UK: Satellite & Space Projects News - January 2016

Last Updated: 13 January 2016
Article by John Worthy

Fieldfisher Space Business Summit 2015

Fieldfisher's Space Business Summit, on 8 December 2015, brought together a full house of C level representatives from major space businesses to discuss growing and financing space business in Europe and worldwide. For more information on the issues discussed at the summit, please see our summit report.

UK National Space Policy

The UK Government has published its first National Space Policy. The policy sets out the Government's plan to ensure the UK bolsters its market share and becomes a European hub for commercial spaceflight and related space sector technologies. The Government's ambition is to capture 10% of the global market supporting 100,000 new jobs and generating Ł40bn for our economy by 2030.

For further details of the policy, please see our newsflash.

Virgin Galactic to use Boeing 747 as air-launch platform

Virgin Galactic announced on 3 December 2015 that its LauncherOne Programme will use a Boeing 747 to air-launch small satellites.  The Boeing aircraft will serve as a dedicated air-launch vehicle for LauncherOne.  Virgin Galactic pointed to the aircraft's large and robust rocket carrying capacity, operational flexibility, long range, ability to operate in many kinds of weather, maintenance and spare parts supply chains as factors that make the 747 an ideal platform.

LISA Pathfinder launch

On 3 December 2015, the European Space Agency's LISA Pathfinder successfully launched on a Vega rocket from French Guiana.  The purpose of the mission is to test technology that can observe gravitational waves – faint ripples in the curvature of space-time that were predicted by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.  Gravitational waves are believed to originate from extreme events such as mergers between supermassive black holes and the Big Bang.  LISA Pathfinder is on its way to its final orbit location, a point around 1.5km from Earth in the direction of the Sun known as L1, from which it will monitor and measure the relative motion of two free-falling, gold-platinum masses.   

WRC-15 - spectrum allocation

The allocation of C-band spectrum at the ITU's World Radiocommunications Conference 2015 (WRC-15) has been broadly welcomed by the satellite industry. In the run-up to the conference, the sector lobbied hard against the sharing of C-Band spectrum for both mobile and satellite use, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, where the band is widely used for satellite delivery of essential public services.  Satellite stakeholders argue that sharing the spectrum for terrestrial use could lead to excessive interference and that the spectrum is vital in tropical and sub-tropical regions where other frequencies are adversely affected by "rain fade".  The outcome of WRC-15 is that in most of Oceania and Asia (ITU Region 3), the C-band will continue to be used exclusively for satellite purposes, although a small number of countries will allow potential use of the lower portion of the C-band for mobile broadband.  In ITU Region 1 (EMEA) and Region 2 (North and South America, Greenland and some eastern Pacific Islands), WRC-15 identified the lower portion of the C-band - from 3.4 to 3.6 GHz for mobile broadband communications.

O3b raises $460m to expand its satellite constellation

On 10 December 2015, O3b Networks announced that it has closed a round of financing raising a total of USD 460m.  The funds will be used to increase the number of satellites in O3b's Medium-Earth-Orbit satellite constellation from 12 to 20 and, the company says, will enable it to accommodate the growing demand for high through-put, high performance connectivity.  

Ex-Im bank return is good news

On 4 December 2015, US Ex-Im Bank was re-authorised following its suspension in June 2015.  Ex-Im Bank provides finance for major US satellite projects.  Its closure led to the collapse of a number of high profile deals for the US satellite industry – Orbital ATK lost a satellite contract with Azercosmos as a result and Boeing also suffered with two deals being pulled.  US satellite manufacturers have welcomed the news.

Connection for remote UK areas

The UK Government announced on 7 December 2015 that those with the slowest connection speeds in the UK are to be offered a subsidised satellite broadband connection.  The scheme, which was rolled out in December 2015, applies to those unable to obtain an affordable broadband service with a speed of at least 2 Mbps. It has been estimated 300,000 properties will take up the offer. The scheme forms part of the UK Government's commitment to ensure every UK home and business can access speeds of at least 2 Mbps by the end of 2015.

Expansion of Galileo constellation

On 17 December, Arianespace successfully launched two more satellites as part of the Galileo constellation. The launch took place upon a Russian Soyuz rocket, and brings the total of Galileo satellites now in orbit to 12. Arianespace stated that with 12 satellites now in orbit, the Galileo system could start delivering its services by the end of 2016.

Blast off for Tim Peake

15 December 2015 saw the launch of the first British astronaut to undertake an extended mission on the ISS. The Soyuz rocket launch took place at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch was celebrated across the UK with millions watching a live stream of the launch and over 15,000 gathering across the UK at launch events. Tim's mission will last six months and will see him acting as test subject for health research, as well as trying out new technologies for future human exploration missions. He will also undertake a spacewalk to carry out repairs to the ISS.

SpaceX – Falcon 9 Landing

On 21 December, in an unprecedented mission, SpaceX successfully launched, returned to Earth and then landed its re-usable Falcon 9 rocket.  SpaceX had previously attempted to land the Falcon 9 on a platform floating in the ocean without success.  This latest mission was its first attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on land.  For this mission, the Falcon 9 was carrying 11 communications satellites for ORBCOM, and once it had launched the satellites into orbit, the booster then descended and landed upright, not far from its original blast-off site at Cape Canaveral. The launch marks SpaceX's first mission since its failed launch in June 2015. Re-usable rockets are seen as an important factor in reducing the cost of access to space.

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