Indonesia, which squandered its L-band rights, asks regulators for mercy with a new satellite proposal

The L-band filing at 123 degrees East is one of three satellite programs Indonesia wants to maintain by getting deadline extensions from the coming World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC-19. Credit: Indonesia Ministry of Communications and Informatics
PARIS — The government of Indonesia, which in 2017 stopped rental payments on an L-band satellite it had leased to preserve an Indonesian orbital position for a government connectivity project that was then canceled, wants another chance to fill the orbital slot.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications and Informatics is asking the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Radio Regulations Board to extend by four years, to November 2024, the deadline needed to fill the slot at 123 degrees East.
Credit: Indonesia Ministry of Communications and Informatics
The board is expected to review the request at its next quarterly meeting, scheduled for Oct. 14-18 in Geneva. Indonesia is also asking the ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) for support. WRC-19 is scheduled for Oct. 28-Nov. 22 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
In defense of its request, Indonesia omits all references to the fact that its government is responsible for the fact that the 123 degrees east slot has been empty since November 2017. Instead, the proposal focuses on Indonesia’s geography — 17,000 islands — and its susceptibility to natural disasters.
“Indonesia has faced multiple natural disasters during the last 15 years … [and] has suffered extensive loss of life and heavy economic losses, some of which would have been mitigated had Indonesia had in place an MSS satellite capability,” the ministry said in its petition to the ITU.
“It is also evident… that Indonesia has made various possible efforts to restore these satellite services at the earliest, but the delays have been beyond its control.”
Indonesia’s Garuda-1 satellite was launched in 2000 and occupied the 123 degrees East slot until 2015. During that period, Indonesian military authorities had begun designing SatKomHan, an $800 million system that would provide mobile L-band communications throughout the country.
The now-abandoned SatKomHan L-band satellite looked like this. A commercial version will have similar characteristics.  Credit: SatKomHan Program Office
But SatKomHan was running late, with intermittent funding, and a gapfiller was needed. Available in-orbit satellites with L-band payloads are rare, but Indonesia was lucky enough to find Avanti Communications of London, which had taken over the 22-nation European Space Agency’s Artemis satellite, whose L-band payload Avanti did not need.
Artemis was nearing the end of its life, but it had enough fuel to perform the “bringing into use” or in this case, bringing back into to use, role Indonesia needed it to play. Avanti moved Artemis into the Indonesian slot.
But an apparent disconnect between Indonesian government authorities led to Indonesia’s military stopping payment on the Artemis lease. Avanti of London, already under pressure to retire Artemis to avoid violating British end-of-life satellite-disposal regulations, moved Artemisout of the 123 East slot and later retired Artemis to a graveyard orbit.
Indonesia ultimately paid Avanti a $20.075 million arbitration judgment for nonpayment following a judgment of London Court of Arbitration:
Industry officials had warned that Indonesia, in scuttling the Artemis contract, risked losing the slot for the $800-million SatKomHan government mobile communications project:
Following a separate dispute between Indonesia’s Defense Ministry and its Finance Ministry, the SatKomHan project, with Airbus Defence and Space as prime contractor, was likewise abandoned.
Many companies involved with SatKomHan complained that they were left with unpaid SatKomHan bills.
Artemis was moved out of the 123 degrees East slot in November 2017. That restarted the three-year ITU deadline for filling the position with another L-band satellite.
That would be difficult, which is why Indonesia is asking to be given another four years, to November 2024, to occupy the slot with a new satellite.
“Extensive discussions have taken place with various satellite manufacturers for fabrication and launch of a full-fledged, large satellite — a capital-intensive project,” the Indonesian Communications Ministry says in is ITU filing. “It is well recognized that to plan, finance, build and launch an MSS satellite can take about four years.”
In December 2018, Indonesia licensed the 123 E slot to Dini Nusa Kusuma (DNK), a satellite services reseller owned in part by Thomas van der Heyden and Surya Witoelar, who had been program consultants on the SatKomHan project on behalf of the Indonesian Defense Ministry.
The current project is no longer financed by the Indonesian government. It is a commercial venture in which DNK will need to raise the financing to build and launch the satellite.
The Indonesian government would need to commit to a substantial portion of the satellite’s capacity to secure the project financing. Airbus would likely have an advantage among prospective builders.
When payments stopped, so did Airbus’s work on SatKomHan, which made it to preliminary design review but had not begun hardware construction.
How the ITU will react to Indonesia’s request is unknown. The organization in the past has gone to great lengths to protect developing nations’ orbital slot even when those nations have plainly violated the regulations.
One industry official with long experience at the ITU said the WRC-19 conference may well approve the extension, despite the fact that it was not tsunamis, but internal government bickering, that put Indonesia where it now finds itself.
And if WRC-19 doesn’t buy Indonesia’s argument? One possible way out would be to order a small satellite with a single L-band channel that could launch as a supplemental passenger on a rocket carrying a larger satellite to geostationary orbit.
All the L-band cubesat would need to do was operate for three months. After this 90-day period, Indonesia will have secured another three years to finish the larger satellite hat DNK is supposed to order.

Small-launcher startup PLD Space says engine-test anomalies will delay inaugural suborbital flight test

Spanish Science, Innovation and Universities Minister Pedro Duque, a former astronaut, inaugurates PLD Space test facilities at Teruel Airport in February 2019, with PLD Co-Founders Raul Verdu, left, and Raul Torres, right. Duque has publicly supported a large increase in Spain’s space budget, but Nov. 10 general elections make it unclear who will represent Spain at ESA’s Space 19+ ministerial conference, to be held Nov. 27-28 in Seville, Spain. Credit: PLD Space
PARIS — Startup smallsat launch-service provider PLD Space has suffered a series of engine test-firing anomalies in recent months, including one explosion, that will delay its first suborbital test flight for an undetermined amount of time, PLD Chief Executive Raul Torres said.
Torres said the Miura-1 LOX-kerosene engine’s basic design does not appear to be at issue in the problems, which have occurred during startup and shutdown and not during the engine’s nominal 3- to 4-minute burn.
He said the problem may be related to the test stand itself, at Spain’s Teruel Airport, which was built on a shoestring budget and is now being enhanced.
“We now have the budget to do engine qualifications and long-duration tests,” Torres said in an Oct. 11 interview. “I see this as part of the process that most launcher companies go through. It’s in qualification that you find out what’s wrong. But we have not solved the problem yet.”
PLD Space is one of several startups designing rockets to carry small satellites into orbit from European territory. In addition to sites in Spain, PLD is part of a consortium including veteran aerospace companies Deimos and GMV, and Britain’s launcher startup Orbex, that is bidding for a license to operate from Portugal’s Azores Islands.
PLD raised about 20 million euros ($22 million) private sources including GMV, Deimos and Aciturri and the European Commission and the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA): It has also secured backing from JME Venture Capital of Spain:
Torres said these funds are sufficient to overcome the engine issues and complete testing of the Miura-1 pressure-fed engine.
A test firing of PLD Space’s Miura 1 engine. Credit: PLD Space
“This problem is not yet solved and we are modifying the test bench,” Torres said. “We have continued testing and hope by the end of the year to have made progress. We know the engine is well-designed; that is not the problem. It looks to be related to the interface between the engine and the bench.”
PLD reduced is headcount and is operating on a lower-cost basis.
In April, the company performed a helicopter drop test over the ocean of its reusable Miura-1 first stage, in part to determine how the stage reacts to salt water.
Torres said tests are still being run but that the status of the engine and the stage were good enough to give confidence that, if the recovery is done quickly enough, the hardware can be refurbished and reused in a way that makes business sense.
PLD had planned one suborbital flight this year. Those plans are now on hold, and Torres said he did not want to announce a target date before the engine issues are resolved.
“Too many people in this business give dates before they have solved problems,” he said. “I prefer to solve the problem and then propose a launch date.
Like other Spanish space companies, and like the 22-nation ESA, PLD is uncertain about Spain’s space budget in the run up to Nov. 10 general elections.
Spanish Science, Innovation and Universities Minister Pedro Duque, a former astronaut, has favored a substantial increase in Spain’s space budget. Much of which would go to ESA for programs to be approved at ESA’s ministerial conference, to be held Nov. 27-28 in Seville, Spain.
At this point it isn’t certain who the host nation’s minister responsible for space will be, or whether Spain will be able to make the multi-year commitments that ESA proposes at these ministerial conferences, held every three years.
Spain is ESA’s fifth-largest contributor among the 22 member nations, accounting for 4.6% of the agency’s budget.

ILS’s Pysher on Proton rocket future and competing with SpaceX, Arianespace, Blue Origin, the day before his surprise ‘resignation’

Kirk Pysher. Credit: Euroconsult
PARIS — Either he was blindsided or he deserves an acting award.
International Launch Services (ILS) President Kirk Pysher on Oct. 9 discussed the company’s near-term prospects, the state of Proton rocket production and the competitive landscape, with acerbic digs at SpaceX, Arianespace and Blue Origin, and hopeful remarks about insurance rates for ILS launches.
Pysher was speaking at Eutelsat headquarters here just after the liftoff of the ILS Proton mission carrying Eutelsat’s 5 West B telecommunications satellite and the first Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1, for Northrop Grumman’s SpaceLogistics subsidiary.
Proton’s Breeze-M upper stage fired five times over 15 hours and 54 minutes before releasing the two satellites — both platforms were built by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems and stacked one on top of the other under the Proton fairing — into a super-synchronous transfer orbit at 65,000 kilometers in altitude.
ILS released a statement from Pysher confirming the successful separation of the payloads. It was the first time two commercial ILS satellites rode on a single Proton.
Four hours later, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency and ILS owner Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center announced Pysher’s resignation.
John Palme, ILS’s chief operating officer, was named interim president.
Pysher did not immediately respond to requests for comment about his departure. During the interview he referenced upcoming industry conferences he expected to attend and in all other respects gave the impression of someone who would be in his job for some time.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Is this the last ILS mission? Is ILS going to be moved into Glavkosmos or otherwise becoming an all-Russian entity?
I don’t understand where ideas like that come from. ILS is still owned by Khrunichev, the majority shareholder. Glavkosmos hasn’t taken over any of the shares, or the ownership.
What has happened is that two of the three Russian ILS board seats have now been filled by Glavkosmos. That’s how Glavkosmos came into the picture.
But ILS will remain the same going forward and will be signing contracts with customers. There is no proposed change to that structure.
So ILS will remain as a U.S. company?
An independent U.S. company. We are not a subsidiary of Khrunichev. We are an independent company, and Khrunichev is the majority shareholder. We are incorporated in the United States, in Delaware.
What is the near-term future for Proton as Russia readies the introduction of the Angara rocket and phases out Proton?
Khrunichev is building Protons and will continue to build Protons until there is a suitable replacement. They are planning Angara 5 to be on line in 2023. What that means is that the Federal program — the Russian MoD and civil government programs — will be flying Angara 5. Commercial Angara 5 missions probably won’t start until 2025.
The first few Angara 5 flights are certification flights. Once it is fully certified, commercial sales will take place. So 2025 is the earliest data for commercial Angara 5, out of the Vostochny spaceport.
There are opportunities for commercial Angara 5 out of Plesetsk [the northern Russia spaceport], but those are limited because the performance isn’t what it needs to be. But the Angara 1.2 out of Plesetsk is something that we’re marketing.
What does ILS’s board see as the near-term future given the state of the market and the competition? What’s on your manifest?
As of today, we still have our multi-launch agreements with Eutelsat and Intelsat, as well as a mission with KARI, Kompsat-6, for the Angara 1.2. And there is another contract which I am not at liberty to talk about.
This is a commercial Proton mission that is unidentified?
Yes. For 2021.
Intelsat and Eutelsat have told you they consider their multi-launch agreements as still active?
Any other contracts on the manifest?
No. You asked how our board views the market. We see it moving away from larger GEO-orbit satellites to smaller, EP [electric propulsion] satellites that want to share launch opportunities. We are also seeing ride-share opportunities. The issue is how do we address all these things.
We need to be flexible and find solutions. When we aligned ourselves with Glavkosmos, that was part of the reason. With them we have Soyuz, Proton, the Angara vehicles. We should be able to find a solution among those vehicles for whatever is out there that needs to be launched.
And when we throw in the new products that Russia is developing — the Soyuz 5, as part of a replacement for the Zenit rocket but it looks to be more a medium-lift vehicle — that’s what our plan is, to be able to handle whatever the market throws at us.
The market is really uncertain now. We’re hearing about people building satellites that are so big that they might not fit in any of the available launches.
You know 2018 wasn’t a good year for space insurance underwriters, and 2019 looks no better given the low premiums and recent rocket and satellite failures. Premiums have gone up sharply. You’ve had issues with insurers in the past: You had them over to the Khrunichev factory in July. Have you made any headway?
I would say yes, we have. When they visited the factory they were able to actually see what we have been telling them about. They had been complaining for years about a lack of first-hand viewing of the processes. Overall it was a very good experience for the underwriters.
Our problem with insurance is not just the rates applied to ILS Proton missions, it’s the estimates about what rate will be that are given to customers when they are going through the process of trying to close their business plans.
You mean they might discount ILS as an option even before getting a formal insurance proposal?
Yes, based on estimates they are getting for launches that are two and one-half years out. We’re trying to address that aspect.
Since the Vega failure [in July, of the European Vega smallsat launcher, carrying a UAE military observation satellite insured for $400 million], we have heard that insurance rates for our competitors have doubled.
I know that ours have not doubled. So we have closed that differential a little bit. I think we are making progress. Our successful launch today will help with that. By the end of the year we should have 20 Proton successes in a row. Our five-year moving average is a 96% success rate.
There are Federal missions on Proton before the end of this year?
Yes, a couple are planned.
If insurance rates are going up, and underwriters are more skittish, that can’t help Proton.
It’s really the differential — what competitors are charged versus what we are charged — that we want to close. We believe we are able to do that.
The commercial launch-service market addressing large payloads does not have much visibility these days.
I don’t think any of the launch companies serving the global satellite operators are healthy right now.
 Blue Origin seems healthy enough.
Blue Origin has been in business for 19 years and they have made a few hops up and down on the Earth’s surface. You can do that when you are a billionaire and sinking a billion a year into the business. Good for him. But that doesn’t make the rest of us healthy.
Look across the board — Space Systems/Loral, Airbus, Thales, everybody, these are not healthy conditions. Arianespace needs subsidies from ESA to help sell Ariane 6.
You didn’t mention SpaceX.
There was a documentary recently about Silicon Valley companies resisting IPOs because that would force them to open their books. I see [NASA Administrator Jim] Bridenstine finally kicking Elon Musk [in a tweet] for bragging about their stainless-steel Starship.
The Proton rocket lifts off on Oct. 9 carrying the first fully commercial dual-passenger payload for ILS. Credit: Roscosmos
So your owners have said they still like the idea of having a U.S. company handling Proton and then navigating the commercial transition to Angara launches?
That’s the plan, yes.
You had talked previously about lowering Proton prices to compensate for the fact your customers were paying double the insurance premium. Have you done this?
You know what the competition is offering and you can meet these prices?
Without a doubt. We can meet them and in some cases beat them.
It’s not easy to beat the SpaceX prices. You’ve seen them: $50 million to launch a good-sized satellite to GTO.
Here again, we’re talking about competing against billionaires. Neither one of them [SpaceX and Blue Origin] have to make money. Just do the math: SpaceX has got 6,000 U.S. employees, right? They are not making money on selling launches, some of them lower than $50 million.
Lower than $50 million for a GTO?
Yes. We’ve seen Arianespace, too, go down to price points that are completely unprofitable.
For Ariane 5 or Ariane 6 vehicles?
Ariane 5.
You’re referring to the Ovzon-3 contract that went to Arianespace for an Arianespace over SpaceX? SpaceX wasn’t happy with that.
They should have gotten upset.
Did you bid on Ovzon-3, a 1,500-kilogram satellite built by Maxar?
Yes and we would have handled that as a dual launch.
So ILS has access to Proton rockets in the next few years to conduct its normal contract bidding life?
Yes. There is no specific number of Protons remaining to be launch. The idea is that at some point we have to bring Proton launches to an end. There has to be a transition to Angara 5. And you can see by [Roscosmos Chief Dmitry] Rogozin’s statements and President Putin’s statements: Proton will continue to fly until there is a certified replacement.
Can you bid on the six C-band satellites that Intelsat and SES have promised to launch, built in the United States, if they get regulatory approval for their C-band spectrum auction?
Yes. No one has told us that we cannot bid.
Did you bid on the seven SES mPower satellites? They will be launched on two SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.
No, there was a compatibility issue with that.
Your launch today had two Northrop Grumman satellite platforms stacked under the Proton fairing. Given the market’s move to lighter satellites, how can you do this more often?
We are working to be able to launch some of the Russian Federal missions with a commercial ILS mission. People have thought of this before, but the market may not have been ripe for it. Now it is. The Federal satellites are always about the same size and the same performance, so we pretty much know what excess performance we have on the Proton.
It’s not a done deal yet, but it’s being worked and we are notifying them [the Russian government] of opportunities that exist. We have Roscosmos behind us. The harder part is the Ministry of Defense.
But you could launch civil missions for Russia’s RSCC satellite operator along with an ILS satellite.
A: Correct. Roscosmos and all the suppliers have been tasked by President Putin to start making money, to figure out how to do it.
Did you bid on Inmarsat’s GX Flex, with the new Airbus OneSat platform?
We did not.
And the two Spanish military telecom satellites?
We go after all we can. That will be a challenge for us versus Ariane. But there are several satellites coming up for launch decisions this year.
Where are Proton prices today compared to five years ago?
We have had a 40%-50% price reduction over that five-year period. Look at SpaceX’s $50 million, for commercial customers. That’s what we have to compete against. The difference is I do not have 6,000 California-based employees.
How was today’s launch contract negotiated?
It was part of the Eutelsat multi-launch agreement.
So Eutelsat sold to Northrop the launch for MEV-1?
It was complicated, but our contract was for both launches.
And your customer for this was basically Eutelsat?

Russia/Intersputnik, citing SpaceX co-passenger delay, seek ITU deadline extension for Saturn Satellite Networks NationSat

Saturn Satellite Networks founder Tom Choi. Credit: Euroconsult
PARIS — Russia asked the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for more time to place the first NationSat satellite from startup manufacturer Saturn Satellite Networks Inc. into geostationary position because of a delay with a co-passenger on the SpaceX launch.
Acting on behalf of the Moscow-based Intersputnik international satellite organization, the Russian Federation said the satellite, intended for 98 degrees East, will miss its regulatory deadline of June 29, 2020, by about 10 months because of the delayed launch.
In a letter to the Geneva-based ITU, SpaceX confirmed that the unnamed co-passenger will be unable to make the original launch slot of May 1 to June 25, 2020. The launch has been rescheduled to between Oct. 1, 2020 , and March 31, 2021, SpaceX said.
Intersputnik said Saturn informed the organization of the delay on Aug. 27, and told the RRB that the project’s economics collapse if the launch were to proceed with NationSat as the sole payload.
The request to the ITU’s Radio Regulations Board is likely to be approved.
Saturn Satellite Networks of California is debuting a product line of 2.5-kW satellites weighing a maximum of 1,700 kilograms at launch. Saturn has said that the spacecraft, which it calls NationSats, are designed to cost no more than $70 million including the satellite’s construction, launch, insurance and ground control station.
SpaceX has been selling commercial geostationary-orbit launches well under its $60 million advertised price, according to individuals. Dividing this launch cost between two customers would make a $70-million all-in cost achievable.
Saturn was founded by satellite industry veteran Tom Choi, a founder of fleet operator ABS:
Intersputnik is the first customer for this product line. The organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment on which of its member countries, and which company, will operate the satellite, but it appears to be Russia.
The current fleet of satellites on which Intersputnik has capacity. Credit: Intersputnik
The project represents a new business for Intersputnik, which for years has been weighing the idea of having its own satellites rather than lease capacity on its member governments’ spacecraft.
The organization agreed to create a special-purpose investment fund to provide seed capital to business plans judged promising in Intersputnik member nations. Intersputnik provides an initial $750,000 in a five-year, low-interest loan, and also purchases equity in the venture.
The organization has set aside $4.5 million to organize tenders once or twice a year for NationSat-type projects.
Choi has said Saturn’s business model is based on persuading emerging-market nations to purchase small, relatively inexpensive satellites with enough capacity in C-, Ku- or Ka-band to cover specific territories for television broadcasting, consumer broadband or corporate network data links.
Saturn has estimated that African nations alone make some $1.5 billion in annual bandwidth-lease payments to the largest global satellite fleet operators including SES, Intelsat, Eutelsat and Telesat. Breaking their grip on emerging markets is a Saturn goal.
These established operators have long faced competition from what are sometimes called “pride sats,” built to show the national flag but absent much of a long-term business plan.
As a largely fixed-cost business, satellite telecommunications benefits from scale economies that the larger fleet operators say can be passed on to customers so that, over time, emerging-market nations do not pay more than they would with their own satellite.
But the Saturn idea is for much smaller satellites that have the standard 15-year service life and can limit their coverage to a national territory, right-sizing the infrastructure for these governments.
That’s just as well for this satellite at 98 degrees east, a crowded area of the geostationary arc with Chinasat satellites 0.1 degrees to the west and 0.3 degrees to the east.
Intersputnik said the NationSat idea “has already caught the interest of several countries.”


Globalizing small-satellite supply chain makes US ITAR regulations less relevant, to China’s delight

Xing He, executive vice president, China Great Wall Industry Corp. Credit: Euroconsult
PARIS — The proliferation of satellite technology and the advent of small satellites performing a wide range of missions offer a commercial opening to China that the country’s booming space sector hopes to seize.
The U.S. ITAR — International Traffic in Arms Regulations — designed to slow China’s rocket development by banning exports of U.S. satellite parts to China have failed completely in its original primary task, thanks to strong Chinese domestic demand for satellite launches. 
But ITAR did stunt China’s growth as an exporter of launch services. Until SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket became a force in the market, ITAR mainly benefited Europe’s Arianespace and the U.S.-Russian International Launch Services (ILS), which were spared much competition from China.
In recent years as China’s satellite industry has developed large, high-power telecommunications satellites, these have been bundled with rockets on Chinee launchers to give China an export presence. But these contracts have been relatively rare.
With the commoditization of much satellite technology, many nations now make satellites and satellite components that use no U.S. technology. Beyond the reach of ITAR, they can be exported to China and use for telecommunications payloads on Chinese satellite platforms.
The smallsat boom promises to accelerate that trend as operators of smallsat constellations, some with global, or at least multi-national, supply chains, include China in their assessment of where best to purchase launches.
Spurred by the domestic demand, China’s market is seeing the same enthusiasm for NewSpace-type developments as the United States, Europe and Asia in privately funded rockets and satellite systems. New launch-service companies include Landspace, OneSpace, I-Space and Ink Space.
Chinese officials say private-sector space activity, in both launch services and satellite applications, has taken off since a 2014 change in Chinese regulations:
China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) has lived through the ITAR ban for 20 years and now sees in smallsats a way of taking ITAR out of the equation. GCWIC Executive Vice President Xing He says that private-sector launch companies in China expect to benefit from this as much as does CGWIC.
Credit: Euroconsult
“This is an opportunity for us to add business,” He said at Euroconsult’s World Space Business Week, held here Sept. 9-13, referring to the growth in demand for cubesats.
“In the past, because of ITAR, we were not able to launch the big satellites manufactured in the U.S., or those with U.S. components. So we are focusing on smallsats, which are beyond the control of ITAR.”
Until only a few years ago, a European company would be almost embarrassed in labeling its product “ITAR-free,” meaning not subject to ITAR export constraints. That is no longer true, and even U.S. companies have adopted the ITAR-free label for hardware designed and developed by their non-U.S. subsidiaries.
China’s domestic space market continues to grow at a pace that makes export orders less important than they are in Europe, for example. The smallsat sector there is moving into constellations, putting them on the CGWIC radar alongside ITAR-free opportunities outside China.
“This year we have found more and more opportunities in China and around the world,” He said. “We have smallsat customers. China will definitely build up its constellations and there are opportunities for small launchers there.”
At least three private-sector launch companies have developed their own small launch vehicles. CGWIC in early 2019 contracted with Earth observation constellation startup Satellogic to launch 13 Satellogic spacecraft on a Long March 6 rocket. The multi-launch agreement covers a total of 90 satellites to launch into low Earth orbit.

GEO-satellite market rebound? Yes, but… For Arianespace, SpaceX, commercial LEO is the bigger business in 2020

Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel. Credit: Euroconsult
PARIS — The commercial space industry looks at the number of GEO-orbit satellites ordered each year as a proxy for the market’s health. But this measure has lost much of its meaning in the current market.
When a GEO-orbit satellite can include the 300-kilogram Astranis, with the improbable business plan of serving just Alaska with broadband; and Ovzon AB‘s 1,500-kilogram Ovzon-3, for commercially provided government and military communications, the unit value of GEO orders falls apart.
As of mid-September, there were 11 GEO-orbit satellites ordered by commercial and governmental satellite operators. That compares with six or seven ordered in all of 2018.
Satellite manufacturers and launch-service providers attending Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here Sept. 9-13 agreed that a rebound in the GEO market had begun. But they also agreed it would never return to the 24-satellite-per-year average of a decade ago.
Several companies said the 2019 tally could surpass 20 satellites.
Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said his company forecasts that GEO satellite orders would reach 23 in 2019.
That’s clearly a rebound from the past three years. But the numbers are not what they appear. Arianespace, for example, tends to view satellites in terms of an equivalent mass occupying the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket’s upper, for heavier payloads, and the lower berth for lighter satellites.
Anything below 4,000 kilograms is going to be a problem for Ariane 5 because it will require finding a very large satellite for the upper berth to make the business case for the Ariane 5 rocket.
Arianespace: 23 GEO orders this year equivalent to 15-16 standard Ariane 5 satellites
Israel said here Sept. 9 that by Arianespace’s reckoning, the 23 GEO-orbit satellites to be ordered in 2019 would be equivalent to just 15 or 16 “normal” satellites using the historic GEO-unit measure. The 11 GEO satellites ordered as of mid-September translate to eight Ariane slots, he said.
In addition to Ovzon-3, which Arianespace has contracted to launch, mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat is purchasing the three inaugural units of Airbus Defence and Space’s new OneSat software-defined spacecraft.
The OneSat platforms are designed to be stacked on top of each other and are equivalent to a single upper-berth Ariane 5 payload.
In addition to Inmarsat, another bulk satellite order may come this year from SES of Luxembourg, which is reviewing Airbus and Thales Alenia Space options for either Airbus’s OneSat or Thales Alenia Space’s product, the newly announced Space Inspire.
SES and Intelsat are also expected to order four satellites each as part of any agreement with U.S. regulators on auctioning a portion of the C-band spectrum that satellite operators use in the United States. Each company would launch three of them and keep a fourth as a ground spare.
SES and Intelsat, as part of the C-Band Alliance, have promised U.S. regulators that all these new C-band satellites would be U.S.-built. Israel said Arianespace has received no indication that it would be prevented from bidding on these launches.
Another factor making GEO satellites a no-longer-valid measure of the market’s health is of course the non-GEO-orbit satellites that are will dominate both the Arianespace and competitor SpaceX’s manifests in the coming months.
Arianespace is managing the launches of 21 Russian Soyuz rockets for the OneWeb LEO-broadband constellation. The first has been completed, and the remaining 20 are expected to occur, each with 30-plus 150-kilogram OneWeb satellites, starting in mid-December.
It’s a contract valued at around $1.1 billion.
SpaceX: Up to 27 more Starlink launches by end-2020, but we won’t favor Starlink over other customers
The SpaceX situation is more complicated as is Starlink broadband constellation, ultimately to comprise more than 1,000 satellites, is an in-house transaction, with SpaceX responsible for most of the satellite components.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. Credit: Euroconsult
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company, which launched the first 60 operational satellites in May, could perform 2-3 more launches this year.
With SpaceX, like Arianespace, still suffering from the decline in GEO launches, SpaceX will be able to ramp Starlink launches in 2020, with around 24 planned.
SpaceX does not have the same satellite-pairing headaches as Arianespace. The Falcon 9 rocket, unlike Ariane 5, was not designed around the need to launch two satellites at a time.
That makes it easier for SpaceX to launch customers as they are ready, but the three-year dip in GEO orders has left SpaceX, like Arianespace, in the position of  waiting for customers to arrive ready to launch.
Arianespace has tried to use the Starlink constellation as a wedge between SpaceX and commercial satellite operators, saying SpaceX was becoming a competitor to them with Starlink. In addition, SpaceX may naturally favor its own satellites over its other customers’ missions.
Shotwell denied this, saying that SpaceX would not let Starlink delay the scheduled launches of other customers.
“I am counting on some [additional] Starlink launches this year,” Shotwell said here Sept. 10 during the Euroconsult conference. “If a couple of customers move out, I’ll have more Starlink launches — maybe up to four this year. But we won’t push a customer out for that, so we’ll wait and see what the end of the year looks like and see what we can fit in.”
SpaceX has not disclosed its internal accounting for the Starlink missions. The company has recently been advertising missions at $50 million apiece.
Even at $40 million per launch, 28 Starlink launches over 15 months would be valued at $1.12 billion — about the same as the 21-launch OneWeb Soyuz package with Arianespace.

Orbit Fab raises $3 million, says it’s enough for 2020 demo of a satellite-refueling tanker

Orbit Fab Chief Executive Daniel Faber. Credit: TechCrunch Disrupt SF video
PARIS — Satellite in-orbit refueling startup Orbit Fab raised $3 million in Seed round funding from Type 1 Ventures, a new VC, which Orbit Fab said is enough to cover the construction and launch of its first demonstration mission in 2020.
Orbit Fab Co-Founder and Chief Executive Daniel Faber, a former chief executive of Deep Space Industries, said the company estimates it will need $20 million in capital to reach cash-flow break-even and already has contracts to deliver 10 fueling ports to customers this year.
Orbit Fab’s goal is to launch small fuel canisters that can visit satellites, refuel them and then separate.
Orbital Fab Co-Founder Jeremy Schiel demonstrates the refueling port. Credit: TechCrunch Disrupt SF video
The company conducted a proof-of-concept demonstration at the International Space Station (ISS) using funding from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which operates the ISS National Lab. The demonstration delivered water instead of fuel to the ISS.
Orbit Fab has designed a fueling port that can be used by other companies now designing their own satellite servicing missions, but its goal is to fly canisters with the same dimensions as the ISS-demonstrated mission but with solar arrays and avionics added.
These small fuel reserves then would directly service satellites that had integrated the Orbit Fab fueling port into their designs.
Credit: Orbit Fab
Addressing the Tech Crunch Disrupt SF conference on Oct. 3, Faber said the satellite industry is looking for a common standard to use to facilitate future in-orbit servicing. He said Orbit Fab is working with 20 companies to develop such a standard. Orbit Fab said is partners and collaborators include Lockheed Martin, Japan’s IHI, the U.S. Air Force, NASA and Benchmark Space Systems.
The commercial satellite industry is divided on the near-term value of refueling. Commercial telecommunications satellites in geosynchronous orbit today typically operate for at least 15 years. Operators are wary of extending that life given the advances in satellite technology that will have made their orbital infrastructures obsolete.
Second, the commercial satellite sector is moving toward electric propulsion, which does not carry the risk of having an otherwise well-functioning, revenue-generating satellite run out of fuel.
Northrop Grumman’s Space Logistics LLC will be the first attempt to extend the life of an in-orbit satellite when it launches aboard an International Launch Services Proton rocket. The launch is scheduled for Oct. 9.
Space Logistics’ Mission Extension Vehicle-1 will dock with an aging Intelsat satellite and stay attached for several years, extending the satellite’s life, and then moving to another Intelsat satellite.
Faber said the 2020 demonstration of an in-orbit fueling system should be enough to unlock commercial support for the business. He said satellite operators “can save 50% on their capital expenditure and we take him gross margins of 90%.”
It was not immediately clear how to interpret those numbers. A mid-size telecommunications satellite will cost at least $175 million to build and launch, if not more. Depending on what Orbit Fab charges customers, and how many years’ life extension is provided, the savings for a satellite operator should be more than 50%.
Faber said the company needed about $20 million to reach cash-flow break-even.

SES and Ethiopian broadcasters create Ethiosat platform at 57 East; who repoints the dishes from Eutelsat’s 7/8 West?

Ethiosat and SES officials celebrate the launch of the Ethiosat platform on SES’s NSS-12 satellite at 57 degrees east. Credit: SES
PARIS — SES and Ethiopia’s two broadcasting groups said they had started a dedicated Ethiopian television platform using SES’s NSS-12 satellite at 57 degrees East but left unanswered the question of who’ll pay to repoint the antennas of several million customers now using Eutelsat capacity at 7/8 degrees West.
The Association of Ethiopian Broadcasters (AEB) and the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corp. (EBC), confirming an announcement in July, said they had begun loading programming onto the SES service.
These same broadcasters had signed a multi-year, multi-transponder contract with Eutelsat in February, and Eutelsat at the time said there was no change to the contract:
SES said the broadcasters would simulcast on both the Eutelsat and SES positions while migrating customers from one to the other.
In response to the joint SES/AEB/EBC announcement Oct. 3, Eutelsat reaffirmed that its Ethiopian business remains intact, with the contracts in force.
The creation of Ethiosat, more than 30 Ethiopian-audience-only channels, 12 of which in HD format, fulfills an Ethiopian ambition of having an audience that looks only at Ethiopian broadcasting. That was not true with Eutelsat’s 7/8 degrees West slot, which is home to multiple North African and Middle Eastern broadcasts beamed to an audience of 56 million viewers.
In an Oct. 3 statement on the creation of Ethiosat, AEB Chairman Amman Fissehazion gave a fuller explanation for why the switch was made.
“Up until now, the majority of Ethiopia’s content has been broadcast from an orbital position that also supplies content to Middle Eastern and North African countries, which explains the often confusing mix of content,” Fissehazion said.
“By migrating the most popular Ethiopian TV channels to a new location on SES’s satellite, we’ve created an Ethiopian-only TV offering that also devlivers a variety of channels in HD, a first in Ethiopia.”
He said Ethiosat intended to grow is channel count to include both local and relevant international content in the future.
“[C]onsolidating all Ethiopian TV channels and broadcasting them from one orbital position will fuel growth in the Ethiopian media sector, as local networks will now be able to easily expand their audience reach. This will foster healthy and growing advertising markets, which will result in a greater variety of content and more localized content.”
To sweeten the deal with the Ethiopian broadcasters, SES is providing more than just a satellite platform.
SES Video Chief Executive Ferdinand Kayser said it is “providing on-the-ground services to ensure the success of Ethiosat, which includes training local installers to correctly repoint the satellite dishes of each TV household to ensure a seamless migration.”
SES, citing contract confidentiality, declined to comment on who was financing the repointing of the customer dish antennas.

Global IP seeks to restart Africa satellite project with Boeing after cash crisis, accusations of illicit Chinese ties

Global IP’s Gisat-1 broadband satellite was supposed to launch this year. Mostly completed, it has been sitting idle in a Boeing facility since 2018. Credit: Global IP
PARIS — Global IP, a British Cayman Islands startup planning a mobile satellite project for Africa, is attempting a resurrection after running out of money in 2018, less than a year before launch, and public allegations that it, along with its satellite supplier, Boeing, and its law firm, Milbank LLP, were complicit in a coverup of illicit Chinese government control of the project.
The allegations, made by two company founders in California lawsuits filed in mid-2017, were picked up by The Wall Street Journal in December 2018 in a story referring to a “top secret” satellite and casting Global IP, with Hong Kong financing, as a conduit to provide high-value military technology to China.
Boeing and other industry officials familiar with Global IP have denied that the satellite has any classified or military technology. Global IP, whose project and Boeing’s work on it had been reviewed and approved by the U.S. Commerce Department, has denied it is a front for the Chinese government.
No matter: The mere allegation of shadowy Chinese government involvement is enough to send any U.S. satellite manufacturer or legal team running for the exits. Immediately after the Wall Street Journal piece, Boeing terminated the Global IP contract for default on payment, and the Commerce Department said it wanted to take a fresh look at the project’s setup.
The Chinese government has been a third rail for the U.S. commercial satellite industry for nearly 20 years, when the U.S. Congress decided to apply the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to satellite exports. The original motive, now all but forgotten, was to prevent China from perfecting its missile technology through launches of commercial satellites aboard Chinese Long March rockets.
The rules have since been relaxed somewhat for satellites, but not for launch services, and not at all where China is concerned.
While the Chinese government is free to import a wide range of U.S. high-technology products, it cannot import U.S. satellites or any but the most mundane U.S.-built satellite components, or launch them from Chinese territory.
Boeing’s institutional history — Boeing purchased the former Hughes Space and Communications, a major satellite manufacturer — has no shortage of examples of employees whose careers were tainted by proximity to Chinese transactions.
It continues: In June, two U.S. Senators wrote U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for an explanation of the Global IP deal and nine other Boeing satellites built over the years for Asian commercial satellite operators including AsiaSat of Hong Kong. The concern here seemed to be that a U.S. manufacturer could sell a satellite to a company that would, in the normal course of business, lease capacity to Chinese government interests for law enforcement leading to human rights abuses.
Negotiating U.S. export regulations is one reason Boeing has some 200 full-time export-compliance personnel. Similarly, Milbank, Tweed has long experience in the U.S. satellite sector.
That the two disgruntled Global IP owners would light the China fuse in this way has been a source of wonderment in the two years since the lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
“It was a bit like people trying to destroy a company while at the same time seeking damages against it,” said one industry official in comments echoed by others, including Boeing competitors.
The lawsuits and their incendiary language — and a demand for $300 million or more — have recently been set aside pending the resolution of proceedings at the International Arbitration Court of Hong Kong.
“This has always been about the money and how we settle with them,” Global IP Chief Executive Bahram Pourmand said, referring to the legal action by founders Emil Youssefzadeh and Umar Javed.
Global IP and its principal backer, Bronzelink Holdings Limited of Hong Kong, said they are ready to renegotiate a contract with Boeing to complete the $300-million satellite, this time with financial guarantees.
Ivan PM Chow, Bronzelink’s chief operating officer, said multiple prospective customers have expressed interest in the project, which would provide low-cost bandwidth to a large swath of Africa.
“Our price is very competitive,” Chow said in an interview, referring to what Global IP could generate in user revenue. “There is a great interest in what we’re doing from prospective customers.” Bronzelink has invested $175 million in Global IP.
Pourmand said the satellite remains 90% competed at Boeing’s El Segundo, California, facility and that, backed by Bronzelink, Global IP is prepared to resume payment to Boeing, plus penalties, and establish an escrow account to ease Boeing concerns of fresh liquidity issues.
Boeing terminated the Global IP project in December 2018 — 48 hours after the Wall Street Journal piece appeared — for nonpayment of bills that Pourmand agreed were long passed due. He has no quarrel with Boeing on that score, although he suspects the timing was no coincidence.
The U.S. Department of Commerce, which had approved a Global IP license in 2016, put a hold on it at this point in what appeared to be a reaction to the Journal story.
Industry officials said that early this year Boeing began soliciting interest from other satellite operators about a possible sale of the satellite. Global IP had paid Boeing some $146 million on the contract out of a total contract value of $286 million before late-payment penalties are included.
Boeing  declined to comment on whether it would entertain a request from Global IP to reopen contract talks to finish the satellite. Industry officials said Boeing claims the unfinished spacecraft is its property by virtue of Global IP’s default on payment, but that it has been unable to find a buyer in the nine months since the contract’s termination.
At 150-Gbps, the Global IP satellite no longer looks as impressive as it did in 2015. But financial backer Bronzelink said it still believes in the business case. Credit: Boeing
Boeing issued the following statement, with the language still reflecting the allegations in the lawsuit and the Journal article:
Boeing statement
“The satellite that Boeing was developing for Global IP was a commercial communications satellite based on technology commonly available in the global marketplace.  It contained no classified or military technology and reports to the contrary are wholly inaccurate.  The satellite’s technology is governed by the Commerce Department under the Export Administration Regulations (the EAR), and not the Department of State under the ITAR. 
“Before sharing information with Global IP, Boeing requested and received export compliance information and written assurances from the company.  Boeing provided information to Global IP’s US employees under transfer prohibitions and access protocols.
“Boeing terminated its contract with Global IP for nonpayment on December 6, 2018. 
“We will continue to consult with and abide by Commerce Department requirements and determinations in this matter.”
With Bronzelink’s continued backing, Global IP is ready to assemble the funds needed to finish the satellite and pay Boeing the associated penalties, Pourmand said.
He said that he company has received no indication from the U.S. government that its organization contravenes U.S. law.
Milbank LLP is no longer involved with the case and declined to comment on both the project and the lawsuits.
Global IP’s legal team is led by Sheppard Mullin, which issued the following statement:
Sheppard Mullin statement
“Sheppard Mullin reports that in a case like this, where:
1— A satellite is to be launched from the U.S.;
2—The EAR [U.S. Export Administration Regulations]-controlled satellite data are seen only in the U.S. by U.S. persons employed by a U.S. company (GIP USA);
3—The launch and integration data are seen only by the U.S. satellite manufacturer (Boeing), and;
4—A NATO country TT&C [satellite [tracking, telemetry and control] contractor (Hellas Sat) will have operational control of the satellite;
no U.S. export license is needed for GIP Cayman to take title to the satellite at launch.
“The only export that occurs is of the TT&C items to [Greek satellite operator] Hellas Sat.
“The U.S. company, GIP USA, has separate, secure computer systems and strict U.S. export compliance procedures, which the U.S. government has seen, preventing any foreign access to its technical data.
“[The Department of] Commerce issued a license to GIP USA for the TT&C items to go to the European TT&C contractor, and that license has never been suspended or revoked. Boeing therefore could build and deliver the satellite in this case without needing a U.S. export license.
“When it applied for is license in 2015 in anticipation of there being a potential GIP program, Boeing did not know that the ultimate structure used would not require an export license.
“The Commerce Department confirmed, after the Wall Street Journal article appeared, that it has no disagreement with the above analysis, and it has not expressed any objection to the program proceeding on this basis.
“No ITAR license or TAA [Technical Assistance Agreement] is needed in such a case because the launch occurs in the U.S. and ITAR data are shown only to the U.S. satellite manufacturer, Boeing, in the United States.
“Throughout the entire program, before and after the Wall Street Journal article, CFIUS [the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] has not objected to the project or the investment in 2016 that gave rise to the project. The courts in California have stayed all the proceedings because the underlying dispute is to be arbitrated in Hong Kong.”
The reference to HellasSat is because Global IP contracted with the Greek satellite fleet operator to perform satellite tracking, telemetry and control services after the launch.
The lawsuits’ principal accusation is that Bronzelink is owned by the Chinese government via different investment vehicles, notably in the British Virgin Islands, and that Bronzelink’s takeover of Global IP would therefore contravene U.S. regulations.
Tracing the origins of Bronzelink’s financing is a challenge. One independent investigation — done for commercial, not governmental, interests — attempted to do so but abandoned the effort before arriving at any conclusions.
Pourmand concedes that connecting Bronzelink’s roots to its branches is no easy task, but insists that Global IP is not controlled by the Chinese government or Chinese interests and does not violate U.S. law.
Credit: Bahram Pourmand
In an Oct. 1 interview, Pourmand said he remained hopeful of working out an agreement with Boeing but that Global IP would move forward, if necessary, without Boeing. A new generation of less-expensive, high-performance satellites has appeared on the market since the company’s Boeing order.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Where are you with Boeing on reopening talks to resume the contract?
I have told Boeing that now that CFIUS and Commerce are no longer issues, we could open an escrow account to their benefit to put money in that would go to them if we reached an agreement that we could not follow through on. We would then pay them what we owe them through our own investment and a bank loan. They have not responded to our offer.
Do you agree that Boeing was justified in terminating the contract for default on payment?
Oh yes. And I understand that at this point, the period of ‘Trust me’ is over. That’s why we are offering the escrow and to guarantee the money with a triple-A-rated bank.
Boeing has told prospective buyers that it now owns the Global IP satellite and can dispose of it as it wishes. Is that your view?
With every commercial satellite I have been involved with, the title remains with the builder until the satellite is launched, or until the moment of intentional ignition of the rocket.
Because of our lack of payment, they can in fact null the contract. But a month before termination we paid Boeing a part of what we owed. They have an obligation under the contract to maximize our gain from the satellite. We have paid $146 million and we want some benefit from that.
What’s your next step if Boeing doesn’t want to deal with you?
I still want us to have that satellite and I want to try everything possible to avoid taking any measures. At this point, I am operating on the assumption that somehow we can work out an agreement with Boeing, directly or indirectly.
Satellite costs, on a per-MB basis, have gone down since you signed with Boeing.
I know. There are companies now talking about totally digitized products for less than $200 million. But that would mean waiting two years.
Your Commerce Department license was suspended in December 2018. Where is that now?
It was a license given to Boeing to sell a satellite to a Cayman company. Commerce has looked at the process and looked at our setup and concluded that all the sensitive aspects are being handled in the U.S., by U.S. people. The satellite is being built in the U.S. and launched in the U.S., with TT&C being handled in Europe and landing in Africa.
And your launch contract with SpaceX?
We paid a deposit on that and so we still expect our launch will be with them.

In overcrowded small-launcher field, 3D-rocket builder Relativity stands out with $140M Series C financing

Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone. Credit: Relativity
PARIS — Start-up smallsat 3D-printed commercial rocket builder Relativity Space closed a $140-million Series C financing round led by Bond and Tribe Capital, bringing total funding to $185.7 million.
The company said it is on track for a first commercial launch of its Terran 1 rocket, with a 3-meter-diameter fairing and a payload capacity of 1,250 kilograms to low Earth orbit, by 2021.
Other new investors in the Series C round include Michael Ovitz, Lee Fixel, Jared Leto and Republic Labs. Previous investors Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital and Mark Cuban also participated in the round, Relativity said Oct. 1.
Relativity said it has completed more than 200 test firings of its rocket engines at NASA Stennis Space Center. Relativity said its goal is to build a full launch vehicle from raw materials less than 60 days.
The company has secured launch rights at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with a 20-year exclusive-use contract to Launch Complex 16. In an Oct. 1 statement, Relativity said it would secure a launch site for polar and geosynchronous-orbit launches by the end of this year.
The company has already signed launch contracts with Telesat of Canada, an established satellite fleet operator that is designing a constellation of broadband connectivity satellites in low Earth orbit; and with mu Space of Thailand, a company with ambitions in GEO and LEO orbit that has not yet proved an ability to do either.
In addition, launch-service aggregator Spaceflight Industries has signed an agreement to launch ride-share payloads on Relativity as Spaceflight seeks to broaden its launch options. Momentus, a startup developer of a service to carry satellites from LEO to GEO orbit, has also signed on with Relativity.
Relativity said its rocket production facilities will expand from more than 280,000 square feet now to more than 480,000 square feet (44,595 square meters) by the end of the year.

Satellite Reflecting Earth

Request a Free Week!

Curious about what's inside the most respected space satellite news journal on the web? Provide us your email address and we'll set you up with a free one week subscription, no strings attached!

Thank you for your request! We will send you a welcome email when your account is ready.