UK: Satellite & Space Project News - April 2017

Last Updated: 18 April 2017
Article by John Worthy

Stakeholders invited to give views on UK Spaceflight Law

The UK government's Science and Technology Committee has begun its inquiry into the Draft Spaceflight Bill.  The Draft Bill was published in February 2017 to "provide for the creation of a regulatory framework to enable commercial spaceflight activities to be carried out from spaceports in the United Kingdom".   Industry stakeholders, including representatives of Airbus Group and Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, have appeared before the Committee to give their views on the proposed regulatory framework. 

UK Space Agency appoints New Chief Executive

Graham Turnock has been appointed the new Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency effective 1 April 2017.  Before joining the UK Space Agency, Mr Turnock was Chief Executive of the Better Regulation Executive, a unit within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Intelsat and OneWeb merger

Intelsat and OneWeb are to merge.  The deal that will see Softbank invest $1.7 billion in the combined company in return for a 39.9 percent voting stake.  Softbank's investment is conditional on a minimum number of existing Intelsat bondholders accepting a debt exchange offer, which together with the proceeds of the SoftBank investment, could reduce Intelsat's debt by around $3.6 billion.  

MEO/LEO for GEO operators

Karim Michel Sabbagh, CEO of SES, has said that the company is keeping an open mind about LEO satellites.  SES has some 50+ GEO satellites and, through O3B Networks, a fleet of MEO satellites.  So far, SES has yet to come across a use case aimed at SES's target markets that cannot be met through its existing GEO and MEO fleets; but SES will continue to look at LEO as an option for innovative services.   Meanwhile, Rodolphe Belmer, CEO of Eutelsat, said that he has no current plans to seek a fleet of MEO/LEO satellites.

Blue Origin and Eutelsat

Eutelsat announced 7 March that it has signed a contract with Blue Origin for the launch of a geostationary satellite aboard Blue Origin's "New Glenn" re-usable launch vehicle in 2021-2022.  Test flights for New Glenn are expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

Eutelsat wins EGNOS contract

Eutelsat and The European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA) have entered into a €102 million contract for a European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS GEO-3) payload that will be hosted on the EUTELSAT 5 West B satellite.  The satellite is due for launch at the end of 2018.    EGNOS - a pre-cursor to Galileo - is the first pan-European satellite navigation system and is a joint project of the European Space Agency, the European Commission and Eurocontrol.

Virgin Galactic creates "Virgin Orbit"

Virgin Galactic is to spin off its small satellite team, Launcher One, into a new company, Virgin Orbit (VO) bringing the number of companies in Virgin's space portfolio to three  - the others being Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.  VO will be headed by President Dan Hart, formerly Boeing's Vice President of Government Satellite Systems.

FCC and ITU re-consider filing rules in light of CubeSats

The FCC and the ITU are considering reviewing the rules that govern the allocation of satellite orbital slots and associated frequencies.  The ITU operates on a first-come, first-served basis but in order to preserve the reserved slot and frequency, the registrant must "bring into use" the relevant spectrum.  The FCC and ITU are concerned that the "bringing into use" requirement does not sit comfortably with large constellations of CubeSats and that there is uncertainty as to whether the slot/frequency is "brought into use" when the first CubeSat in the constellation is launched, or only when the final CubeSat in the constellation is launched.  The FCC is considering amending the rules so that a new operator must have a minimum number of satellites in orbit after 6 years in order to satisfy the "bringing into use" requirement.

Hughes Network Systems appointed for MoD's Predator B

Hughes Network Systems' Defense and Intelligence and Systems Division has been awarded a contract by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GAAS) to provide communications in connection with "Predator B" drones as part of the UK Ministry of Defence Protector Program.   The MoD awarded a Ł100m contract for the Protector Program to GAAS in December 2016.  Under that Programme, the UK will expand its fleet of unmanned armed surveillance drones from 10 to 26, replacing existing craft with the new Predator B.

Rocket Lab raises Series D funding

Rocket Lab announced on 22 March 2017 that it has raised a further US$75m funding for production of its Electron rocket.  Rocket Lab is aiming to provide low-cost launch services for LEO small satellites.  The Series D financing round was led by Data Collective. Rocket Lab is currently preparing for the Electron test flight program which will launch from New Zealand.

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