OneWeb is utilizing drones from QuadSat, a Danish startup, to speed up ground segment testing as it prepares to launch a portion of its low-earth orbit broadband constellation this year. QuadSat’s quadcopters assisted in the calibration of OneWeb’s gateway in Scanzano, Italy. It will now test the operator’s antennas abroad as the operator rushes to provide maiden commercial services in the upper Northern Hemisphere in 2022.

The drones replicate the satellites which gateways track as they sprint through the sky, allowing ground segment networks to be calibrated and verified outside of laboratory circumstances in order to prepare them for operation. As per Michele Franci, OneWeb’s head of delivery and operations, calibrating gateways with the drones is “far faster” than utilizing an observable geostationary (GEO) satellite.

Because GEO satellites appear low on the horizon above 50 degrees from the equator, the farther south or north a gateway is located, the more difficult it is to find a good one to lock onto, according to Franci. Establishing beacons on top of the poles can also be used to characterize gateways outside of the lab. Still, he claimed the disturbances caused by this technology are difficult to regulate.

The major advantage of deploying drones, according to Franci, is speed. Over 40 gateways are being built worldwide, each one with 15 – 30 antennas that require calibrated and tested. “I would say it has cut the time it takes to complete the antenna [testing] in half, if not more,” he stated. He estimates that performing these antenna characterizations without drones would take two to three weeks.

“It’s critical to reducing the schedule,” Franci stated, adding that “streamlining these very tiny but critical stages makes the deployment move a lot faster.” There’s a kind of virtuous impact here.” OneWeb’s executive chair, Sunil Bharti Mittal, stated on Sept. 8 that the operator plans to offer services in 30 to 60 days as it sets up distributor agreements around the world to sell its capacity. Six of OneWeb’s intended 42-45 gateways are presently operating, according to Franci. “We possess two that are virtually finished and another 16 that are in the works, with the rest coming soon.”

He added OneWeb just needs one additional operational gateway in Greenland, which is in an “advanced state of the building,” before delivering commercial services well above the 50th parallel north. QuadSat CEO Joakim Espeland explained that using drones gives satellite providers more data regarding how their antennas work in a separate interview. “What we do with a drone is fly up and do a raster scan, which is also known as a lawnmower pattern because it’s similar to how you would mow the lawn,” Espeland explained.

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