Iridium and the cubesat IoT constellations: the spider and the flies?

Cubesat IoT networks charge a few dollars per year for updates from modems that deliver data such as water levels from remote locations to low-orbiting satellites. Credit: Hiber
PARIS— The CEO of a satellite ground technology provider said this about the multiple satellite IoT startups planning constellations of cubesats:
“The problem with them is that Iridium has launched its new constellation and can put them out of business whenever it wants. Iridium can meet these new guys’ pricing because it won’t cost much and won’t much affect Iridium’s business. They should just lease Iridium capacity and focus on the ground side of the business.”
Given the number of cubesat IoT companies have have raised initial funds and are deploying proof-of-concept spacecraft, that CEO’s view is not accepted by everyone.
But with 66 L-band satellites in low Earth orbit, plus in-orbit spares, Iridium now presents a potential threat to any low-bandwidth application that relies on satellites.
Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch, in the manner of a spider referring to flies, said he embraced the cubesat IoT companies and wants to partner with them in a spirit of comity and goodwill.
“We are very interested in the development of those networks. We don’t see them as really competitive with the kind of high-quality, low-latency industrial-strength services we provide today that are very attractive,” Desch said during a conference call with investors.
“They are… very low-power, so the devices often last for years without being updated and they’re very, very high latency in the sense that it can be tens of minutes or hours between being able to get the information from one of those devices. So they’re typically one-way devices not two-way like our products.”
Desch said Iridium has had discussions with multiple cubesat IoT constellation startups.
Iridium in 2017 signed an MoU with startup satellite-based IoT provider Hiber [then named Magnitude Space] — http://bit.ly/2IAV2Zf — which in late 2018 launched its first two cubesats. They are now undergoing testing. Hiber has been supported in its early development by the European and Dutch space agencies.
Hiber has raised $14.5 million in venture capital. The Series A round, valued at 5 million euros ($5.7 million), was led by Finch Capital.
Hiber’s network operates in UHF-band, not L-band. It is designed to carry perhaps one 144-byte message per day from remote locations to government authorities or remote-asset owners. The business model, as is the case with most of Hiber’s startup competitors, is to develop a customer landscape of hundreds of thousands of remote terminals with long-lasting batteries.
Hiber has said its network of 18-24 cubesats operating from a 600-kilometer orbit should be viable if charging only a few euros per year per device as part of Hiber’s Low Power Global Area Network.
Iridium’s IoT customer profile is changing to include more low-revenue and extremely low-cost users paying lower monthly rates. That’s fine with Iridium. Credit: Iridium
Iridium’s commercial IoT business reported $22.5 million in revenue for the three months ending March 31, up 14% from the same period a year ago. The number of IoT subscribers, meaning the number of units in the field, increased by 26%, to 678,000.
Per-subscriber average monthly revenue (ARPU) was down 10% for the period, to $11.32. Iridium Chief Financial Officer Thomas J. Fitzpatrick has been telling the market to expect ARPU declines with the increase in personal-location devices, whose owners pay no more than $5 per month.
“We love that business because they don’t use the network very much at all, so it’s a very, very profitable business for us,” Fitzpatrick said during the investor call. “We think that that is a mass-scale consumer product. The fact that it causes the overall ARPU to decline a bit —  we don’t mind that at all. It’s great business.”
How many millions of IoT devices the Iridium network could handle without being stressed or having to borrow capacity from the network’s higher-value customers is unclear. But it’s a lot.
But for now, Desch wants to offer a big-tent image of the future.
“We see eventual dual-mode type products and potentially offering their products to our customers or them offering our products to their customers,” he said of the cubesat IoT networks. “They would all probably fit together pretty well. So we’re keeping an eye on the market. It’s very, very early days.
“There’s really only trial satellites up there today,” Desch said of the cubesat IoT sector in generation. “We’re keeping close tabs on the progress they’re making. I still think that’s a few years away for really being able to offer their services or vice versa. I don’t think it’s really going to be a near-term kind of activity, but it’s an interesting development really in our industry that we welcome.”

With in-flight connectivity agreement with China Satcom, Viasat joins a long line of market hopefuls

Credit: Panasonic Avionics
PARIS — The conga line of airline in-flight-connectivity providers signing agreements to enter the Chinese market, whose regulatory and profitability challenges are as formidable as its potential, has now gotten longer with Viasat Inc.’s agreement with China Satcom.
The agreement, timed for the China In-Flight Connectivity Technology Conference in Shanghai, calls for the use China Satcom satellite capacity and Viasat’s aircraft IFC equipment to allow Viasat and China Satcom customers to roam internationally and in Chinese airspace.
The agreement does not mention any airlines that are already customers of China Satcom, but says the deal should permit Chinese airlines to “roam onto Viasat’s global network,” while allowing Viasat customer airlines to maintain connectivity over China.
“China Satcom will leverage its telecommunications service provider business license, operating expertise and existing ground infrastructure to lead delivery of advanced IFC services to the airlines,” Viasat said in an April 24 statement.
China Satcom operates a fleet of geostationary-orbit telecommunications satellites. In April 2017, it launched Chinasat 16, an electric-power satellite occasionally referred to as experimental.
Operating from 110.5 degrees east, Chinasat 16 has 26 Ka-band user beams and more than 20 Gbps of total throughput. It is expected to be paired with the Chinasat 18 satellite, scheduled for launch this year, to provide HTS coverage for multiple user groups on Chinese territory and the near-offshore region. Chinasat 18 is intended to operate from 115.5 degrees East.
Satellite mobility hardware and service provider Gilat Satellite Networks previously signed an agreement with China Satcom to provide the ground infrastructure for mobility applications with Chinasat 16 and Chinasat 18.
Chinasat 16, launched in April 2017, has 26 Ka-band spot beams and a total throughput of more than 20 Gbps. Credit: China Satcom
Viasat’s global IFC play is centered on its Ka-band Viasat-3 network, with satellites stationed over the Americas, EMEA and the Asia-Pacific, each with an advertised terabit-per-second throughput.
Viasat has conceded the difficulty of the Viasat-3 Asia-Pacific business model given the large number of national satellite systems already in orbit and the regulatory barriers to large markets such as China. It needs partners to surmount these obstacles, just as it needs a global ring of connectivity to appeal to certain airlines and military customers.
All IFC providers have been knocking on China’s door for several years, but none of them has much to show for it despite multiple agreements:
— In-flight-connectivity service provider Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) saw its Chinese ambitions sidelined when the U.S. government opposed a proposed purchase of GEE shares by China’s HNA Group. More recently, GEE has said IFC growth in China is on holding pending an improvement in U.S.-Chinese relations: http://bit.ly/2GEydSl
— Inmarsat appeared to be on the verge of a major entry into China for Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band satellite network through the purchase of a GX satellite.
Chinese President Xi Jinping went so far as to tour Inmarsat’s London headquarters. But that was in 2015 and since then, no deal has been concluded.
— Eutelsat of Paris in 2018 signed an agreement with China Unicom for Ka-band capacity on Eutelsat’s 172B satellite, on which in-flight-connectivity provider Panasonic Avionics is an anchor customer: http://bit.ly/2viyILp.
— Gogo Inc. in 2017 received Chinese regulatory approval for international flights entering and leaving China using Gogo’s 2Ku hardware, and Gogo customer Delta had been offering Gogo’s earlier-generation service to and from China.
— Panasonic Avionics partnered with China Telecom Satellite for Ku-band IFC in 2016 and said 20 airlines with more than 1,000 aircraft under what was described as a trial liccense.
Air China in September discussed the difficulties in entering the Chinese IFC market, which go beyond regulatory barriers to include questions about the profitability of an IFC play: http://bit.ly/2IOr2Zn.
“China Satcom is now the only satellite operator and licensed service partner in China with the bandwidth resources to deliver the in-flight connectivity experience our airline customers have come to expect,” Viasat’s commercial aviation general manager, Don Buchman, said in a statement. “Our partnership is a natural way to extend state-of-the-art services specific to China Satcom’s fleet and the China domestic market, and create a global roaming alliance.”

Intelsat: Here’s what we know so far about the IS-29e satellite failure

Intelsat Chief Executive Stephen Spengler. Credit: Intelsat
KIEV, Ukraine — How did a $400 million satellite just three years into an expected 15-plus years of operations develop a sudden propellant leak and then lose all communications within 48 hours?
The Intelsat IS-29e satellite was declared a total loss on April 18 following the two separate events, both apparently related to its propulsion system.
Intelsat’s most immediate is how best to relocate IS-29e customers, preferably to other Intelsat satellites but if not then to competitors’ spacecraft. That process began almost immediately after the first incident on April 7. As of April 19, the company had placed more than half the IS-29e customers elsewhere.
An unspecified number are still in the process of being placed on other satellites.
Intelsat then will have to decide how to reconfigure its fleet to do without IS-29e while it mulls whether to order a replacement.
IS-29e showed a major fuel leak on April 7. The leak had the effect of a thruster and forced the satellite off its axis and into a slow tumble. Intelsat and satellite prime contractor Boeing thought they were recovering the satellite’s functionality when the April 9 incident delivered the coup de gras, this time taking down the satellite’s telemetry.
Nine days of effort to regain communications with the tumbling satellite were of no use. Intelsat declared IS-29e, which was not insured, a total loss on April 18.
IS-29e now joins several hundred other dead satellites that will travel the geostationary-orbit arc along the equator for millennia.
With a predictable orbit and well-tracked by ground sensors, the satellite will not be hard to avoid for other geostationary-satellite operators. As IS-29e migrates into and out of other orbital slots, operators with satellites there will perform slight maneuvers to keep out of its way. They are used to this kind of thing.
But IS-29e is one more piece of uncontrollable debris whose batteries have not been drained and whose fuel tanks have not been depressurized, creating a future risk of explosion and debris proliferation along a major orbital highway.
One of the more surprising aspects of the IS-29e failure is how little is known about its cause. This was a high-end spacecraft — a Boeing 702MP model — equipped with the latest telemetry capability.
Intelsat Chief Executive Stephen Spengler discussed what Intelsat knows and doesn’t yet know about what happened with IS-29e. He expressed hope that the detailed investigation by Intelsat and Boeing Satellite Systems International will be able to provide answers.
IS-29e developed what was described as a fuel leak on April 7. What was the first sign of trouble?
The telemetry we were able to gather at the time gave an indication that it was leaking propellant. The telemetry is pretty clear at that point in time. What we don’t know is how it happened, why it happened.
It typically takes quite a bit of time to get through these failure analyses and reviews, a few weeks or months. It starts with a very wide range of root causes and then they go through it.
There is speculation all across the board on what the cause could be and none is weighted more strongly than another at this point.
Nothing occurred prior to the leak that might have caused it so far as you know? It came out of the blue?
Correct. Subject to looking at the telemetry in more detail, there was no event that we saw prior to it. It was just normal operations. But there was obviously a cause. It’s not like these things just rupture, also I guess it could be possible.
Then the propellant leak puts the satellite into a spin and we had to recover.
So you are not ready to point a finger at a piece of debris or other foreign object?
No. It’s too early. We haven’t gotten that far into it.
What happened next?
When the original event occurred, the payload powered down immediately. We weren’t transmitting and customers were off immediately. That’s the way the system is designed.
We didn’t lose command and control of the satellite at that point. We were able to start to work it back into Earth pointing after that initial event. Then on April 9, when we had actually brought it back to Earth pointing, the second event happened.
What were the characteristics of the second event?
Similar to the first: something around the propellant in the fuel system that caused the second anomaly to occur. But with the second event, we weren’t getting the same telemetry from the satellite.  We were getting some, but not much.
With Boeing’s advice and consultation — our engineers and theirs were working this issue around the clock — we began a series of commands to the satellite that we continued to send until yesterday [April 18].
But the telemetry signals from the satellite actually faded away pretty quickly, within a couple of days after April 9.
We had a series of commands that were recommended by Boeing, which we executed on, and it didn’t respond. So the conclusion was: We’re done. We’ve done everything we could possibly do, and the right decision was to declare it as failed.
It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t try to send more commands, but we don’t have much expectation that we’re going to be able to communicate with the satellite, since we’ve had no word from it since shortly after April 9.
What maneuver were you conducting on the 9th? What was its goal?
On the 9th we had it back to Earth pointing, so we were basically looking to commence restoration of the payload and customer services when the second anomaly occurred.
And this anomaly had the same profile, it looked like some sort of release or leak in the propellant system. But then we lost telemetry.
The leak from the 7th had continued to the 9th, correct?
Yes, most likely.
Could the second event just be a consequence of the first?
It could be, but the problem is we don’t know. We just know these symptoms occurred at these two different times. And now we really have to figure out everything: What caused the first one, what caused the second one, what happened in between — those are all things that will be determined in the failure review process.
Would you say that Boeing has acted as you would hope and expect them to act as prime contractor since the April 7 problem?
Absolutely. Boeing’s engineers were on it right from the moment we contacted them on the 7th, and they were with us throughout the whole process.
With the SES AMC-9 satellite failure in 2017 there were indications of a debris field and a debate over whether the debris was leaked fuel that had frozen. Is there any indication of debris around the satellite?
It’s too early to understand what exactly occurred. There is this video that is out there — http://bit.ly/2ULXKlg —and that people have seen. I have been telling our people: Don’t look at that video with an untrained eye, because you may not be able to interpret it.
ExoAnalytic Solutions produced this video of the Intelsat-29e anomaly. Credit: ExoAnalytic Solutions
Second, I understand that video is not real time. It is accelerated so it wouldn’t necessarily appear as it did in real time. But there could be any number of reasons for why it looks the way it does on video. That’s one fo the things we are going to have to find out from various sources — independent commercial sources that are out there, as well as the Air Force and other places that may be monitoring space activity.
So no indication of any debris or what that might be around the satellite?
No, it has not yet been determined. But at this point I would expect to have been informed by CSpOC [U.S. Air Force Combined Space Operations Center] if there were more than one object there, and we haven’t.
At what point did you tell other operators: We have a satellite drifting out if its box and we can’t control it?
By our license and regulation we informed the FCC [U.S. Federal Communications Commission] immediately that the satellite was going to be drifting out of the box. CSpOC was notified right off the bat as well. They do all the coordination with other operators when the satellite drifts, so it’s normal procedure.
A big fleet operator like Intelsat has the advantage of being able to move customers around to other satellites in its fleet. How has that gone?
Any time you have a situation like this, how quickly a customer can move to another satellite on our fleet or on another satellite fleet will depend on the particular customer’s network.
Mobility customers, for example, that have three-axis-stabilized antennas that can point to any satellite, pretty quickly can have their services recovered — faster than, say, a fixed VSAT customer that has hundreds of sites on a particular satellite that will have to be re-pointed.
The fleet of Epic HTS (high-throughput) satellites is Intelsat’s most-valuable asset, designed to carry the company into a data-centric future. Credit: Intelsat
We engaged with our customers right away when this happened and our teams got engaged and working on restoration plans for our customers across the board. At this point most of our customers have been restored. A lot of that has been on the Intelsat fleet.
But we have had the support of other satellite operators as well. That has been really appreciated, how our colleagues in the industry have responded has been excellent with respect to our customers.
It’s not pure charity if they’re getting new customers….
Well, here’s how it works. In our particular case we already had an established restoration agreement, reciprocal, with one of our main competitors and that has worked well.
It’s not that this happens all that often, but we have experienced in the past that most companies step up and work with us, and recognize that this is is tough time. Of course there is gain to business for them in those arrangements. They are not doing it for free, they are getting compensated for it as well.
So you would say their reaction hasn’t been just mercantile, where they’re looking to profit as much as they can?
That’s correct, it was fairly negotiated.
Is your IS-32e, with an HTS payload and not far away from the IS-29e slot, available to you here for IS-29e customers?
It is available, but it is largely full and pretty heavily utilized. But it was helpful for our Flex managed service. We did have some capacity there to support our customers.
I would think that might work for a mobility customer like Panasonic Avionics.
With Panasonic we have had to work some other options to provide them with some restoration options. IS-32e would be suitable for them if it were available. I’d rather not get into specific customers. We have restored over 50% of them.
Wouldn’t customers avail themselves of the alternatives immediately?
Sometimes it takes time to reconfigure a network on the ground, and repointing customer antennas. In some cases they say: Great, we can take it right now. In other cases they have some engineering work to do.
So you advise customers of a failure and then, if they cannot be placed on your fleet, you advise them o other options and suggest they go talk to another operator?
We work with the customer with the solution for the customer, whether it’s on an Intelsat or a third-party satellite. We are with them throughout the process.
What is the split so far between customers being moved onto other satellites in your network, and those being relocated to other operators?
I don’t want to give that split right now. But having a fleet as large as ours, with 54 satellites, there are other options. We had some capacity available on another Intelsat Epic satellite, Intelsat 37e, that we have been able  put our customers on. But you dot always have a like-for-like, high-throughput spot beam to offer everyone. So we had to work different kinds of arrangements.
You have elected not to purchase in-orbit insurance beyond the fist year after launch. In-orbit insurance is inexpensive now. Is this something you might reconsider?
This has been our practice for awhile. We typically do not have in orbit insurance except in certain circumstances. For the most part we self-insure those operations past the first year. We have a large fleet and when those things have happened we’ve been able to restore most of the services. 
It depends on the size of the anomaly. I am going hack in my 16 years here as a reference point. So we just haven’t done it, and most of the issues that we have encountered, in terms of the need for insurance, they typically happen during launch, or post-launch early orbit raising through the early days of operations. This is really an unusual event for a satellite of this age.
What is the estimated revenue impact of this failure based on 2018 revenue from IS-29e?
We’re not going to take about the financials right now.
Is the loss of IS-29e going to trigger the purchase of a new satellite or is that not clear yet?
We are thinking about it but we haven’t spent a lot of time on those going-forward plans yet and how we would replace this capacity. There are certain things we could do within our existing fleet

ESA commits to 7 Ariane 6 missions for 2021-2023, clearing way for ArianeGroup batch order of 14 rockets

The OneWeb satellite-broadband company contracted to launch 30 satellites on the inaugural Ariane 6 flight in mid-2020, with two options included in the contract. Credit: ArianeGroup
KIEV, Ukraine — The European Space Agency (ESA) appears to have broken a deadlock with Europe’s launch industry by agreeing to guarantee that its governments will order seven missions to launch between 2021 and 2023 on the new Ariane 6 rocket.
Not all these missions have been identified yet, which is why ESA had hesitated in making the commitment. But faced with the equivalent of a work stoppage by Ariane 6’s industrial contractors, the agency’s ruling council on April 17 unanimously agreed to make the commitment nonetheless.
ESA Director of Launchers Daniel Neuenschwander said the agency has committed to finding the seven missions — several have already been allocated — by the time of ESA’s ministerial conference, called Space 19+, scheduled for Nov. 28-29 in Seville, Spain.
Ariane 6 prime contractor ArianeGroup said the agreement, reached with unanimous support of ESA governments, appears to be enough to start production of the 14 Ariane 6 vehicles to be launched during that period.
“This is very good news,” said Andre-Hubert Roussel, chief executive of ArianeGroup. Roussel said that once he receives formal written confirmation of the agreement, he will issue ATPs — authorizations to proceed — to the Ariane 6 supply chain to begin work.
Several weeks later, contracts will be signed for 14 Ariane 6 rockets to be built during what ESA has designated as the Ariane 6 transition phase, 2021-2023, when the current Ariane 5 heavy-lift vehicle will be phased out and production of the Ariane 6 will ramp.
ESA and the Ariane 6 contractors agreed that there was an urgency to resolving the outstanding issues given that it will take about two years to produce the first of these 14 rockets.
ESA and the Ariane 6 industrial team had already agreed to the production of a single Ariane 6 rocket, a demonstration flight in mid-2020. None of the other vehicles have been ordered pending an ESA commitment that Ariane 6 industrial suppliers said was indispensable to their making a firm first-batch order of 14 rockets.
Under this schedule, Roussel said, the first of the 14 rockets will be ready for launch in the first half of 2021.
The European Commission and potentially other customers have signaled a need for Ariane 6 in mid-2021, a date that would have been difficult to meet if ESA had put off the seven-launch commitment until the November ministerial.
Neuenschwander said numerous other decisions on Ariane 6 and its future evolution — to reduce its production cost, consider a reusable first stage and a lighter upper stage — will await decisions at the Seville ministerial council.
The inaugural Ariane 6 to fly in mid-2020 will use the rocket’s lighter variant, the Ariane 62 with two strap-on boosters. That mission already has a commercial customer, the startup OneWeb, which is launching a constellation of more than 600 satellites. The heavier Ariane 64, with four boosters, will not fly until 2021.
ArianeGroup has said that the 64 version’s first launch may need to be priced at a discount and that ESA — which needs the 64 version for several of the agency’s missions — may have to provide financial support to the first mission to cover the difference between what the inaugural customer is willing to pay and what ArianeGroup and its Arianespace marketing arm would normally charge for Ariane 64.
Neuenschwander said ESA’s April 17 decision includes an agreement to consider a financial contribution to the Ariane 64’s inaugural flight in 2021 if the agency is unable to come up with the seven agreed-to Ariane 6 missions by the time of the November council.
“To be clear: We’ll consider this only if the seven launch contracts are not signed by the ministerial,” Neuenschwander said. But he said the Ariane 6 launch cadence and the “learning curve” effects are topics that will be addressed at the November conference.
Europe’s Vega small-satellite launcher is now 14 successes in 14 attempts. The upgraded Vega-C is scheduled to fly in the first half of 2020. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace
ESA’s April 17 council also agreed to a formula for distributing launches between  the Ariane 62 and the Vega-C, an upgraded version of the light-lift Vega rocket that has conducted 14 launches, all successful. Vega-C’s prime contractor is Avio SpA of Italy.
With the smallsat market emerging as the most dynamic segment of the satellite business, the capacity overlap between Vega-C and Ariane 62 has become a possible point of contention between the two rockets.
Neuenschwander said ESA payloads below 200 kilograms in launch mass would be assigned to whichever of the two rockets has the first launch availability. Payloads between 200 and 2,350 kilograms would be assigned to Vega-C, and payloads above 2,350 kilograms would be assigned to Ariane 6.

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France’s Nexeya sells off most non-space assets to focus on smallsats; sees ‘rapid growth’ in New Space

Nexeya’s Hemeria platform. Credit: Nexeya
PARIS — French diversified mission-management solutions provider Nexeya, which is the planned prime contractor for the 20-satellite Kineis M2M/IoT constellation, is selling most of its non-space business to focus on its cubesat product line.
In a clear signal of Nexeya’s belief in the smallsat market — despite what industry officials said is the continued difficulty of Nexeya to close its financial round of 100 million euros ($114 million) — Nexeya has agreed to sell its transport and energy business to sensor-solutions provider Hensoldt.
The terms of the transaction, which is expected to clear regulatory approvals by September, were not disclosed. Hensoldt said it is acquiring assets that generated 95 million euros in revenue in 2018 and employed 620 people.
Nexeya said its space division and those piece of its defense work that is remaining with the company reported 2018 revenue of 36 million euros with a staff of 200 people. The company will be renamed Hemeria, after Nexeya’s cubesat product.
“Rapid growth in these [revenue]numbers is expected over the next three years,” Nexeya said in a statement April 12. “This growth will be driven in particular by multiple projects related to orbiting nano or micro satellites. Hemeria’s offer — nano satellites and subsets of larger satellites — will allow it to take full advantage of the opportunities generated by “New Space.”
Nexeya’s first full satellite, called Angels, is under development with the French space agency, CNES, and expected to launch later this year.
Angels is a next-generation Argos asset-tracking satellite and will be integrated into the business of established maritime asset-tracking company CLS. CLS, which is partly owned by CNES, is managing the Kineis project: http://bit.ly/2UK2F67
Franco-Italian satellite prime contractor Thales Alenia Space is also involved with Kineis and views the project and Nexeya as a spearhead of a French New Space sector. But for the moment Thales Alenia Space is not an investor in Kineis.
“We are very pleased with the dynamic of our strategic refocusing,” Nexeya Chief Executive Philippe Gautier, Chairman Jean-Yves Riviere and Managing Director Jerome Giraud said in a joint statement.
“It will allow us… to accelerate the development of the French nano satellite sector that we are building with the involvement of all our partners, and to underpin our other activities with a developing European group, whose values and objectives we share.”

Israel’s Beresheet fails at lunar landing, but IAI partnership with Europe’s OHB on commercial landers appears intact

Surrounded by the heads of the European, German and Israeli space agencies, Germany’s OHB and Israel’s IAI sign an agreement to offer commercial lunar-surface access using a lander based on the IAI-built Beresheet lander for SpaceIL. Credit: IAI
PARIS — “Let’s hope we won’t have too many lessons learned from the first flight,” Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Space Division General Manager Opher Doron said before the launch of the IAI/SpaceIL Beresheet lunar lander in February as ride-share passenger aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
There are surely lots of lessons to be learned from Beresheet’s failure to land correctly after making its way, with apparent success, to just meters above the lunar surface on April 11.
The mission, which was mainly privately funded and cost just $100 million, generated such enthusiasm in Israel and elsewhere as the first non-governmental landing mission that it is likely to be rebuilt.
As of April 12, IAI and SpaceIL had not issued detailed statements about what happened as the 600-kilogram Beresheet approached the lunar surface.
But the reaction in the control room in Israel was almost as buoyant as it would have been if Beresheet had touched down according to plan.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try again,” said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was among those present.
IAI and OHB SE of Germany in January concluded an agreement under which OHB would sell commercial payload capacity — up to 150 kilograms — on future Beresheet-derived landers to the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA).
OHB Chief Executive Marco R. Fuchs on April 12 said the the landing failure does not call into question the partnership and the promise of regular commercial flights to the lunar surface.
“Congratulations to everybody involved in this wonderful mission! It is an enormous success to have come this far,” Fuchs said. “We are very proud to be part of this project – and we are determined to be a partner in the next mission as well.“
In a prelaunch interview, Doron and Fuchs described how they see their partnership.
You said commercial lunar landing missions could be part of ESA’s In-Situ Resource Utilization, or ISRU, initiative. But this needs funding approval from next November’s ESA council meeting, doesn’t it?
Fuchs: Yes, of course. Some of these things might be part of the ESA Council. The whole idea is to have low-cost access to the Moon.  The idea here is that European demand would be around a number of payloads, and that needs to be aligned with budgets.
We are not saying we have a fully financed mission. The opportunity is that this could come as an idea from the ministerial, or it could come from the different sources that have to do with demonstration stuff at ESA.
Can IAI cut similar deals with companies outside of Europe?
Doron: In Europe we’re joined at the hip with OHB. In other places we may do other things.
How do you assess the market for this?
Fuchs: Everybody now is excited about the Moon. We have this mission [of SpaceIL], we have the Apollo anniversary this year and the Chinese landing on the dark side of the Moon. So interest in the Moon is as big as it’s ever been before. What does that mean?
The 600-kilogram Beresheet lunar lander in development by IAI and SpaceIL. Credit: SpaceIL
This joint venture can provide a low-threshold, cheaper way of starting something on the Moon right away without spending a lot of time on a vehicle. This vehicle is designed and built through other sources. So this is not about an investment. We feel this is a very low entry point to the surface of the Moon. That’s what it comes down to.
Remember, Europe was looking at its own lunar lander, for hundreds of millions of euros. This mission is now at a very different level.
What is really different about this is that it’s a heritage vehicle.
The Beresheet mission has listed costs of $88 million, but there must be nonrecurring engineering costs to IAI, and other non cash charges.
Doron: It cost about $100 million including NRE and education and everything. To the best of my knowledge, that’s the cheapest anyone has ever made it to the Moon. The payload is ready and hopefully we won’t have too many lessons learned from the first flight.
Who owns the intellectual property of Beresheet?
Doron: It’s IAI’s for these purposes.
This launch contract with SpaceX has a long history with its main payload. Is it your thinking that other launches to geostationary-transfer orbit would not be that expensive?
Doron: Yes, we don’t need a lunar trajectory, we need GTO. A lunar trajectory would be to take more payload to the Moon. We can take a few tens of kilograms from GTO. There are plenty of ride-share opportunities out there for GTO. And we have a payload weighing under 600 kilograms. It’s an easy ride.
Your lander lists payload capability of up to 150 kilograms.
Doron: Yes, but that would require more work on the lander. So we’re currently talking tens of kilograms readily available, or a bit more depending on the orbit we get.
So an order for two or three landers, depending on launch opportunities, would cost substantially less than $100 million each?
Doron: Oh yes.
Fuchs: It depends on the investment that has to be done on the payload, but the concept there is a few tens of kilos to start with and it will be demonstration stuff at the beginning.
This is a roadmap for future lunar missions. But it’s a very accessible way of doing a lunar demo mission and developing it step by step.
It’s widely debated what to do on the Moon, and where to go and what the roadmap should be. Infrastructure like the NASA Lunar Gateway would enable lunar exploration. This is part of that concept. ESA Director-General Jan Woerner said that for him, this agreement with IAI is a step to the Moon Village. It’s another contribution in this narrative of a lunar village.
What does Germany’s space agency, DLR, think about lunar investment so far as you can tell?
Fuchs: It’s being discussed, but as you know there are always more ideas than money. The big topic on lunar exploration is the Lunar Gateway. This should not compete with that. We want to do lunar gateway with NASA and through ESA. This is in addition to that. It’s not an either/or scenario. We feel this can be done within the envelope of a big lunar exploration corridor.
That’s why something like this is attractive: You do not need hundreds of millions to get equipment on the Moon. Some people are concerned that we might make a massive investment getting somewhere with very little left over doing the real stuff. This answers that point. It’s a smaller Moon package than others might dream of but this is a realistic Moon mission and it is achievable.
And the big thing here is of course the schedule. Starting from scratch, it takes a long time, while this can be done very quickly.

OHB Chief Executive Fuchs: We’re investing in New Space satellites and launchers to see where it goes

OHB SE Chief Executive Marco R. Fuchs. Credit: OHB/Markus Meyer
PARIS — OHB SE has made its name as a regular component supplier for Europe’s Ariane rockets and the prime contractor of Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing constellation.
it is also prime contractor for the German military’s current and future constellations of radar reconnaissance satellites, and for three high-resolution optical satellite for the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND).
But under Chief Executive Marco R. Fuchs, whose family controls a majority of OHB’s equity, the company is making tentative steps into what is sometimes called New Space.
In OHB’s case, it means co-investing with European governments on small satellite platforms for multiple applications, and designing a small launch vehicle for possible operations in the Portuguese Azores.
Of more immediate concern to Fuchs and OHB is an agreement between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the industrial team building the new Ariane 6 heavy-lift launcher. The two sides are at an impasse over which Ariane 6-related risks should be borne by industry, and which should be borne by ESA.
With your Italian division, OHB Italia, you built a first Eaglet cubesat. How do you see the future of this product?
There are many initiatives in the world doing cubesats. We did one as well with our Italian unit, and we launched it last year. We’re now building similar ones, a bit bigger, for the Italian government.
You can do limited things with it, but the idea of launching these things for Earth observation obviously hints at a constellation. It’s not an easy case, there are lots of people out there doing this, and nobody makes money on this stuff yet. I am aware of that.
So why do it?
First of all, it’s an Italian project. My idea is that we will build larger satellites out of Germany and the smaller stuff from the smaller OHB companies. They got an opportunity from an organization in the Italian military to build Eaglet. The first one was just an investment by us. We played with it, in cooperation with academia.
For the second Eaglet, we are getting paid. These things are meaningful industrial-wise. I am not sure you can really build a sustainable service from it. Remember, I have been involved with Orbcomm for 25 years, I know enough about little LEO stuff. I was a part of the team that bought Orbcomm out of bankruptcy. I know how hard it is to make a business of this.
The Eaglet 2 customer is the Italian government?
It’s an organization out of the Italian MoD. We build it from Milan. It is a little bit bigger than Eaglet-1. It has a camera on it.
I like it for OHB because it demonstrates that we can do this stuff as well the large platforms. So we can say we build satellites from 3 kilograms up to 4,000 kilograms.
Eagle-3 would be for the Italian government as well?
That is the idea, but it’s not confirmed. You want to really understand what you can do with these small platforms. It’s not operational yet, it’s like DARPA an entity that likes to look at data and see how to blend it with their ground infrastructure.
You’re also build the Luxembourg’s NAOS high-resolution optical reconnaissance satellite in an in-orbit-delivery contract. But it can’t be an operational system with just one satellite.
We are only building one satellite for them. They held a competition and we won it. They might go on with more satellites at some point but I don’t know. This was a very nice contract for us and it was very important for us. The typical European bidders were there. Export is a customer-focused game, you need to look at what the customer really wants.
Who is building the sensor for you?
It’s under our control but we are buying some components from international sources. It will be launched on Vega.
OHB is prime contractor for Germany’s SARah second-generation radar ISR system. Airbus Defence and Space is building one of the three satellites. Credit: OHB
When are the SARah German military radar satellites being launched with SpaceX?
The first satellite should launch in late 2020.
You are designing the Electra all-electric satellite platform with ESA and SES. Is it not certain that SES will be the first customer for this?
It’s under discussion. The market is changing a lot, and all the operators are reviewing their strategy. We are still covered with the contract in the phases we are in. Electra follows a phased approach. We are in phase 2. Selection of the mission, the so-called phase 3, is still up in the air.
ESA’s ruling council was supposed to resolve the remaining Ariane 6 transition phase issues in late March. They couldn’t do it, so the bigger government players — France, Germany, Italy — will meet April 17.
ArianeGroup wants 7 missions confirmed from ESA in the 14-rocket transition phase. They also want other commitments and price protection. Until then, no production on Ariane 6. What’s the solution?
There is no obvious answer, but it’s high time to compromise on this, and that requires that each side moves. It’s unpleasant for everybody but it is urgent that we find a compromise now. What’s a compromise? It’s typically a middle ground. That’s all I can say as a supplier not being at the table. This needs to happen soon.
OHB is making a proposal to the Portuguese government for a micro launcher to be operated from the Azores. Do you see a business there?
Of course. I am a space company and space companies need to be capable of going to space.
You already have space access, from Europe’s Guiana Space Center.
Look, I am not claiming we will settle Mars with this. I am not that ambitious. But I do believe that while of course there is an oversupply in these initiatives trying to do small rockets, it’s worthwhile to explore whether we can do a mini-launcher in a feasible way. We have been looking at this for awhile. We are a satellite company that sees satellites getting smaller — the subject we started our conversation with. Who knows where we will be with satellites in five years?
We may have an interesting market for a launcher than can do 200 to 500 kilograms.
People don’t generally make money in launchers without massive government support.
I know this. Not a lot of people make money in constellations either, at least on the equity side. I do believe it’s possible to do launchers for much less money than we have in the past. We have a few thoughts on how to reduce costs, so I like the idea of pursuing this.
I am not saying we are the first or the best or the only ones. But our advantage is that we build satellites and are are close to the market, and we also have a factory that builds rocket parts and are close to the manufacturing. So we are in a much better position than the green-fielders. We know what a rocket should look like and what satellites will look like in a couple of years. It’s worth exploring with a small launcher.
How many vehicles would you need to launch per year, on average, to break even? You must have done the calculations.
We have, but this is not the key thing now. Of course the more launches you have the more likely you are to make money on it. But we are not claiming we have the path to success here to a micro-launcher. It’s not part of my equity story. It’s part of what’s exciting for a space company to explore.
It’s that kind of thinking that drove your activist New York investor crazy.
I know. But I am doing this openly. It’s part of the transparent OHB story. We are open on launch sites. But for someone just starting to build a rocket, selection of launch sites is not the most urgent thing. So yes, we are looking at launch sites.
But we are looking at many things: lunar landers, Mars missions, asteroid deflection. This is what we’re here for.
But those are under government contract.
Not only. A few years ago we sent a little 14-kilogram thing to the Moon with the Chinese, from Luxembourg. So once and awhile we do stuff on our own. We did the Orbcomm investment, the micro-satellite work — these started with in-house R&D.

Intelsat IS-29e satellite suffers fuel leak, loses communications capacity; customers being relocated

Intelsat 29e carries 9.4 GHz of Ku-band downlink capacity mainly used for HTS spot beams for aeronautical and maritime broadband service in the North Atlantic, and in North and South America. It is also equipped with a trans-Atlantic Ku-band beam to overlay the spot beams, and with 24 C-band transponders and 450 MHz of Ka-band. Credit: Intelsat
UPDATED APRIL 9 WITH FULLER INTESAT STATEMENT: Intelsat says two events, one April 7 and another April 9, have caused the outage.
PARIS — The Intelsat 29e satellite, in service for just three years, has suffered a fuel leak that put the satellite into a slow tumble and force the shutdown of its communications payload, industry officials said.
The satellite, which is part of Intelsat’s Epic-class fleet of spacecraft carrying high-throughput-capacity (HTS) Ku-band, covers both North and South America and has HTS coverage over the North Atlantic for maritime and aeronautical broadband coverage. It operates from 50 degrees west in geostationary orbit.
One industry official, admitting only limited knowledge, said it appeared likely that Intelsat and the satellite’s manufacturer, Boeing Satellite Systems International, would be able to stop the tumble and return IS-29e to stable pointing mode. But a loss in the expected service life of 15 years is all but certain.
Officials said the satellite was insured for launch plus limited in-orbit operations but now carries no insurance cover.
In response to Space Intel Report queries, Intelsat issued the following statement on April 9:
“Our Intelsat 29e satellite recently suffered an anomaly in the propulsion system that caused the satellite to lose Earth-lock.  As designed, once earth lock is lost, the safety systems on the satellite system take over and shut down the communications payload. 
“As a result, our customers are currently experiencing an interruption in service.  We have been in direct and active communications with all impacted customers to identify and implement service restoration plans.  We are working closely with the satellite manufacturer, Boeing, to quickly resolve this issue and get our customers back on line as quickly as possible.”
The Intelsat 32e satellite has coverage that overlaps IS-29e over the North Atlantic. Credit: Intelsat
Intelsat issued a public statement that refers to two separate events that led to the loss of communications but without specifying what damage caused the initial fuel leak:
“Late on 7 April, the Intelsat 29e propulsion system experienced damage that caused a leak of the propellant on board the satellite resulting in a service disruption to customers on the satellite.  While working to restore the services, on 9 April, the satellite experienced a second anomaly that caused a loss of communications to the satellite.  Communication with the satellite has been intermittent. Intelsat continues to work with the satellite’s manufacturer, Boeing, on recovering communication.  The Intelsat customer-facing team is focused on migrating customer services from Intelsat 29e to other Intelsat satellites serving the region, as well as third party services.
Intelsat has a large fleet and likely will be able to shift customers to other Intelsat-operated satellites, but the company is also using third-party satellites. In particular, Intelsat’s IS-32e, launched in February 2017, has coverage designed to provide backup for IS-29e. It is located 7 degrees away, at 43 degrees west.

Sky and Space Global, juggling cash and schedule issues, signs 88-satellite MoU with Arianespace for Vega launches

Europe’s Vega rocket and its SSMS multi-smallsat dispenser. Credit: ESA
PARIS — Startup satellite IoT/M2M service provider Sky and Space Global (SAS), as part of a broad restructuring of its business plans, has signed an MoU with Europe’s Arianespace to launch 88 satellites on Europe’s Vega rocket starting in 2020.
The two parties have agreed that the contract must be confirmed by July 1.
SAS has also signed a preliminary agreement with Rocket Lab to explore whether that company’s Electron rocket can perform an SAS launch before the end of this year.
U.K.-based, Australia Securities Exchange (ASX)-traded SAS has had liquidity issues that have caused the construction of its 200-satellite constellation to fall behind schedule at manufacturer GomSpace of Denmark.
The two companies have agreed to revamp their existing contract, which likely will mean SAS will not be launching satellites before 2020. The company had scheduled launched with Virgin Orbit, whose inaugural flight has been delayed to an uncertain date late this year.
GomSpace and SAS agreed that their expanded and restructured relations would be confirmed by mid-May. If the two companies come to an agreement on schedule and pricing, GomSpace would continue building SAS’s Pearls satellite, to operate in equatorial orbit, and also start work on a smaller constellation of 6u satellites to broaden SAS’s footprint.
SAS said in a statement to investors April 9 that it had received encouragements from 16 existing customers that indicated they would increase the value of their service contracts with SAS if broader coverage were offered.
GomSpace of Denmark built three technology-validation satellites for Sky & Space Global as part of a planned 200-nanosatellites constellation in low Earth orbit for narrowband communications worldwide. This constellation’s contract is now being renegotiated by the two companies. Credit: GomSpace
SAS said it expected that what it labeled its Global Coverage constellation would number either eight or 16 satellites and cost between 4 million euros and 7 million euros, assuming GomSpace is the manufacturer.
To begin work, GomSpace has insisted that SAS make an immediate payment of 550,000 euros.
For their existing contract for the supply of Pearls satellites, GomSpace and SAS still have to agree on a new delivery schedule and total cost. SAS estimated the contract’s value at between 48 million euros and 70 million euros. Here too, GomSpace is insisting on advance payments and guarantee of future payments.
SAS said this agreement must be concluded within 30 days under the agreement with GomSpace.
“It is likely that SAS will not be able to execute its operating strategy within the timeframe currently planned unless a suitable alternate satellite manufacturer is engaged,” SAS said.
SAS said that has part of its plan to conserve cash, it had cut its annual operating expenses by some 1.4 million Australian dollars per year, equivalent to 12%.
The company said it is in negotiations on a U.S. debt facility to cover launch costs, but it’s not clear how this facility could be applied to an Arianespace launch.

GomSpace, Sky and Space Global agree, in principle, to revise their contractual relationship

The Sky and Space Global constellation of 200 satellites are designed to operate in an equatorial orbit offering M2M/IoT services to regions between 15-18 degrees North and South. Credit: Sky and Space Global, AGI
PARIS — Cubesat manufacturer GomSpace and its biggest customer, Sky and Space Global, have reached an in-principle agreement on restructuring the contract to build Sky and Space’s IoT/M2M constellation and then adding a new contract for a separate constellation.
The so-called “heads of agreement” includes no committed delivery schedule or even cost and appears to be an effort to put the two companies’ difficult relations back on firm footing.
Britain-based, Australia (ASX)-traded Sky and Space Global in 2018 fell behind in its payments to GomSpace for the initial constellation, forcing GomSpace to slow work.
Sky and Space recently raised additional funds to minimize the delay, but whether these are sufficient to bring the first-generation constellation to completion is unclear.
ASX trading in Sky and Space stock was suspended on April 4, at the company’s request, pending what it called the announcement of “a key supplier agreement and material business update.”
GomSpace told its investors April 8 that the two companies had agreed to reassemble their relationship to assured continued work on the original constellation while starting additional satellites.
The ‘heads of agreement’ is vague on almost every point
But contract details for both have not yet been settled.
“The technical specifications, statement of work, delivery schedule and the commercial, payment and legal terms to be financial decided in a definite agreement expected to be entered no later than May 2019,” GomSpace said in a statement.
The manufacturer said what the new deal would include advance payments by Sky and Space and “security for payments.”
There will be no work on the new constellation until the initial contract’s new terms have been definitively settled, the company said.
GomSpace and Sky and Space Global in 2017 signed a contract to build Sky and Space’s constellation. The deal was modified later in the year. Sky and Space has booked launches with 
GomSpace said the total contract value is about 64.5 million euros ($73.8 million), excluding options. Sky and Space has made payments totaling 7.2 million euros as of April 8, an amount covering development through the critical design review of the platform and work on its communications payload.
Sky and Space Global had expected to launch 16 of its 200 satellites by mid-2019 using Virgin Orbit as launch provider. Virgin Orbit still has not performed an inaugural orbital flight and in any event it’s unclear whether the first 16 satellites would be deliverable this year by GomSpace given the work stoppage last year.
The amended agreement is valued at between 48 million and 70 million euros, depending on the satellite models Sky and Space selects.
GomSpace and Sky and Space Global have entered into a “Heads of Agreement”

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