UK: Satellite & Space Projects News - July 2016

Last Updated: 20 July 2016
Article by John Worthy

Blue Origin chosen by NASA  

NASA has selected Blue Origin to join its programme for Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicle (sRLV) services. Under the program, NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate selects promising technologies from industry, academia and government, and tests them on commercial launch vehicles. Blue Origin, along with other suppliers on the program (including Virgin Galactic, World View Enterprises, Inc and Masten Space Systems, Inc.) will compete for contracts to deliver payload integration and flight services to NASA.

One Web Satellites appoints subs

OneWeb Satellites, a 50/50 joint venture between Airbus Defence and Space and OneWeb, has appointed its first three top-tier subcontractors:

  • Canadian business, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), will develop and manufacture 3,600 communication antenna subsystems for integration with OneWeb's 900 Low Earth Orbit satellites.
  • Sodern, a French manufacturer of space, optical and neutron instrumentation, will supply 1,800 Star Trackers for the OneWeb constellation.
  • Teledyne Defence (a business unit of UK company, Teledyne Microwave Solutions) has been selected to provide communications repeater equipment.

Luxembourg targets space mining

The Luxembourg government has announced its strategy for the country to become a European hub for space mining (3 June 2016).  The government says that it plans to introduce a legal and regulatory framework for the mining of resources on Near-Earth-Objects such as asteroids.  The law is expected to come into force in 2017 and will establish a space mining licensing scheme. The government wants to give operators more legal certainty as to their legal rights over resources harvested in outer space in accordance with international law. The government also announced dedicated funding for R&D in technologies related to space resource utilization. 

Call for UK national space programme

Members of the UK Parliament have recommended that the UK establish a national space programme. In a report, published on 15 June 2016, the MPs noted that a strong national space programme, sitting alongside the UK's current contributions to the European Space Agency (ESA), could help to increase the UK's competitiveness in the space market, ensure continued access to and influence over ESA programmes, and give the UK greater leverage to participate in bilateral missions.  Over three-quarters of the UK Space Agency's expenditure is currently channelled through the European Space Agency.  In other areas of the report, the MPs consider whether the UK government has the correct approach by limiting the capabilities of the proposed UK spaceport to horizontal launch capabilities for sub-orbital flights only, and ask the government to set out its rationale for this approach.   

LeoSat sees potential in Leo-Geo partnership

In an interview with (14 June 2016), CEO of LeoSat, Mark Rigolle, suggested that a future partnership with a geo-stationary satellite operator is likely. LeoSat is building a satellite enabled broadband data network comprising 78 Low Earth Orbiting satellites to delivery high speed broadband data services to corporates and governments. LeoSat differentiates its planned offering from other providers because of its target market and its business model, which is to sell large chunks of capacity to relatively few customers – between 3000 and 5000 customers after a few years. Rigolle noted that there is precedent for Leo-Geo partnerships, pointing to the deal between OneWeb and airline connectivity provider Gogo under which OneWeb will fill the gap by providing connectivity to passengers flying over the north and south poles where there is low connectivity to geo-stationary satellites located over the equator.

Ariane 6 cost savings 

Alain Charmeau, CEO of Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) – prime contractor on the development of Ariane 6 – has said that the new launch vehicle will achieve a reduction of between 40 and 50% in recurring costs compared to Ariane 5, its predecessor. Ariane 6, under development by ASL and the European Space Agency, is intended to improve Europe's competitiveness in the launch market in the face of stiff, and considerably cheaper, competition. In an interview with Via Satellite on 16 June 2016, Charmeau explained that some of the savings would be achieved by smarter working between the customer and industry and more industry control over the design process resulting in faster development time, as well as a reorganisation that will see work being carried out across fewer locations.  

Planet Labs

On 12 June 2016, Planet Labs Inc. (now renamed as just "Planet") launched 12 earth-imaging cubesats known as "Flock 2P" on board a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle into a Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO). The SSO will ensure that the satellites pass over the same spots on the ground at exactly the same time each day, making it easier to spot changes on the ground over time in the imaged locations. The primary payload for the launch is CartoSat 2C, an Earth Observation satellite of the Indian Space Agency.

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