A rocket launched by New Zealand-based Rocket Lab last week, for its clients OHB Sweden and Thales Alenia, has posed a direct collision risk to satellites in the OneWeb constellation. According to Space Intel Report (SIR), OneWeb is demanding that the satellite be removed from its orbital plane.
The satellite, GMS-T, is a prototype LEO craft operated by OHB and is already highly controversial in that it has been launched in order to secure orbital slots and frequencies granted to Thales Alenia and intended for use by the (failed) LeoSat constellation. The frequency permissions are due to expire on January 29.
The overall controversy is not helped by SES also now claiming certain rights to the orbital positions, saying that on January 1st the company had placed a renamed O3b satellite MCSAT-2 into the orbit (at 8062 kms) using rights granted to the French National Frequency Agency (ANFR). MCSAT-2 HEO was intended to be a Ka-band craft and the forerunner of a 48-satellite constellation designed to operate in both LEO and MEO orbits. SES told SIR that it constantly looks to the future needs of its customers and modifies its orbital filings as part of its overall fleet strategy.
The problem is reinforced by ITU rules that require any satellite to be held in an authorized orbit position for a minimum 90 days to secure the slot. This valuable orbital slot has been waiting for precisely seven years to be occupied by Thales or one of its clients. This means that the problem craft (GMS-T) must stay on location until April 22nd or else lose the orbital rights.
OneWeb’s official statement stated, “OneWeb has become aware in the last 24 hours that an unnotified satellite, now known to be manufactured and launched by OHB, has been placed in an orbit creating a direct collision risk with our satellites on multiple occasions in each 24 hour cycle. OneWeb notes that this is an unproven test satellite, that has not switched-on its propulsion system according to OHB – and has unknown collision avoidance capability. Given the complete disregard shown for the responsible use of space and mitigation of risk, OneWeb asks OHB to identify who their customer is and to remove it immediately from our operating [orbits].”
SIR has subsequently reported that OHB is slightly raising the orbit of its satellite to mitigate any collision risks.