back to article UK government shakes magic money tree, finds $500m to buy a stake in struggling satellite firm OneWeb

The ongoing saga of OneWeb and the UK's ambition to be a major space player took another twist today with the confirmation that $500m will be splurged by Whitehall on the satelite biz. OneWeb, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, has been the subject of speculation in recent weeks as bidders circled. A …

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  1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Hmm.

    I'm not sure I wish to get my broadband connection from the government(*).

    (*) British understatement.

    1. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: Hmm.

      Think of how much time and trouble you’ll save. Now HMGov won’t have to go to the trouble of warrants or even just leaning on the ISP, they’ll have everything they need right in front of them. You’re a meanie for wanting poor innocent civil servants to actually work for a living. Bad suspect. No cookie.

    2. Natalie Gritpants Jr

      Re: Hmm.

      No reason why you shouldn't run a VPN over the link. I assume you already do that over your phone line broadband if you're concerned that GCHQ is listening.

      1. tfb Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: Hmm.

        Have they not yet made VPNs illegal? Because, you know, criminal bad criminal foreign people, use them, right?

        1. Natalie Gritpants Jr

          Re: Hmm.

          Too late for that now that so many people are using company VPNs to work from home. They could ban them and then pay for the resulting unemployment but I doubt that will happen.

          1. tfb Silver badge
            Alien

            Re: Hmm.

            I'm sure it will be possible (at least in what passes for their minds) to mandate that only VPNs which have suitably backdoored encryption will be allowed. And when the keys leak and someone compromises all the banks and takes down the financial system, why, that won't be anything to do with them, it will be the filthy criminals fault.

            Dominic CummingsThe UK government: not even the smartest people in an empty room.

            1. idiottaxpayerhere previously ishtiaq/theghostdeejay

              Re: Hmm.

              Sorry to tell you this, but there is no such thing as a "backdoor".

              Only weakened encryption. Go read and learn.

              Cheers… Ishy

              1. Stoneshop Silver badge
                FAIL

                Re: Hmm.

                Go read tfb's comment again.

                There's nowt suggesting that he thinks (VPN) encryption can be backdoored; it's the government that is stubbornly wishing it into existence.

      2. Julz Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Hmm.

        Why do you think that your VPN provider isn't compromised?

        1. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge
          Trollface

          Re: Hmm.

          How do you date suggest that Cisco is working hand in hand with 3-letters agencies?!?

  2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    For something one must have.... or for something some think no one should really have?

    Crikey, half a billion smackers conjured out of the ether, just like that. Who do you talk to to get a relatively fair share of that sort of largesse? Or do they come to you with an attractive offer it would be ungracious to deny and refuse?

    Inquiring minds would like to know if there are any sort of prime or sub-prime rules in play for those who think there be rules to be followed? :-)

    1. Nifty Bronze badge

      Re: For something one must have.... or for something some think no one should really have?

      I'll raise the $500m you're printing with the $600m I'm printing.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: For something one must have.... or for something some think no one should really have?

        With the previous incumbent you coudl get twice that for putting on a bowler hat and shouting NO

        1. First Light Bronze badge

          Re: For something one must have.... or for something some think no one should really have?

          Don't forget the Orange sash!

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: For something one must have.... or for something some think no one should really have?

      Perhaps they decided on a different way to funnel money to Branson instead of saving his airline.

      Branson-backed OneWeb to raise $1bn for its satellite internet mega-constellation

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: For something one must have.... or for something some think no one should really have?

        Perhaps they decided on a different way to funnel money to Branson instead of saving his airline.

        Branson-backed OneWeb to raise $1bn for its satellite internet mega-constellation

        Who's to say it is not a Perfect Viaduct ... and as the Virgin Venture that it is ..... most APT that Sir Richard be ACTive at the Forefront of Such Innovative Novel Fields.

        You might like to ask him what he would do with such a powerful acquisition/merger/acquaintance and does he have any specific plans for employment/deployment/enjoyment ..... although all of that might be classified sensitive intellectual property and secure strictly need to know information?

        1. Cliff Thorburn

          Re: For something one must have.... or for something some think no one should really have?

          It is ind ee d amFM ;0)

  3. colinb

    Just what we need

    A LOCAL GPS for LOCAL people

    While we are at it let's bring back British Leyland, that world beating engineering company.

    1. Natalie Gritpants Jr

      Re: Just what we need

      I have a Leyland Roadrunner horsebox for sale on eBay and Facebook if you're interested. 1990 model and it still starts first time. Cabs a bit rusty though.

      1. colinb

        Re: Just what we need

        Ok, I don't have a horse but best of luck with the sale.

      2. John Jennings Bronze badge

        Re: Just what we need

        The horse is the backup. One of my first cars was a montego... couldnt pull its own weight up a hill...

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Just what we need

          A friend of mine had one of those. He called it a Monty-No-Go :)

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Just what we need

            Sounds like my first ever car, a Vauxhall Shovette,

  4. Dr. Vagmeister

    It Could Be Made to Work ???

    Just for clarification, the article states :

    "While at first glance, trying to force a mega-constellation of communication satellites in Low Earth Orbit to perform the positioning duties of a few purpose-built spacecraft in higher orbits may seem risky, it could be made to work."

    Who is stating it could be made to work - is it the UK Government, or someone with the technical aptitude who has made a comment somewhere ???

    To me, $500m is a lot of money to speculate upon for something that "could be made to work".

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

      To me, $500m is a lot of money to speculate upon for something that "could be made to work".

      May I inquire about the status of the procured F35's vis-a-vis the Lizzie? And their combined cost?

      1. JohnMurray

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        ..............twice the cost of the two carriers...................

        1. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge

          Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

          For each F-35...

    2. cpage

      Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

      I find it hard to see how it could possibly be made to work. For a start: don't all GPS spacecraft carry an atomic clock? None of those launched so far have one, surely. And you would need to make a system that was extremely similar to GPS (as the Glonass and the new Chinese ones are) and use an adjacent waveband, otherwise existing chips in GPS receivers and mobile phones around the world simply won't work on them. And then you need a set of ground stations to track their position and upload the orbital data to them at quite frequent intervals. With a couple of dozen spacecraft in highish orbits that's feasible, though surely not cheap to do. With a vast number of low-earth orbit spacecraft that will surely just not be doable at any reasonable cost. Or have I missed something?

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        Phone chipsets rarely support additional services that weren't around when the chip was designed. No matter how a new navigation system is implemented, whether almost identical to GPS or entirely different, a new chip will be needed to receive from it. The only exception would be a system which augments an existing one, similar to how QZSS overlays upon GPS for Japan. As for the clocks, that would be a problem. While they could put the clocks in the new satellites and reprogram them, they could have also put clocks in their own satellites without buying this company. While a navigation system isn't impossible, it would seem to be a strange step to take if that was the primary goal. Given their discussion of broadband, perhaps they have other goals in mind. Whether those goals make sense or are in any way useful is another question.

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

          Ordinary people in the UK can go on using the US or EU GPS for service similar to current. What the UK won't get that way is super accurate positioning and/or military applications. I presume that using these satellites for that will indeed require new fancy equipment at the point of use.

          1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

            Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

            The other aspect of military usage is more redundancy is better ( China is developing anti-satellite warfare hardware ).

            If Britain and her allies have access to a less accurate system which has hundreds of cheap satellites, it would be much harder to take it out than the existing GNS systems which have a handful.

            Even if the resolution isn't perfect - an ICBM missing by a few feet is still going to knacker whatever it was aiming at.

            1. hammarbtyp

              Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

              "The other aspect of military usage is more redundancy is better ( China is developing anti-satellite warfare hardware )."

              While redundancy can be useful, it also increases complexity. There are so many if's and but's in this is it hard to know where to begin. Basically it feels like someone aw the word satellite on for sale notice and said, that will do. Also not that phone satellites are unlikely to hardened to military spec nor meet military encryption capability.

              "If Britain and her allies have access to a less accurate system which has hundreds of cheap satellites, it would be much harder to take it out than the existing GNS systems which have a handful."

              I'm not sure Britain ha any allies left. An inaccurate GPS system is an oxymoron

              "Even if the resolution isn't perfect - an ICBM missing by a few feet is still going to knacker whatever it was aiming at."

              ICBM's are quite happy using inertial navigation and star tracking technology. Your smart missile designed to hit a small bunker window is less resiliant ti inaccracy

              1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

                Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

                > I'm not sure Britain ha any allies left.

                Urgh.

                > An inaccurate GPS system is an oxymoron

                All GNS systems are inaccurate to a point. In some applications the nearest cm matters. In others, the odd yard isn't a big deal. If this constellation can provide redundancy in exchange for a little bit of accuracy, that isn't necessarily a bad tradeoff.

                > Your smart missile designed to hit a small bunker window is less resiliant ti inaccracy

                It would have to be a very small bunker if a yard makes a difference. Obviously it depends on the accuracy - if it is hundreds of yards that's another thing altogether.

          2. Cuddles Silver badge

            Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

            "What the UK won't get that way is super accurate positioning and/or military applications."

            This has been the stupidest part of the whole thing all along. The "super secret, amazingly accurate military system" is not actually any more accurate than the freely available services. In fact, its spec is actually worse than the basic open service and much worse than the high accuracy service. The difference is that it's supposed to be more resistant to jamming, and they promise not to turn it off in the middle of a war.

            In practice, jamming is irrelevant when you're dropping bombs on people with AKs from thousands of feet up, and as long as we don't suddenly decide to invade France it's fairly unlikely that they're going to threaten to shut everything down to stop us using it. The normal commerical services are perfectly adequate for anything the UK plans on doing, military or otherwise. The problem is nothing to do with how useful the system is, it's purely about being upset for not being allowed in the club, despite us being the ones who decided to leave.

            https://gssc.esa.int/navipedia/index.php/GALILEO_Performances

      2. willcor

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        It seems to me the satellites don't need an accurate clock. All that's needed is a ground-level array of receivers at known locations which each note the time from their point of view that every satellite's last clock edge arrived at their location. That doesn't need long-term accuracy, we only need the delta time.

        The 'where am I' receiver does the same, and compares the time distribution it sees with that of each receiver in the array, interpolating as necessary. That needs a broadband connection, but that's what these things do, right ?

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

          Well, that has several downsides. Basically, you're hoping to compare a lot of latencies between the satellites, requiring the device at the other end be informed of relatively large sets of data. That would make the system more delicate and require more data from the satellites. It would also make the system a lot more dependent on fixed ground locations, which isn't necessarily the most desirable setup. While those satellites are capable of broadband speeds, doing that would usually require larger receiving dishes and more power output. For things like ships and planes, you probably wouldn't find it that hard. For portable units used by field troops, that approach might be inadvisable. Still, if they intend to use the constellation for this purpose, they may find that my concerns are not that troubling. Still, if I were them and wanted to do the navigation with these satellites, I'd start by considering just putting the clocks in the ones that haven't yet been launched. They're planning to send thousands up; it's fine if 80 don't have clocks.

      3. mutt13y

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        Like GSM in order for the satellite internet to work all transmissions from various ground stations must arrive in sync. Therefore the ground transceiver must know the exact range to the satellite.

        The problem as you correctly point out is that we would not have an exact position for the satellite.

        You could potentially model this quite accurately and transmit the ephemeris data out of band.

        Also you can have fixed ground stations verifying the exact position of each satellite the same way GPS does but have the clocks on the ground.

        It will be clunky and probably never make it into consumer GPS but if what you want is a solution for the military in case we go to war with France then probably it will do the job

    3. Vulch

      Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

      It appears to be important to know exactly what is meant by "It can be made to work". I've been poking around reading various articles and papers as I think up new keywords to look for. Best paper I've found so far involved using the Iridium satellites and suggested a likely accuracy (CEP) of around 10km, with various post-processing (which seemed to be mostly a case of waiting a while to collect more data) that could be reduced to around 400m. So yes, it can be made to work, but...

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

      I think the big problem is LEO satellites have rapidly degrading orbits and are expected to fall out of the sky more often, which means they need replacing more often. Which gets quite expensive if you can't charge for their use with broadband…

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        That's the brilliant part of the plan, made possible by ignoring experts, we don't launch them into orbit

        The satellites will be placed at strategic points around the coast on top of tall buildings previously holding lights, from which they will broadcast a radio beam. By intersecting two of these beams one will be able to perform long range navigation

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

          from which they will broadcast a radio beam.

          But then an Evil Adversary will do an Aspirin on your Knickebein, causing every traveller to end up at Barnard Castle.

        2. Stork Silver badge

          Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

          Great! We can call it LORAN

          1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

            Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

            LORAN? I'd prefer Decca if you don't mind.

      2. cpage

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        Not that low - they seem to be around 1200 km altitude, which means v slow orbital decay. If they were under 500 km I'd agree with you.

    5. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

      Expert on Twitter says it won't work. If we believe experts.

    6. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

      "UK-based Catapult Satellite Applications" suggest it could be made to work.

      I know this, because I read the article.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        Yes, the quango with vested funding interests said it could be made to work (please give us more money so we can investigate how, we'll get back to you in a few years) but the UK Space Agency said it won't work:

        OneWeb’s network has been described as unsuitable for navigational purposes by the UK’s own space agency, according to internal documents cited by the Daily Telegraph. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment on the documents.

        And here's the article itself, showing its ankles from behind the paywall.

    7. Julz Silver badge

      Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

      You could try reading the linked article.

      http://web.stanford.edu/group/scpnt/gpslab/website_files/LEO_sat_nav/ION_GNSS_2016_LEO_Navigation_Reid.pdf

    8. John Jennings Bronze badge

      Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

      I think this was discussed in an earlier post.

      It can work fine - provided they have approriate transmitters.... They dont even need 4 atomic clocks, really, if there are enough of them, with some basestations to provide synchronization..

      The gps sats we use today are so expensive because they have a decade design life, are in high orbit, and have to work - there are only 24 operational - but they have a wide area effect each (usually 8 or so can be seen). In LEO, there may be up to 80 in orbit and active for GPS duties at any one time- that improves accuracy round skyscrapers etc - and high latitudes (above 60 degrees, GPS starts to drop efefctiveness) - where traditional gps doesnt work

      Signal strength in LEO could also be useful for blocking Chinese russian or US gps analogues (if tensions are ongoing in a particular theatre) - and the shear number provides resilience against anti satellite shenanigans....

      WHo knows for sure what the future requirements could be?

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

      "could be made to work" - yeah, by GEC Marconi. /S

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