Viasat’s plan to provide internet access to the entire world rests in its production of a constellation of three satellites, dubbed Viasat-3. Viasat took a large step toward completion in June when they finished major testing on the first of these three satellites and shipped it to the Boeing Satellite Systems facility in Segundo, California. Boeing will be partnering with Viasat to help with its upcoming satellite launches.
This first satellite of the constellation will be locked with earth’s rotation to stay over the American continents and their oceans. This milestone means Viasat is one step closer to launching its first Viasat-3 satellite on schedule, early 2022.
The Viasat-3 constellation will have two more satellites. The second satellite will be locked over Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and will thus be called Viasat-3 (EMEA). The third will be locked over the Asia Pacific regions and will be called Viasat-3 (APAC). Despite setbacks from the pandemic, the Viasat-3 project continues to push forward. The Viasat-3 (EMEA) payload is scheduled for delivery to Boeing later 2022.
The new constellation has been meticulously designed so that it can provide powerful services all around the world for 15 years or more without any repairs. The satellite trio is built to provide over 3 Tb/s of service, which is about eight times more than all of Viasat’s current satellites combined.
While the project has been able to continue moving forward, there have been some scheduling changes due to the pandemic. Rick Baldridge, the president and CEO of Viasat cautions, “I can't predict that there won't be any other COVID impacts." The pandemic had a large impact on many companies, including Viasat, but it did well enough to at least keep some forward momentum.
The progress on Viasat-3’s first satellite puts them one degree closer to being the first global satellite provider. But they aren’t the only company in the race. SpaceX’s Starlink has also already launched over a thousand low-earth orbit satellites. Starlink is only in it’s beta phase right now and is only offering service to the US, Canada, and the UK, but there are plans to add thousands more satellites to the Starlink constellation and to increase coverage across the globe.
But Viasat has openly, and even legally, questioned the environmental impact of SpaceX filling our atmosphere with thousands of satellites. Viasat officially requested the FCC to pause SpaceX’s progress until the courts can make a judgment on the potential environmental dangers of the Starlink system, which is projected to have up to 42,000 satellites in low-earth orbit.
Viasat argues, "The Commission has violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing even to assess the environmental impact of both deploying thousands of satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) and then having those satellites ultimately disintegrate into the atmosphere." Viasat’s concern, whether legitimate or just a business ploy, is that such sudden and immense changes to our atmosphere could be harmful and irreversible.
Viasat is also complaining to the FCC about the results of the RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) auction, which is a reverse auction where companies bid for funding by promising to provide broadband internet for unreached areas. Whoever provides the most convincing, cheapest bid gets the funding. Viasat, who didn’t win any funding in the auction, believe they were treated discriminately compared to SpaceX . SpaceX won the fourth highest funding amount, almost 900 million dollars.
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