UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Despite the delays, Facebook is still actively working on satellite launch plans. Documents submitted to the FCC indicate that the Athena satellite can be launched as early as March 2020.
The Facebook initiative aims to help provide Internet access in parts of the world where communication is poor. This is part of the mission, which is to “bring the world closer” – or, more specifically, to expand the general potential market for its services and fuel its future growth and income.
Despite a series of high-profile scandals surrounding Facebook, Zuckerberg’s space ambitions remain unchanged. The upcoming launch of the satellite is experimental, and will be only the first step in a wider project to create a network of satellites designed to provide people around the world with access to the Internet. If successful, it can compete with similar projects from SpaceX or OneWeb.
Facebook’s plans to launch satellite Internet have been delayed more than once for various reasons. So, in September 2016, Facebook signed a contract with the company Ilona Mask SpaceX to launch a satellite, but the rocket exploded on the launch pad before takeoff.
The company is also working on the creation of low-orbit satellites, codenamed Athena, in honor of the Greek goddess of wisdom and knowledge of Athena. It is assumed that such satellites will use millimeter-wave waves.
The Athena project was launched through the Facebook-related company PointView Tech LLC, thus, Facebook’s participation was not advertised until some time. In an application submitted to the FCC in April 2018, PointView Tech lawyers said Athena would test new communications technologies to form the “next-generation broadband infrastructure in regions where modern communications services are currently unavailable.”
At that time, it was assumed that the launch would be made “at the beginning of 2019”, but this did not happen. A spokeswoman for Space Systems Loral, the company that built the satellite for Facebook, confirmed to Business Insider that the launch planned for 2019 did not take place.
Facebook refused to provide information on launch plans and limited itself to just such a statement: “Although at the moment we have nothing to say about specific projects, we believe that satellite technology will become an important factor in the development of next-generation broadband infrastructure.”
And now, despite various delays and setbacks, Facebook is still planning to continue the satellite project, as evidenced by the documents that PointView submitted to the FCC in December 2019. According to the statement, Facebook is asking to change its license for “experimental permission”, to add additional ground stations (in Norway and Antarctica) to communicate with the satellite, which indicates that Zuckerberg’s company is quietly preparing to launch the satellite.
The delay is likely due to the Vega rocket, designed to deliver the satellite into space. In July, due to an accident at the stage of the second stage, the rocket did not launch the Falcon Eye-1 optoelectronic remote sensing satellite into orbit. The French company Arianespace, which launches from Kourou, created a joint commission with ESA to investigate the causes of the accident. The damage to the company amounted to about 415 million dollars. Vega launches were suspended until the end of the year, but now the company is preparing to resume work again in 2020.
The exact launch date for the Facebook satellite is unknown, but it is likely to happen as part of the SSMS (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) program, where 42 satellites from different companies will be the payload. The launch of SSMS was also originally planned for early 2019, but was delayed in the same way as the Athena launch.
In a press release published in January 2020, Arianespace announced that SSMS Vega could fly in March, and an unofficial online calendar compiled by RocketLaunch.Live has a launch date of March 23, 2020. So far, Facebook has only one experimental satellite and its service life will be only two years.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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