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 …

  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 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 )."

              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

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        GEC Marconi

        Oh those were the days.There were circuit diagrams done by hand on drafting film, and the smell of the blueprint duplicators....

        Not everything there was a failure. I have boxes still flying and still good. BOMIS (Bill Of Materials Incoice System) that ran in the ICL mainframes that were turned off for y2k still far out performs what I work with now, as did the paperless production history dossiers even running on Apricots!).

        It's true that there were a few duds along the way. The done that put on so much weight it couldn't carry its own wheels, the Lidar that didn't, etc.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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".

      Which is why they're spending $500m to rescue a company that can provide rural broadband. The whole "could be made to work for positioning" is just idle left-field speculation, and not the reason for the purchase.

      1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        "Which is why they're spending $500m to rescue a company that can provide rural broadband. The whole "could be made to work for positioning" is just idle left-field speculation, and not the reason for the purchase."

        So basically nationalization of rural broadband services, because that always goes well. You also have to ask the question of why it went bust in the 1st place

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

        Have they really just spent half a billion on state-owned rural satellite broadband? Rural broadband is dirt cheap, if you do it right.

        Source in several papers say they did buy it for GPS-like services.

        But nobody from government has stood up and said why they've just spent half a billion on something out of the blue.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: It Could Be Made to Work ???

          "But nobody from government has stood up and said why they've just spent half a billion on something out of the blue."

          Well, technically, several people and documents from U.K. government did say exactly why they bought it. It's just such a shame that basically none of them agree on what that reason was. This article quotes someone who says the reason is broadband. The article from a few days ago links to a report that says it's mostly navigation. Comments sections for both articles link to articles saying any number of other things.

  5. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Coat

    Not the solution

    Certainly, using the constellation for broadband provision would make sense (particularly for those UK households unable to get decent speeds). It is, after all, what it was designed to do.

    Given how tiny the UK is, you could easily provide the same service with a few of Google's dirigibles. Satellites are designed for covering large areas of the earth with their signals.

    Oh, hang on. Is that the 19:21 Gravy Train? I have to catch that one! If you fine it, mine's the one with "A Short History of Barnard Castle" in the pocket but you can keep that.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Not the solution

      Obviously they won't orbit the whole world - just Britain

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: Not the solution

        You mean there's a difference?

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Not the solution

      Given how tiny the UK is, you could easily provide the same service with a few of Google's dirigibles

      Google's dirigibles are on hold whilst they finalise cloning Christoper Walken and Grace Jones. Meanwhile, media tycoon 'Elliot Carver' pauses keel-hauling his crewmembers for surfing pron, calls Mr Bond and asks to quote him happy..

      Meanwhile, back in the (su)real world, there's stuff like this-

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u9kaKVgHLc

      £733,000 for 100Mbps Internet to your floating gin palace. And you thought BT was bad.. Which is one of the markets both OneWeb and Starlink probably want to disrupt. Or HMG can save some money given the number of ships, remote locations like embassies etc that need/want broadband. Plus of course rural folks in the UK can help subsidise it. Don't forget we have outposts like the Falkland Islands, where Islanders can't easily get decent Internet connectivity. Oh, and the Commonwealth countries may find services interesting.

      So there's potential to save taxpayers a large chunk of change, along with superyacht owning tax-dodgers. And if it ends up making money, HMG takes profits or can flog off it's investment at a later date. Until then, I guess negotiating with Bharti will prove.. interesting, along with managing any US protectionism.

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

        Re: Not the solution

        Quote

        And if it ends up making money, HMG takes profits or can flog off it's investment at a later date.

        Correction if it ends up making money , then it will be flogged off to the governments best mates from university for about 40% of the actual market value ASAP

        Then instantly sold on for 100% of the actual value with best mate making a 'donation' to the tory party, and getting more government contracts/sell offs/glittery bongs as a result

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Not the solution

          Correction if it ends up making money , then it will be flogged off to the governments best mates from university for about 40% of the actual market value ASAP

          Was that what happened when a certain G.Brown flogged off a lot of gold? And later much of the UK's nuclear industry.. both at bargain prices.

          As for best mates.. not sure if it's a good or bad thing that many of those tend to be PPE types rather than engineers or scientists.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not the solution

          I admire your optimism. Wasn't Qinetiq sold off for 1% of its actual value, rather than 40%?

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Not the solution

        "... one of the markets both OneWeb and Starlink probably want to disrupt. "

        You can guess who's being disrupted by who's astroturfing the objections. US telcos outside of the major metropolitan centres feature highly in that list

        There's also the issue of satellite broadband constellations bypassing national firewalls. I could see legislation being passed REQUIRING that UK users only use the UK service, in order that the "porn/piracy wall(*)" stays up

        (*) When the porn wall manages to block things like the Saracens rugby club with no explanation, let alone political sites criticising porn wall policies, one has to wonder what they're ACTUALLY blocking and why.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Not the solution

          There's also the issue of satellite broadband constellations bypassing national firewalls. I could see legislation being passed REQUIRING that UK users only use the UK service, in order that the "porn/piracy wall(*)" stays up

          UK doesn't have a national firewall. It does have a Communications Act that includes operator assistance requirements.. Much like most countries. So to sell services there, you generally need to obtain a telco licence, and that generally includes support for lawful intercept. But some countries also try to licence operating receiving kit, ie VSAT dishes, but judging by the number installed on walls and roofs, it doesn't seem widely enforced. Even when 12ga decommissioning could be done cheap.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Not the solution

        "Oh, and the Commonwealth countries may find services interesting."

        Commonwealth interest in "made in Britain" products can be exemplified in the saga of General Motors attempting to relaunch the Vauxhall brand in Australasia during 1998-9 - nobody would touch those Vectras until they were rebadged as Opels (NZ) or Holdens (Australia)

        Ford had similar problems selling Mondeos until they provided assurances the things were built in Germany, not the UK

      4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Not the solution

        So there's potential to save taxpayers a large chunk of change, along with superyacht owning tax-dodgers.

        Where's the money being saved? I see £ 500 million being spent initially.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Not the solution

          Where's the money being saved? I see £ 500 million being spent initially.

          Thing about investments is you don't expect them to pay off tomorrow. OneWeb (and Starlinks) problem is ludicrous up-front costs before you can generate any meaningful revenues. Which was the problem when SoftBank discovered WeWork wasn't a great investment and pulled the plug on financing this.. And other ventures. Burning cash is fun until there's no more cash to burn.

          But there's some.. optimism around this job, like developing Cape Cornwall aka Newquay Airport so satellites can be launched from there. There's still a bunch of launches booked (and possibly paid for) from Arianne, and more will be required.

          But it's also known how much the governemt spends on communications, and a chunk of that money might be shunted to OneWeb. There's also the potential to sell rural broadband to rural EU citizens (of which there are many) because Gallileo's just a satnav system. Canada's also expressed interest, and presumably other bidders didn't have such a negative outlook for the future as some here.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Not the solution

      Having an Indian telco on board suggests that at least one other bit of the coverage will be used and I'd guess they plan to rent out other parts as well.

      But "increase the satellite count to 48,000"? Coming soon - HMG statement "We will be the world leader in Dyson spheres".

      1. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge
        Trollface

        Re: Not the solution

        But they are manufactured in Singapore, not in Florida???

      2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Not the solution

        But "increase the satellite count to 48,000"? Coming soon - HMG statement "We will be the world leader in Dyson spheres".

        Needs lots of satellites due to spot beams, and so the network can achieve full global coverage! Which given 2/3ds of that globe is water, kinda limits the market.. But then being LEOs, you need lots of satellites so they can orbit over places where you do (or might) have customers. Then there's placing downlink facilities so you can actually offer the lower latency benefits vs GEO VSAT systems.

        As for Dyson.. I've have it on good authority* that the plan has solved the meshing problem. Satellites will be meshed via Cat6 rebar, then shotcreted from lunar cement works. Thus providing a complete ICBM shield.. Hopefully with plenty of vents.

        *ie me, and my wandering mind..

  6. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    We got Brexit dumb

    Darn auto-correct - is this just an example of the direction that we're heading in?

    Will it work or will it not? Too early to tell really but it would be interesting to see how many government ministers and advisors currently hold shares in the enterprises.

  7. Norman Nescio

    QZSS

    The Japanese have an alternative to GPS, named Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) or 'Michibiki' (みちびき), which currently provides an augmentation to the USA's GPS locally for Japan, but with the addition of a small number of additional satellites can operate independently of GPS.

    The satellites have an interesting inclined geosynchronous orbit that means that the ground track is an analemma shape ('figure of eight') over Japan and Australia.

    They are interesting in that they do not require on-board atomic clocks. As stated in the Wikipedia article:

    QZSS timekeeping and remote synchronization

    Although the first generation QZSS timekeeping system (TKS) will be based on the Rb clock, the first QZSS satellites will carry a basic prototype of an experimental crystal clock synchronization system. During the first half of the two year in-orbit test phase, preliminary tests will investigate the feasibility of the atomic clock-less technology which might be employed in the second generation QZSS.

    The mentioned QZSS TKS technology is a novel satellite timekeeping system which does not require on-board atomic clocks as used by existing navigation satellite systems such as BeiDou, Galileo, GPS, GLONASS or NavIC system. This concept is differentiated by the employment of a synchronization framework combined with lightweight steerable on-board clocks which act as transponders re-broadcasting the precise time remotely provided by the time synchronization network located on the ground. This allows the system to operate optimally when satellites are in direct contact with the ground station, making it suitable for a system like the Japanese QZSS. Low satellite mass and low satellite manufacturing and launch cost are significant advantages of this system. An outline of this concept as well as two possible implementations of the time synchronization network for QZSS were studied and published in Remote Synchronization Method for the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System[15] and Remote Synchronization Method for the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System: study of a novel satellite timekeeping system which does not require on-board atomic clocks.[16][non-primary source needed]

    The article links to a PhD thesis on the topic which has also been published as a book:

    Amazon: Remote Synchronization Method for the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System: study of a novel satellite timekeeping system which does not require on-board atomic clocks.

    Media articles:

    SpaceNews: Japan mulls seven-satellite QZSS system as a GPS backup

    Spacewatch Asia-Pacific: Japan Prepares for GPS Failure with Quasi-Zenith Satellites

    So it seems there are possibilities of viable satellite navigation system approaches other than GPS, which could potentially be bought off-the-shelf from the Japanese.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: QZSS

      There are lots of ways of doing navigation at home - ultimately just use kinematic or ground reference GPS/Gallileo/Glonas etc without the 2 nd secure frequency.

      The reason the UK 'needs' its own and Japan doesn't is that the Japanese army doesn't need to invade anywhere

  8. mark l 2 Silver badge

    If it turns out Oneweb satellites aren't suitable for anything other than broadband, its a lot of taxpayer money spaffed on a bankrupt company, to supply a few thousand homes and business that can't get decent broadband via fixed lines or mobile.

    How many miles of fibre or 5G masts could be installed for those rural areas for that amount of money?

    1. accccc

      Cheaper than giving bt openreach a few billion I guess

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        The New Zealand solution to the Opnreach Problem was simple:

        "We won't provide any more money until lines and dialtone are two entirely separated companies, with separate ownership, headquarters, shareholdings and boards of directors - and don't think of simply splitting off the lines company into a lines "maintenance" company - ownership of the LINES must be entlrely separated from other services"

        That was done specifically in response to documenting how BT was and is abusing the UK market and thealmost immediate transformation of their version of Openreach could be likened to the company having had a cattle prod jammed up the nether reaches.

        Now the old incumbent dialtone company is looking extremely ill whilst the lines company is quite robust and well respected for their "we'll sell access to anyone - equally" approach.

  9. AndyFl

    OneWeb is probably for comms rather than location

    OneWeb would make an excellent upgrade for the UK Skynet and other government VSAT services around the world. By spending $500M the UK will have priority access on a global, high bandwidth satellite network. Also having a partner to flog spare capacity to other users they might even make a profit on the deal! You would have difficulty shoving more than a couple geostationary satellites up for that money.

    I don't think the location services figure high on the priority list for this project, it may be possible to upgrade some of the satellites in the future before launch to add high accuracy clocks etc, but that would just be "icing on the cake" if it could be made to work.

    The only thing they really need to do at this stage is to move the command/control infrastructure to the UK and harden the network.

    It all looks like a really good deal, I can't remember the last time I said that the UK govt did something good, but this is a tick in their favour.

    1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Re: OneWeb is probably for comms rather than location

      Define excellent upgrade. As far as i can see you are defining two opposing objectives

      1) provide a cheap global broadband service

      2) provide a military grade communication system

      Sorry, you cannot have both. choose 1) and the military would not touch it with a barge pole. Choose 2) and the costs go up and you are not commercially competitive.

      As for adding GPS on later, it there is no proof that such a system would work and also add costs

      It looks like a awful deal, which could have the capacity to create financial liabilities far down the line.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Broadband? 1990s broadband, maybe

    The docs I saw said something about "up to 50 kilo bytes" per second per subscriber. Roughly 400 kilobits/sec max.

    Not enough for Netflix then.

    So, what's a word that rhymes with "flim-flam"? You get one guess.

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: Broadband? 1990s broadband, maybe

      It's "more than" 400 mbps per subscriber.

      So plenty.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Backward Britain

    It's the next big thing...

  12. Alan Brown Silver badge

    LEO broadband with ubitous coverage

    I suspect the issue isn't "navigation" so much as "road charge monitoring"

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: LEO broadband with ubitous coverage

      And by using sats, they can even charge if you head off to Europe or beyond with your car!

  13. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
    Trollface

    Oooh look! Over there! -> Bunnies!!

    Sequence:

    (1) Fuck off you Euro twats we don't need you!

    (2) What do you mean we can't use the system? We designed and built most of it!

    (3) Fuck you double, we'll build our own!

    (4) How much?

    (5) Oh shit, what do we do now? We need a distraction.

    (6) Hey, this firm does satellites. Close enough. Hint that it could do navigation as well and they'll be too busy arguing about it to remember the original cock up.

    And, dear reader, the rest is history.

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