ABOUT the user average city dweller, the merger between Eutelsat and OneWeb is just an operation scholarships dark, not really disturbing. However, the European giant created in this way will be able to face a major competitor: the American SpaceX and his Starlink project. The object of their struggle? The conquest of space, or at least that of low orbit for satellites, and with them the mastery of high-speed space Internet.
But beware of this misleading name. The antennas of the satellites will not be pointed towards the ISS or a lunar station to allow Thomas Pésquet to read 20 minutes from his suit, but towards Earth. Towards the famous “white areas” to be exact. Open seas, mountain tops or the heart of the desert, these are the objectives of space internetwhich should make it possible to serve regions without optical fiber or ground infrastructure for signal transmission.
Pushing the limits of network coverage
Today, less than 50 million people are connected by satellite. For others, ADSL, fiber optic and 4G/5G networks still run through a long network of more than a million kilometers of cables, buried underground or laid out at the bottom of the oceans. “Connection 5G via satellites in low Earth orbit” should thus allow “coverage in extreme geographical areas or remote locations”, for example, the Thales, Qualcomm and Ericsson groups underlined in a joint press statement at the beginning of July.
Located just a few hundred kilometers above sea level, Starlink satellites promise a speed equal to fiber and a much shorter request execution time than that offered by the traditional satellite Internet network, whose geostationary vehicles hover at an altitude of more than 35,000 km. More than 2,000 satellites have already been launched by SpaceX, out of 4,400 that the Starlink “constellation” should have.
A flexible but polluting network
“The satellite network can also serve as a backup to terrestrial networks in the event of outages or major disasters,” they added. The most striking example: The request of the Minister of Digital of Ukraine to Elon Musk to bring an internet connection to areas hit by Russian military attacks since the invasion in late February. SpaceX had also donated 50 satellite terminals to Starlink Tonga Islands to help them reconnect in the world after a volcano erupted in mid-January.
More flexible, the network of these low-altitude satellites is in turn more sensitive to meteorological conditions. So, snow or storms will have an impact on the flow, but it’s over all solar flares which pose a risk. In February, about 40 Starlink satellites were disabled during a magnetic storm.
In a time of prudence and lack of resources, the potential of pollution what these satellites represent remains a big dark spot. “They will have to be constantly replaced”, with the risk of “multiplication” of space debris in low orbit, underlines an expert in this sector, which can be dangerous in the long term. All the more so that the fact of being near the Earth makes it necessary to send a large number of these satellites in a short time for the system to work. In itself, China plans to send 13,000 Guowang, UE 250 and Jeff Bezos 3,200 satellites to form its Kuiper constellation.