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.

Satellite navigation system operators seek a plan for traffic and debris management; South Korea to be 7th constellation

Four global constellations and three regional systems are either in orbit or on the way. Credit: U.S. State Department
PARIS — Keeping up with the neighbors has motivated many national space efforts and that appears to be a primary motivation for South Korea’s planned seven-satellite regional positioning, navigation and timing system.
Korea’s Korea Positioning System (KPS) will be the seventh satellite network devoted to navigation and it may be the last.
Current system providers — the United States, Russia, China, Europe, Japan and India — are now concerned that the inclined-geosynchronous and medium-Earth orbits used for these systems will require special traffic management and end-of-life disposal measures still to be negotiated. They have asked the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) to investigate options.
Credit: ICG
Seoul has been talking about KPS for several years but now has in the planning stages a first in-orbit-validation satellite to launch in 2027 into an elliptical and inclined geosynchronous orbit.
That will be followed by three more satellites in that orbit and three more in circular geostationary orbit, to to launch in time to reach full system operations in 2035, said Moon-Beom Heo of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI).
Credit: KARI
Heo told the March 25-27 Munich Satellite Navigation Summit that  Korea is grating under its dependence on the U.S. GPS system and wants a network under full national control, with higher precision.
“Neighboring countries around Korea — the United States, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and India — are operating or constructing heir own satellite navigation systems,” Heo said. The goal: Establish “a proprietary satellite navigation system as a fundamental and efficient infrastructure in order to reduce GPS error — 10-15 meters.”
Credit: National Space Technology Directorate of Japan
 
As described, KPS closely resembles Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). It would cover a region within a 1,000-kilometer radius of the Korean peninsula.
After several years of program uncertainty, Japan is reading it expansion of QZSS. Initial service from the Michibiki satellite at 127 degrees east in geostationary orbit and three satellites in highly inclined, elliptical orbit was inaugurated in November 2018.
QZSS is intended to complement the U.S. GPS service and provide augmented performance and a messaging service in a large area of the Asia-Pacific stretching east to Alaska and west to the edge of the Middle East.
Japan has long been a provider of space-based GPS augmentation with its MSAS service, which uses the MTSat satellite that entered operations in 2007.
Go Takizawa, executive director for QZSS strategy at the National Space Policy Directorate in the government’s Cabinet Office, said MTSat’s role in the network will end in 2020, when its replacement satellite, called QZS-3, will enter service.
The final three elliptical-orbit satellites will be launched to enable the full seven-satellite constellation to begin operations in 2023, Takizawa said.
The U.S. State Department, after initial resistance to the proliferation of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) beyond GPS, is now seeking GNSS orbital infrastructure providers to make their systems mutually compatible and interoperable.
David A. Turner, deputy director for space and advanced technology at the State Department, told the conference that the U.S. goal remains a global navigation system of systems to ensure maximum benefit from the multiple networks built or being planned.
Well over 100 GNSS satellites are operating in close proximity in medium-Earth orbit. They need a retirement plan that is more than just shutting down and staying there. Credit: OHB SE
Under the auspices of the United Nations, providers of GNSS satellite networks have formed the International Committee on GNSS (ICG). Its members include the European Union, China, Russia, India and Japan. Australia, which is planning a GPS augmentation system, is a new member.
Turner said the United States and Japan are coordinating frequency use for QZSS at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and have created a technical working group to discuss compatibility and interoperability issues.
Turner said a U.S.-South Korea meeting is planned for later this year to begin similar talks on KPS.
GNSS satellite providers have largely avoided the issue of orbital-debris mitigation, especially as regards the four global GNSS networks — U.S. GPS, Russia’s Glonass, China’s BeiDou and Europe’s Galileo.
More than 100 satellites from these systems are operational now and all of them are in medium-Earth orbit with an altitude of between 19,100 kilometers and 23,222 kilometers. Other navigation satellites are in inclined geosynchronous orbit.
How these satellites should be retired, and where, is still unresolved.

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.”

Satellite M2M/IoT constellation startup Sky and Space Global, with 2 months’ cash left, seeks shareholder support

Sky and Space Global has launched three demonstration satellites. It needs substantial new financing, and soon, to begin launching its commercial M2M/IoT constellation in 2020. Credit: GomSpace
UPDATE April 18: Sky and Space Global said it expects to be in compliance with the ASX trading rule requiring two board members to be residents of Australia by May 3, at which time it will resume trading and pursue its Tranche 2 and Priority Offer of shares to raise 7.4 million Australian dollars.
PARIS — Startup M2M/IoT constellation operator Sky and Space Global (SAS) said it has enough cash to operate for just two more months and is counting on a new share issue to buy it more time.
The share offer has been complicated by the resignation of two board members, an event that has removed SAS from the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) until it finds replacements who are Australian residents.
In another blow, the lead manager for the share offer, Taylor Collison Limited; and corporate advisor Chieftain Securities Pty Ltd., have cancelled their agreement to underwrite a combined 3 million Australian dollars ($2.11) of SAS’s Priority Offer.
Both will continue in their respective roles as lead manager and corporate advisor.
SAS on April 16 issued a Supplemental Prospectus for its share offering to reflect the most recent negotiations with satellite builder GomSpace of Denmark. GomSpace and SAS have set a mid-May deadline for the agreement to convert to a binding contract.
Under the new agreement, GomSpace will begin work on a second constellation of 6U-size cubesats in inclined orbit to provide broader geographic coverage than what is offered by the 3U Pearls constellation of 200 satellites, in equatorial orbit:
http://bit.ly/2vcSYhf
This new constellation of eight satellites would be built while work on the original, 200-satellite network was continuing at GomSpace.
In its Supplemental Prospectus, SAS said its latest trading halt on the ASX, on April 4, is likely to continue until it conforms to ASX rules requiring that at least two board members living in Australia.
The resignation of board members Michael Malone and Di Fulton was announced April 9. SAS said it has begun the search for replacements, and that their resignation “has no implications on its business plan for the launch of the first batch of operational satellites by early 2020.”
The company did not explain why Taylor Collison and Chieftain Securities withdrew their underwriting support. Brett Mitchell, a former SAS director, owns 33% of Chieftain’s equity.
SAS announced in February its plan to raise 12 million Australian dollars in new equity, in two tranches. The first, valued at 7.8 million Australian dollars, was completed. The second was supposed to occur in April.
Given the restructured GomSpace agreement, the withdrawal of underwriting support from the lead manager and the resignation of two board members, SAS has offered shareholders who have already subscribed the opportunity to withdrawal their investment in the Priority Offer and Tranche 2 Offer, with a deadline of May 16. The Priority Offer offer will go forward, but will no longer have a minimum subscription rate given the Taylor Collison/Chieftain withdrawal.
SAS’s ongoing operating expenses are about 500,000 Australian dollars per month. It said it will need to raise at least 90% of the 7.2 million Australian dollars offered under the Tranche 2 placement of 4.2 million Australian dollars and the Priority Offer of 3 million Australian dollars.
If it fails to reach the 90% subscription rate, it will need to seek alternative financing almost immediately.

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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”

Vector seeks court injunction against Lockheed’s SmartSat satellite technology, citing patent infringement

Vector says Lockheed Martin’s SmartSat design, which Lockheed expects to test in orbit this year with self-funded prototypes, infringes on three Vector patents. Credit: Lockheed Martin
PARIS — Startup small-launcher provider Vector filed a patent-infringement suit against Lockheed Martin, alleging that Lockheed’s just-announced SmartSat software-defined-satellite design uses Vector-patented technologies.
The lawsuit, filed April 5 in California’s Central District Court, alleges that Lockheed Martin has taken elements from three Vector patents filed between 2017 and 2019 and applied them to SmartSat.
The suit came just 16 days after Lockheed’s March 20 announcement of a new satellite architecture, called SmartSat, that was being integrated onto 10 satellites, including two LM 50 Lockheed cubesat platforms to be launched this year. Both have been financed internally at Lockheed Martin and are being launched as prototypes to test SmartSat applications.
Known as a pure-play small-satellite launch provider, Vector in 2016 announced the formation of a new division, called GalacticSky, that would a new operating system centered on software-defined radios. The new GalacticSky team came from VMWare and Citrix.
GalacticSky then went into “stealth” mode before emerging in the wake of the disclosure of Lockheed Martin’s SmartSat.
Vector’s GSky-1 satellite, scheduled for launch this year, will test GalacticSky technologies. Credit: Vector
Two days after the Lockheed announcement, Vector said its first GalactiSky model, GSky-1, had completed integration at the University of Southern California’s Space Engineering Research Center and would be launched this year.
GSky-1 will prove out GalacticSky functions and also carry three technology payloads for NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
The basic premise of software-defined satellites, which are in development by many satellite operators and associated research centers, is to render satellites more flexible by allowing owners to change their missions over the satellites’ operational lives.
The comparison most often used is that of a smartphone app that is added to users’ hardware. For prospective satellite developers, it opens the possibility of their becoming app designers using third-party-owned satellites to deploy their products to customers.
Vector first announced its GalacticSky software-defined-satellite product in 2016. Credit: Vector
Vector said its lawsuit was the “culmination of a sequence of events that started on March 20,” with the Lockheed announcement. “After exhausting all non-legal remedies, Vector saw no other path.
In its lawsuit, Vector said it met with Lockheed in late 2018 on the issue, apparently with no result. Lockheed Martin declined to comment on the lawsuit, and as of early April 8 had not made a filing in the California court.
Vector is asking the California court to issue an injunction against Lockheed’s further use of those aspects of SmartSky that use Vector-patented technology.It is asking the court to award triple the amount of that damages, including royalties and lost profit, that Vector is found to have suffered.

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