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Are Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) satellites a solution for tomorrow’s telecommunication needs?

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Is there a business, service and technology case for flying constellations lower? This study describes work by Thales Alenia Space UK and Thales Alenia Space France and the Satellite Applications Catapult to select an attractive telecommunications application for Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) satellites. Through a trade process comparing 8 different applications, mobile 5G internet access was selected as a financially compelling prospect for a VLEO constellation. This work develops a conceptual design of the payload and platform for the satellites in the constellation. A constellation was selected which will provide coverage between latitudes of ± 55° (as these latitudes cover > 95% of the Earth’s population). This consists of 33 planes of 70 satellites each inclined at 55° which will cover many potential users, with extended service in northern highly populated areas. The constellation will be able to provide an average 3.8 Mbps downlink data rate per beam to a conventional mobile phone handset, with each satellite supporting 320 beams. The flexibility of the payload allows this rate to be increased if not all beams are in use.

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The authors would like to thank Joan Fort Alsina of Rheatech Ltd who has guided this project for the European Space Agency. We would also like to thank the Satellite Applications Catapult for hosting two workshops as part of this study.


This work was funded by the ARTES Future Preparation programme of the European Space Agency under contract No. 4000127889/19/NL/FGL—Very Low Earth Orbit for Satellite Communications. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency.

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Correspondence to Lucy Berthoud.

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Berthoud, L., Hills, R., Bacon, A. et al. Are Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) satellites a solution for tomorrow’s telecommunication needs?. CEAS Space J 14, 609–623 (2022).

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