Internet-from-space provider OneWeb has received a much-needed boost following the suspension of upcoming satellite launches by Roscosmos, the Russian state space corporation.
The assistance comes from an unlikely source – fellow mega-constellation provider SpaceX. In a recently agreed deal, SpaceX has agreed to provide its rockets to launch OneWeb satellites. OneWeb currently has 428 out of a total of 648 satellites in space, and aims to use them to provide broadband coverage across the planet.
The exact terms of the deal are confidential, but it is certainly raising eyebrows – after all, SpaceX itself is currently building its StarLink network, which is also intended to provide broadband access from space. Despite these similar purposes, Mr McLaughlin of OneWeb argued that the companies are not to be seen as direct competitors (“We see them as being a broad-based consumer internet supplier…We see ourselves as a more niche, government, polar enterprise service. Very, very different products”).
However, whatever this deal may imply for the specific relationship of SpaceX and OneWeb, it would appear that SpaceX see the internet-from-space market as competitive. While Elon Musk has previously declared his opposition to filing patent applications for SpaceX, patent filings for the corporation have sharply increased from 2018 onwards, and the majority of these appear to be directed toward space-based antennae and other StarLink technology.
OneWeb and SpaceX are not alone with their mega-constellation aspirations, and it will be interesting to see how competition heats up, and if any granted patents are relied on, as more satellites are launched and deployed.