UK: Satellite & Space Project News - March 2016

Last Updated: 30 March 2016
Article by John Worthy

UK Space Spectrum Strategy – Have your say

UK regulator, Ofcom, has issued a consultation on its proposed "Space Spectrum Strategy". Ofcom is inviting stakeholders to respond on its priorities in relation to the use of spectrum by the satellite and space science (including earth observation) sectors.   Ofcom outlines three main priorities:  (i) enabling growth in satellite broadband communications in hard-to-reach locations in the UK and to aircraft and ships, (ii) ensuring growth in the quality and quantity of earth observation data, and (iii) ensuring that UK citizens and consumers continue to enjoy the diverse benefits that flow from satellites and space science, including TV, navigation services, broadband connectivity, emergency communications and national security.  Ofcom also plans to explore opportunities for spectrum sharing in bands currently used by the space sector as well as the scope for new uses of spectrum in adjacent bands.  The consultation closes on 10 May 2016.

Luxembourg to become space mining hub

The Luxembourg government announced on 3 February 2016 that it plans to introduce new laws and financial incentives to encourage R&D in space mining, particularly the mining of asteroids for valuable metals, minerals and other resources.   Luxembourg aims to become a European hub for the space mining sector, providing investment for R&D projects and possibly direct capital investment.  The government also plans to introduce laws that will give businesses certainty over their rights in resources that they mine from asteroids.  

SpaceX to ramp up production of Falcon 9

SpaceX is to increase its production of Falcon 9 rockets.  Gwynne Shotwell, President and CEO of SpaceX announced that the company plans to be producing 30 rocket cores per year by the end of this year, compared to 6-8 cores per year currently.  The company also plans to unveil its Falcon Heavy rocket later this year.


Earth observation data from the Copernicus programme was used to support the emergency response to flooding in the UK in December 2015 and to aid the recovery of flooded farmland.   The potential benefits and uses of data from the Copernicus programme were showcased at an Earth Observation and Open Data event hosted by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).  The Department is currently running six research projects to investigate how satellite and Earth Observation data can help improve water quality, increase biodiversity and manage forests and woodland.

ITU grants Egypt extension for satellite

The ITU's Radio Regulation Board has given Egypt a three year extension for the launch of a communication satellite at 35° East.  Egypt argued that it is unable to meet the original launch deadline due to political unrest and lack of funds and that this constitutes "force majeure".   There are some concerns that this could set a precedent and lead to disruption to the scheduling of orbital slots. 

ViaSat 3 unveiled

ViaSat announced on 9 February 2016 its ViaSat-3 ultra-high capacity satellite platform. The platform will comprise three ViaSat-3 class satellites and state-of-the-art ground network infrastructure. Each ViaSat-3 class satellite will offer more than 1,000 Gigabits per second (Gbps) or 1-Terabit per second (Tbps) – of bandwidth, which according to ViaSat is equal to the total capacity of all commercial satellites in space today. The first ViaSat-3 satellite system will provide coverage for the Americas, the second will cover Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and the third system will cover the Asia Pacific region.

Russia halts satellite insurance

According to a report on 17 February 2016 in Russian broadsheet, Izvestia, Russia's Federal Space Agency has put a freeze on insuring satellites delivered to orbit.   The report cites both a shortage of funds as well as delays in the adoption of the Federal space program for 2016 – 2025 as being behind the freeze.

Eutelsat and ViaSat in broadband JV

Eutelsat Communications and ViaSat Inc. announced on 9 February 2016 the creation of a joint venture that will combine Eutelsat's current European broadband business with ViaSat's broadband technologies and consumer ISP business expertise. The joint venture will consist of a wholesale broadband business, in which ViaSat will have a 49% stake, and a retail broadband business, in which Eutelsat will have a 49% stake.  The deal is expected to close in Q2 2016, subject to regulatory approvals.

UK and UAE MoU

The UK Space Agency and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (24 February 2016). The MoU includes an extensive framework for cooperation between the two agencies, including conception and implementation of joint studies and projects, the exchange of scientific data and information, an exchange of personnel and training of specialists between the two agencies, as well as government activities related to space policy, public outreach and human development.

Venture capital for space

According to the "Start-Up Space Report" issued by The Tauri Group, 2015 saw a massive increase in venture capital investment in space-start-ups.  The amount of venture capital invested in space-start-ups in 2015 was almost twice the levels achieved over the combined 15 years up to 2014.  A full copy of the Tauri Group report is available here.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo

On 19 February 2016, Virgin Galactic unveiled its second SpaceShipTwo.  The first SpaceShipTwo was destroyed in an accident during a test flight on 31 October 2014.  The new commercial space flight vehicle will now be put through testing.  Virgin Galactic has not confirmed its timetable or when it expects commercial flights on SpaceShipTwo to begin.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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