motorola to design a global satellite mobile communication system as the originator of commercial low-orbit satellites. However, by the time the network was completed in 1998, the Iridium plan The actual cost is more than 5 billion US dollars, but it can only provide extremely limited Internet bandwidth.
Iridium was scheduled to enter service on November 1, 1998. However, because there was not enough demand in the market at that time, it underwent bankruptcy reorganization in 1999 and became the current Iridium. However, due to the communication needs of the US Department of Defense, Iridium satellites are still widely used by the US Department of Defense.
On the other hand, terrestrial cellular mobile communications (GSM), which emerged at almost the same time, have developed from 2G to 5G due to their large user base and obvious cost advantages. However, Iridium has been very successful in commercialization due to its huge R&D and system construction costs. As a result, the company filed for bankruptcy, with debts of more than $4 billion at the time of bankruptcy. As a result, the company later had to reorganize.
Focus on enterprise business customers
In November 2021, the Canadian satellite communication company (Telesat, ticker: TSAT) announced the merger with Loral Space Communications and listed on Nasdaq. , Internet services for commercial customers. Unlike its main target customer group, which is different from Starlink’s plan to target the general public, Telesat plans to use its satellites to provide global enterprises and commercial customers with high-speed fiber optic networks.
Telesat shareholders include Loral and Canadian pension fund PSP, with shareholding ratios of 64% and 36% respectively.
Telesat’s core development project is called “Lightspeed Project”, which aims to lay out a low-orbit broadband satellite network. Telesat satellite suppliers are mainly provided by space equipment manufacturer Thales Alenia Space.
As of the end of March 2023, Telesat’s satellite system already has 80 satellites. The ultimate goal is to have 298 satellites.
The business schedule is set in 2026.
International Maritime Satellite Organization (ticker:VSAT) is a British satellite communications company providing global mobile services. With 11 geostationary communication satellites and ground stations for communication through portable or mobile terminals, it provides telephone and data services to users around the world. Inmarsat’s network provides communications services for governments, aid agencies, media and businesses that need to communicate in remote areas or where reliable terrestrial network communications are not available.
In early 2010, Google (ticker: GOOGL), HSBC (ticker: HSBC) and European cable TV operator Liberty Global (ticker: LBTYA) launched the O3b plan. The original meaning of O3b is “Other 3 billion”, referring to With 3 billion people still unable to access the Internet, the plan initially made slow progress, and its project team then went back to the drawing board to build another important company, OneWeb.
Originally built, owned and operated by O3b Networks, which became a wholly-owned subsidiary of SES in 2017. In 2016, the ownership and operation of Constellation were transferred to SES Networks (ticker: SGBAF), a division of SES. The O3b MEO constellation went into service in March 2014.
Beidou Satellite Navigation System (BDS) is China’s dual-use satellite navigation system for both military and civilian use. It has developed to the third generation. The first geostationary orbit satellite was launched in 2000, and 59 satellites have been launched so far. BDS, GPS of the United States, GLONASS of Russia and Galileo of the European Union are the four core suppliers of global satellite navigation systems recognized by the United Nations. Beidou Star Communications is a listed company that promotes the private industrial application of Beidou.
China’s low-orbit satellites
Although China’s low-orbit satellite industry started relatively slowly, it has also developed rapidly in recent years: in 2021, China Star Network Group, with a registered capital of 10 billion yuan, was established in Xiong’an. In 2022, China Star Network Group will start the construction of satellite communication ground network, and prepare for the construction of commercial rocket launch base at the same time, showing good commercialization prospects.
China Star Network Group Corporation will be established in 2021 to coordinate the development of domestic low-orbit communication satellites. The GW constellation is currently the largest low-orbit communication constellation in China. Private capital low-orbit satellite companies represented by Spacety will also effectively promote the commercialization process of China’s satellite Internet.
Two leading companies
There are currently more than 7,000 satellites in orbit around the world, while China has only about 700; it can be seen that China is indeed far behind its international counterparts in this field. China currently has two main low-orbit satellite companies: China Star Network and Yuanxin Satellite Technology.
China Star Network
China applied to the International Telecommunication Union for the State Grid Constellation Project in September 2020. It plans to launch 12,992 satellites. It plans to complete the launch of the first satellite in 2023 and realize the operation of a 300-star network in 2030.
The launch plan of nearly 13,000 satellites of China Star Network will be the main cake for future commercial rocket companies. Representatives of private enterprises such as Spacety have now received orders from China Star Network, and many leading companies have also been shortlisted in China Star Network’s bidding.
gmscosmo Satellite Technology
GMS Cosmo Satellite Technology (aka Yuan Xin) will build a G60 star chain with more than 12,000 satellites, launch 2 first-stage test satellites in 2019, launch 2 second-stage test satellites in 2021, and complete the bidding work related to 648 satellites and launch vehicles in 2022. It is expected to be launched in 2024. It will begin batch launching its own batches of 1,296 satellites in 2020, with the construction period from 2024 to 2027.
China’s national team
According to public information, starting in 2018, CASC(China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation) began to implement the “Hongyan” constellation plan, preparing to launch more than 300 satellites; CASIC(China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation) released the “Hongyun” constellation plan, preparing to launch 156 satellites and so on.
Today, China’s commercial space industry has basically formed a rocket company represented by the three winners of Land Space, iSpace, and Galactic Energy, as well as satellite companies represented by Changguang Satellite, Spacety, MiNo Space, and Galaxy Space. At present, the above-mentioned companies that have been recognized by the capital level have also obtained a relatively stable development space-although the process of scouring the sands of this big wave is long and difficult.
In July 2023, according to the latest valuation statistics from the media: Changguang Satellite, Galaxy Space, Land Space, and GeeSpace have been valued at over 10 billion yuan, of which Changguang Satellite ranked first with a valuation of 28 billion yuan; iSpace, Expace and Galactic Energy are valued at 7 billion to 9 billion yuan; by the end of 2022, CAS Space, One Space, and Long March Rocket are all valued at 6.7 billion yuan.
Smartphones support satellite communications
Another topic closely related to this article is: starting in 2022, many general consumer smartphones will begin to provide support for satellite communications. Please refer to my other article for this part: “Smartphones that support satellite calls“.
I am the author of the original text, the essence of this article was originally published in Smart Magzine
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