UK: Satellite And Space Projects News - December 2015

Last Updated: 18 December 2015
Article by John Worthy

Superfast satellite broadband viable for UK's hard-to-reach areas

A successful pilot in Somerset, UK is paving the way for the use of satellite broadband technology to deliver connectivity to the UK's final five percent of people in hard-to-reach areas.  In an announcement on 27 October 2015, SES, on whose solution the technology - Superfast Satellite for Communities (SS4C) – is based, confirmed its confidence in the solution.  SS4C is based on SES Techcom Services' ASTA Connect for Communities Solution, which uses a Satellite Distribution Node feeding a fixed wireless access network to provide homes with superfast broadband.  Premises outside the wireless network range are fitted with a Direct-to-Home dish on the wall and connected via individual modems.

US and EU sign Copernicus data sharing agreement

On 19 October 2015, the United States and the European Commission signed a cooperation agreement to facilitate the sharing of data from the Copernicus constellation of earth observation satellites.  In a statement, the US Department of State said that the arrangement will allow experts from U.S. agencies, including NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), to pursue cooperative data sharing activities with European counterparts, including the European Commission, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). The agreement aims to enhance data access, validation, and quality control as well as satellite system compatibility, interoperability, and instrument inter-calibration.

UK could lose out on £40bn global space market

A new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers warns that the UK will miss out on the chance to capture £40bn of the global space market and an additional 100,000 jobs if Government and industry does not address the problem of restrictive regulations, barriers to investment, the growing skills shortages in engineering and science and fragmented collaboration between stakeholders.  The report, Seeking Resolution: Growing the UK Small Satellite Industry focuses on the UK's emerging small satellite sector and argues that the sector is being hampered as a result of outdated and complex launch and operation licence regimes and expensive third-party liability insurance.

Skynet contract speculation

Officials from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are already considering the MoD's options for when the MoD's current Skynet 5 contract with Airbus Defence and Space expires in August 2022.  Among the options under consideration are (i) continuing the contract with Airbus Defence and Space, (ii) engaging an alternative supplier and (iii) procuring a fifth and sixth satellite to add to the Skynet constellation, thereby extending the constellation's life by several years and allowing some "breathing room" for the MoD to decide how it wishes to proceed long-term.

BAE invests £20m in hybrid jet rocket

BAE Systems plc and UK company, Reaction Engines Limited (REL) are to collaborate on the development of a new aerospace engine class – SABRE – that REL anticipates will be able to power an aircraft from standstill on the runway to Mach 5, and then transition to a rocket mode allowing spaceflight at up to Mach 25.    As part of the collaboration, BAE Systems will invest £20.6 million in REL to acquire a 20% stake.  BAE will also contribute expertise and access to critical industrial, technical and capital resources to progress towards the demonstration of a ground based engine. BAE Systems will also enter into a preferred supplier relationship with REL in certain agreed areas and will have representation on the REL's board.  The transaction is subject to the approval of REL's shareholders.

Intelsat and ILS strike multi-launch deal

On 11 November 2015, International Launch Services (ILS) announced an agreement with Intelsat for the launch of five satellites through 2023 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  The agreement is designed to provide Intelsat with increased flexibility in their fleet management and the necessary launch schedule assurance that they require. The five satellites, yet to be designated, will be launched using the Proton Breeze M launch vehicle.

Thales Alenia Space to deliver satellite for Bangladesh

Thales Alenia Space announced that it has signed a contract with the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission to build a telecommunications satellite – Bangabandhu (11 November 2015). Thales Alenia Space will be responsible for the design, production, testing and the delivery in orbit of the satellite and also for the ground segment. Positioned at 119.1° East longitude and with coverage over Bangladesh and the surrounding region, the satellite will offer Ku-Band capacity over Bangladesh and its territorial waters of the Bay of Bengal, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Indonesia.  It will also provide C-Band capacity over the whole region.  The satellite is due for launch in 2017.

Global navigation satellite systems

As part of the Satellite Masters Conference in Berlin, the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA)organised a full-day session on European Global Navigation Satellite Systems (E-GNSS) research and development results, as well as implementation activities. The innovative projects showcased during the event are all helping to accelerate the development of a European market for satellite navigation applications and create new opportunities for European industry. Projects from both the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) and the current Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (H2020) were on display.  (Source:  European GNSS Agency (GSA))

Spectrum allocation for global flight tracking

The World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva has agreed on the allocation of spectrum for global flight tracking in civil aviation (11 November 2015). The frequency band 1087.7-1092.3 MHz has been allocated to the aeronautical mobile-satellite service (Earth-to-space) for reception by space stations of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) emissions from aircraft transmitters. This will enable transmissions from aircraft to satellites and will facilitate reporting the position of aircraft equipped with ADS-B anywhere in the world, including oceanic, polar and other remote areas.

Reusable rocket success for Blue Origin

Blue Origin, the private satellite company owned by Jeff Bezos, announced on 23 November the successful landing back on Earth of its rocket.  Blue Orbit's New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometres) before landing back at the launch site in West Texas.  Reusability of rockets is seen as a key factor in reducing the cost of space flight.

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