Category: Ground Segment

Panasonic challenges flat-panel antenna builders Ball Aerospace, Kymeta, Phasor on cost & interoperability

Lisa Kuo, Panasonic Avionics Corp. director of technical sales. Credit: Panasonic
WASHINGTON — Electronically steered antenna designers Ball Aerospace, Kymeta and Phasor and aero-connectivity provider Panasonic Avionics said affordable mass-market products were still some ways off for user terminals and that reliability is already an issue for mechanically steered antennas.
Lisa Kuo, director of technical sales at Panasonic, said airlines want antennas and modems that are future-proof, meaning at least 10 years of service before they are obsolete. That means hedging between Ku- and Ka-band equipment.
In a statement repeated multiple times here during the Satellite 2019 conference, Kuo said hardware builders need to move to interoperability even if that means sacrificing some early market advantage.
“I get it: You want to dominate the market with a proprietary system,” Kuo said. “But that is not in the interest of the customers. How can we make sure these systems can all work together?”
One path to standardization would be to design a dual Ka-/Ku-band system to permit users to remain connected as they move in and out of a given satellite’s coverage, or to switch immediately in the event of a satellite failure.
The phased array antenna builders said they are working on both.
“When we started, around 2012, Ka-band was very recent in orbit,” said David Garrood, senior vice president of business development at Phasor. “That’s why we went to Ku.
“But Ka is increasingly seen as important, and as offering lower-cost satellite capacity. So it is definitely a market we are looking at and we propose start that development in the next few months.”
Peter Moosbrugger. Credit: Ball Aerospace
Ball Aerospace has been building electronically steered antennas for military applications for years and is now positioning itself for commercial applications including low-Earth-orbit satellite constellations and 5G terrestrial networks.
Ball recently tested such an antenna to communicate with satellite fleet operator Telesat’s experimental LEO Phase 1 satellite. Ball said in January that its antenna tracked the satellite over several passes.
Peter Moosbrugger, Ball’s chief technologist for phased array and RF technology, said has already demonstrated ground user hardware for Ku- and Ka-band systems. He said the goal is to leverage the large volumes needed for 5G network antennas to bring down the unit cost of satellite user terminals.
“We are building a supply-chain ecosystem that can address a pretty wide range of supply,” Moosbrugger said. “That includes 5G and different satcom market verticals. We focus our [second-generation] architecture on something that could scale from an ecosystem that needs to be ITAR-compliant — export-control compliant — to address a worldwide market at really high volumes.”
Kymeta Corp. made a splash in the electronically steered antenna market in 2017 by saying it had deployed hardware to customers, military and commercial. Kymeta has been working with satellite fleet operator Intelsat on antennas to operate with OneWeb’s constellation of low-orbiting satellites, in Ku-band.
Lilac Muller. Credit: Kymeta Corp.
“Kymeta started with Ka-band development and pivoted to Ku for our business partnership with Intelsat,” said Lilac Muller, Kymeta’s vice president of product management.
“But when you look at what [satellite] capacity is going up in the next few years, it’s a lot of Ka capacity. We’re pursuing a Ka product in parallel to Ku. Interoperability is a big question. We’re going to tackle interoperability between GEO and LEO first, before we go to interoperability between Ku and Ka. So for us right now it’s two product lines.”
Panasonic and mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat in September 2018 announced a strategic collaboration that would enable each of them to offer the other’s in-flight connectivity solutions. Panasonic’s IFC package is in Ku-band, Inmarsat’s Global Xpress fleet is in Ka-band.
There was much industry speculation at the time over whether this was Panasonic’s way of conceding that Ka-band was the future, or was Inmarsat’s concession that it needed Panasonic’s customer base to succeed.
Kuo said it was Panasonic’s way of hedging its bets.
“We are not looking at this as Ku vs Ka,” Kuo said. “There are a lot of technologies out there and we need to diversify our portfolio. We picked Inmarsat as our first step because they are very established in the industry. This is a strategic first step that we chose. It’s really not about the frequency band.”
Unit cost vs life-cycle cost of ownership
Moosbrugger said the cost discussion between electronically and mechanically steered antennas often forgets the total cost of ownership of mechanical systems.
“I’ve seen numbers o mechanical systems that are in the 80,000- to 100,000-hour range” of commercial lifespan, Moosbrugger said. “You go on line and find the calculator for reliability and how many planes are going down [for servicing] a year, and with 10,000 planes, it’s a pretty significant number.”
Muller said Kymeta has seen similar problems with the land-transportation market where Kymeta is focused. Kymeta is not targeting the aero market yet.
“Just for reference: There are about 100,000 new or refurbished inner-city buses purchased each year,” Muller said. “That gives you a sense of the volume. You want to talk higher? RVs [recreational vehicles] — 1 million a year. Two million trucks going city to city in a year.”
While these current rooftop systems are less expensive than the electronically steered antennas, they hold out the promise of longer service life.
“The number one complaint [of railroad customers] is the amount of time they have to pull it out of service,” Mullen said. “They have guys on top of the locomotives messing around with various mechanical systems that are wearing down.
“They can’t wait for all our technologies to be out in the market to stop messing with mechanically steered systems.”

Viasat on Amazon, SpaceX LEO plays, Inmarsat’s GEO expansion, the Chinasat aero-IFC deal and the regional-HTS landscape

Viasat Chief Executive Mark D.Dankberg. Credit: Euroconsult
WASHINGTON — The number of smart engineers with lots of career options who want to work on LEO-orbit broadband constellations has increased with the news that Amazon is looking at developing its own system.
Amazon has deep pockets and a reputation for sober decision-making. It has started hiring outside Seattle, where a pool of experts formerly working for SpaceX’s Starlink project is available for duty for a company with patience and cash resources.
It is not yet possible to gauge how serious Amazon is about this, but the company’s entry into the LEO broadband world alongside OneWeb, SpaceX, Telesat and others does give pause, even to a confirmed GEO-orbit broadband believer like Viasat Inc.
Viasat Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg and David Ryan, president of Viasat’s space and commercial networks division, outline here the company’s thinking about LEO satellites’ latency and cost metrics, Amazon’s move, Inmarsat’s GX Ka-band competition, China’s in-flight-connectivity market, the status of the terabit-per-second Viasat-3 global broadband system and the Viasat-2 satellite’s antenna anomaly.
But first, Dankerg addressed the possibility that satellite fleet operators SES and Intelsat may find themselves flush with cash in a U.S. government-approved auction of C-band spectrum.
It now looks likely that the Intelsat-SES C-band clearing proposal to the U.S. government on could result in a large, possibly transformative, liquidity event for both those operators. Any implications for Viasat?
This is hard to handicap. Intelsat has a lot of debt so there is the consideration of what their shareholders get out of it and what do they do on the debt side. SES is a different story.
We are competing in an environment where multiple players are putting multiple billions of dollars in essentially the same segment [broadband connectivity]. So this [C-band windfall] will not be an enormous change.
People ask us: How are we going to compete? We are aiming to compete on productivity. We can come up with space systems that have way more useful throughput. That’s still the case. Nobody’s undertaken satellite projects like we have. There are learning curves we are going down that others haven’t started on. We are in a very capital-intensive business and asset productivity has a large effect. That’s what we are investing in.
And if they suddenly have a few billion in cash and need to deploy it?
Anybody who has money to burn can buy lots of assets. But if the assets aren’t productive, you won’t get a good return. Markets have been pretty punishing in the long run when that’s the case.
There’s also the M&A consequence of two operators whose video business is struggling now having cash to purchase others — for example, Avanti of London, with which you have a relationship.
Yes, but all our relationships are based on contracts, and to the extent we have binding contracts with them, that’s pretty much it.
Does Avanti have a role in your future Viasat-3 global network in terms of providing an orbital slot?
No, we have not discussed that with them. We have established a relationship with them that is mutually beneficial, but in the overall scheme of things, they are not [on the critical path]. They are trying to get a return that will work out for their new investors and we’re trying to work out a way to be helpful.
You mentioned the billions being invested in satellite broadband. OneWeb now has enough financing to launch satellites; Telesat’s LEO project is moving, even if financing is TBD; SpaceX will launch a group of Starlink satellites this month; and you saw the Amazon announcement in satellite broadband.
Might there be something to LEO that you missed?
Amazon is a very pragmatic company. The fact that they think there is something there is interesting. They have plenty of ways to make money and grow. They don’t have to do satellites. The fact that they think there’s a business there is something of a validation of the space business itself.
We’ll see how that progresses. The other thing about Amazon is, if you think about transmission as a means to an end, Amazon has the ends which they could put to good use.
Facebook does too.
Yes, Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon — they’ve all have got the wherewithal to do it if they want, and they have got applications.
The fact that Amazon is going to do something may motivate some of the other ones to think about it. But at the end, this issue of whether low Earth orbit is the right way to deliver bandwidth. Nothing Amazon has said changes the fundamental questions about low Earth orbit versus GEO.
You go into a restaurant and leave unsatisfied. A year later, someone with good taste eats there and loves it. Do you not think about trying it again?
It’s the consumers, the users of those systems, that matter. What we have said, and it’s still true even in rural markets, is that we don’t have enough bandwidth. We have the most productive assets and we know we don’t have enough. We have a next generation that is multiples of this, and that still won’t be enough.
Go back to the latency issue. Latency only is a factor if you have enough bandwidth. If your network is congested, latency is irrelevant because the delays from everything else are so long.
Even in emerging markets, the demand for bandwidth is enormous. You go into these rural villages in Mexico and they want to watch video as much as anybody else. So the real issue to us is whether these low-orbit systems are going to be more productive than what we can do at GEO. We don’t see that.
But Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has hired smart people who presumably don’t have skin in the game, and who told him: We can make this work.
We have interactions with Amazon. They are disciplined and smart. My own sense of what happened is that there is a perception that reducing the cost of launch is a big enabler for LEOs. SpaceX has low-cost launch, and [Amazon-owned] Blue Origin does. My understanding is that’s a big part of where they started.
The other thing is that SpaceX let go of the leaders of their Starlink project, and the perception was that Elon [Musk] was in a big rush, and that these people wanted to be more methodical, and actually they were aiming higher.
So if you look at the Starlink capability now, compared to what they were aiming for a year ago, it’s far reduced in order to meet that schedule.
You refer to the modification that reduce the orbit for part of the Starlink constellation?
If you look at the filings, there are quite a few changes that will substantially reduce the capability of the first generation to meet that schedule.
David Ryan, Viasat president, space and commercial networks. Credit: Viasat
David Ryan: Which reinforces what Mark was saying before: The physics starts weighing against you in having a network that doesn’t saturate when it’s over cities and is totally dormant when it’s over oceans or rural areas.
Dankberg: So the Starlink altitude is lower, I think the EIRP is lower, and in order to get the geographic coverage they have increased the look angles they are going to support. It’s not clear they are going to have cross-links.
Surely they’ll include inter-satellite links.
I’m just saying it’s not clear. What happened is, a number of people at Starlink said: We have this visionary system that got cut because of time and expediency.  So they went to Amazon and said: There is this great system we think is possible, SpaceX is not pursuing it, you guys have a longer time horizon and you can make a bigger investment. Amazon says: We’re in this for the long run, we want to do that. Come over here. They have a system that they’ve filed and they’ve done a little bit to try to increase the fraction of time that the satellites are over populations.
So they are looking at it. I don’t know that they are committed to it.
Is it clear what frequency Amazon plans to use?
We think it’s Ka-band.
I know this sounds audacious but one Viasat-3 is comparable to the whole OneWeb first-generation constellation. Starlink was going to be more ambitious and there are estimates of what that was going to be. What we’re aiming for in our next generation would be almost the same — a satellite that has the same throughput as a whole constellation that costs $5 billion to $15 billion.
If we can do that, we’re going to be fine. Our capital costs are going to be so much lower. Our satellites’ lifetimes are going to be a lot longer.
Understood. But how long does the line of smart people have to be before you think: Maybe there is something to this LEO movement.
I’m not saying that what Amazon is doing is dumb. In their context it may make complete sense. In our case, we have a number of applications that are very bandwidth-intensive. Video is a big part of it. Amazon has video but they have e-commerce and other things that are not so bandwidth-intensive.
I don’t know what they’re thinking. All I know is that if you look at what the assessments were of the full-blown Starlink that they are not yet pursuing, that was a pretty capable system, very sophisticated. Still we don’t think it was economically better than what we’re doing.
For the markets we’re going after, we’re going to be fine.
Suppose you’re right: These systems aren’t business successes but do get launched. With the magic of U.S. Chapter 11, they’re purchased for pennies on the dollar. They’re still a factor, like Iridium and Globalstar from 15 years ago.
Iridium fared way better than Globalstar, partly because the satellites lasted far, far longer than they were expected to. They were way over-built — $5-$6 billion for 70-plus satellites.
But if you look at what’s going on now, these satellites are not being overbuilt. They’re built for a five- to seven-year life. That turned out to be a big problem for Globalstar even though their satellites also lasted longer than people expected. The deterioration of that constellation was a big issue.
OneWeb, which is bent-pipe, is going to have issues even if they go through bankruptcy. I don’t think these satellites are going to last 10-12 years.
SpaceX is trying to get something up that’s a first generation and then they’ll reinforce it. You’ll have a pretty short lifetime for those satellites.
But the general issue of what happens if these systems get restructured is a fair question.
Inmarsat is looking at standard satellite buses to which payloads would be added. The idea is a lower cost per delivered megabit for a constellation in GEO orbit to fill in their Global Xpress Ka-band service. What do you make of it?
Let me go back to productivity. The thing you need to sell a lot of bandwidth at a low price is assets that are extremely productive.
They might get that with this new generation of satellites.
I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why. Throughput is dependent on the illuminated bandwidth and the power that it has. Software-defined satellites use a lot of power that do not deliver capacity.
We were the first who did this. We did free bandwidth on JetBlue and Qantas, and we did Netflix. We’ve been the main catalyst for people’s increasing expectations for in-fight connectivity.
More people want to use it, and those that use it want more bandwidth. We have the most productive satellites in the world, and it’s still a struggle. Smaller satellites, with less power, aren’t going to have the structural ability to do some of the things that we’ve done. And you have to do all those things in order to get the productivity.
You’ll see the low end of these systems come up. But our objective, working with the airlines, is to raise their expectations and have them use it more. We are more encouraged that that is the right track when we look at some of the things our airline customers are doing.
Dave Ryan: One of our other strengths is that we’re very vertically integrated. If you’re building the terminal, the network and the satellite and you optimize that as a system, you can be much more efficient in how you deliver higher speeds to more people and more places.
It would be nice to be able to quantify that advantage. Not everyone thinks it’s significant. You saw the Eutelsat announcement with Konnect over Europe and Africa — Thales Alenia Space satellite, seven General Dynamics 9-meter gateways, Hughes ground network.
For Viasat-2 we use gateways that are half that size, and we have way more gateways. You can’t have more user link bandwidth than you have feeder link bandwidth. Having 45 gateways [for the current Viasat-2 network] gets you a lot more bandwidth than having seven gateways.
And [Konnect] is a smaller satellite with much less bandwidth. We’re doing tons of testing on our Viasat-3,  and it’s got around 100x more throughput than where we were 10 years ago. To get there, we’ve have to change almost everything, with hundreds of gateways. We also have things like in-flight-connectivity coverage.
One of the things we put in there, which I still don’t see on any of these other satellites, is this notion of dynamic beam hopping so we don’t have to put a fixed amount of bandwidth in every beam. We can flex wherever the demand is.
We have looked at the filings for [Hughes Network Systems‘s] Jupiter 3 and they say flexibility is over rated, because they know where the demand is.
More regional satellite operators are announcing Ka-band broadband payloads. The most recent is Measat, with an Airbus satellite. Is that an issue, especially in Asia, as you plan the deployment of the Viasat-3 global network?
One of the things we’ve done in going into these countries is play to our strength in being integrated. We can do networking and operations. You see from our work in Brazil and Australia that they don’t need to use our satellite. We’re going to do that in China.
In China, on the aero side, there is the domestic air market but also the international market. On the international side, the Chinese airlines want to be competitive, and the international carriers want to be competitive outside their borders and inside of China. So there is some room there for a deal.
For Measat, we could be a very big consumer of these third-party satellites. one of the really good things about Viasat 3 is the flexibility. Countries can say to us: We have our own national satellite but we like the way you bring things to market. We like the aero, we like the defense things, we want to cooperate.
We have plenty of other places to use that bandwidth, we don’t have to use our satellite capacity in Brazil.
What milestone should we look for in the China Satcom agreement you recently announced on in-flight connectivity?
The most important thing is agreements with airlines. Thats what Chinasat wants. They want to be in the in-flight business and that means airlines. Chinasat has a very good satellite, it covers a lot of air routes.
What we have is a good reputation in the industry, especially at Ka-band. So there’s a potential for a good match.
Who goes to the airlines with this, you or Chinasat?
We both do. What the airlines want to know is: Can we get the JetBlue or American Airlines service? They want to know whether the satellites will support that. I think it’s a good combination. But really, the test is signing up airlines.
In Brazil, Viasat is providing ground segment to connect with Brazil’s Thales Alenia Space-built SGDC-1 satellite to connect some 3,000 rural public schools. Credit: Viasat
What’s the status of your Brazilian business? Are the legal challenges behind you?
The GESAC [government e-learning initiative] is progressing. It is very important to Telebras, and we are supporting them. We are very close to having the last approval from the TCU [Brazil’s Federal Accounting Court] on the contract. They acknowledged that the contract is legal, but they wanted some amendments to it. They need to rule on those final amendments. The Supreme Court has dismissed the other lawsuits about the contract.
The main thing we have been able to do is the GESAC contract. Bringing the rest to market hinges on the TCU.
Now that the insurance claim has been received, can we talk about what caused the Viasat-2 antenna anomaly? Boeing satellite, Harris Ka-band antennas and what you described as a problem in the antennas’ deployment in orbit.
David Ryan: We’re pretty confident that we know what happened, that the problem is stable and we’re not going to lose more capacity on the satellite. And we don’t think it’s going to affect our operations in the future now that we’ve adjusted for it. Here you can go back to our vertical integration. If you understand how it’s all working as a system, then you can adjust the network along with understanding how the satellite’s operating.
Mark Dankberg: Our point is that this happened, we’re still buying satellites from Boeing, and we’re still interested in those types of reflectors. Let’s learn from it. It was a very specific failure mode related to the combination of the spacecraft and the antennas.
It couldn’t repeat on Viasat-3?
No. First of all, it was a specific mechanical failure mode. And even if that antenna effect were to occur due to some other specific combination of events, the architecture of the satellite is robust. Once of the things with Viasat-2, and it’s not super surprising, is that a very minor mechanical dislocations can have a pretty substantial effect.
One of the things that we have wanted to do all along is make it so that we are robust to those types of mechanical issues. We feel confident in it.

Yahsat and Hughes drop the other shoe, extend satellite broadband partnership to Brazil

Hughes President Pradman P. Kaul, left, and Yahsat Chief Executive Masood M. Sharif Mahmood. Credit: Hughes
WASHINGTON — Hughes Network Systems and Yahsat extended their consumer-broadband partnership to Brazil, where the two companies offer a combined 65 Gbps of capacity to 95% of the Brazilian population.
The agreement to create a joint venture for Brazilian broadband comes eight months after the two companies created a JV for broadband deployment in Africa and western Asia.
Hughes invested $100 million in cash for a 20% stake in that JV, into which United Arab Emirates-based Yahsat put its Al Yah 2 and Al Yah 3 satellites:
For Brazil, both companies will be contributing orbital assets. The ownership of the JV will be 80% Hughes, 20% Yahsat, the two companies said. There will be no cash consideration in the transaction.
Hughes, which in mid-2018 reported more than 100,000 broadband subscribers in Brazil, has Ka-band payloads on the Eutelsat 65 West A satellite and Telesat Canada’s Telstar 19V, at 63 degrees West. Hughes entered into 15-year leases for capacity on both satellites.
Hughes is scheduled to launch its 500-Gbps Jupiter 3/EchoStar 24 satellite in 24 to add to the capacity available over Brazil.
Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 satellite, launched in January 2018, operates from 20 degrees West. Placed into a bad orbit by the Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket, Al Yah 3 used a large part of its fuel to migrate to its intended position. That cost the satellite an estimated 40% of its service life. Yahsat received a claim of about $108 million.
The Hughes-Yahsat joint venture in Brazil will use Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 and two satellites whose Ka-band capacity Hughes has leased in 15-year contracts: Telesat’s Telstar 19V and Eutelsat’s Eutelsat 65W A, shown here. Credit: Eutelsat
As well-funded players in what is generally viewed as an overcrowded satellite broadband market, Hughes and Yahsat have multiple avenues for cooperation depending on how they see the future, and not just in Ka-band broadband.
Hughes’s parent company, EchoStar, in 2018 attempted to purchase mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat of London, which has an orbital fleet carrying heritage narrowband L-band capacity and both civil and military Ka-band for broadband.
Yahsat owns L-band mobile satellite services provider Thuraya, whose current geostationary-orbit satellites are aging. It remains unclear how Yahsat intends to monetize the asset in the medium-term.
Hughes and Yahsat did not immediately disclose how much each owns of the Brazilian JV, and whether Yahsat is putting in any cash given Hughes’s existing presence in the market and its larger satellite capacity over Brazil.
“Yahsat is the logical partner for Hughes in Brazil as we continue to expand our services and meet growing demand across consumer, enterprise and carrier markets,” Hughes President Pradman P. Kaul said in a May 6 statement. “Brazilians throughout the country will benefit from the capacity, scale and operational synergies of our combined entity as we connect the unconnected and enable businesses and communities to thrive.”
Yahsat Chief Executive Masood M. Sharif Mahmood said: “Our partnership with Hughes supports Yahsat’s mission to enable social and economic development by empowering communities in remote regions with high-performance broadband connectivity,” Yahsat Chief Executive Masood M. Sharif Mahmood said in a May 6 statement. “We now look forward to combining our efforts to unlock the massive potential of the largest and most exciting economy in Latin America.”

Allied Minds’ mediocre 2018 forces cost-cutting; BridgeSat and Hawkeye 360 entering commercial phase

Credit: Allied Minds
PARIS — Patent-mining investment company Allied Minds’ $3.2-million investment creating satellite data-analytics company Spark Insights will be its last new-company investment for awhile as it focuses on reducing costs and building its eight technology startups.
Allied Minds has large equity stakes in four of what it calls Space 2.0-sector companies: optical communications developer BridgeSat, space-based radio-frequency mapping and surveillance operator Hawkeye 360, satellite hyperspectral-imaging asset-monitoring service provider Orbital Sidekick, and Spark Insights.
Allied Minds is based in Boston but its equity is traded on the London Stock Exchange.
The company appears happy with developments at BridgeSat and Hawkeye 360, which are both moving toward commercial operations; and with Orbital Sidekick, whose April 2018 financing round closed with a valuation of $11.2 million and an investment by venture fund 11.2 Capital.
But diminished outlooks for two life-sciences companies caused Allied to miss its 2018 objectives, forcing a retrenchment. The two life-sciences companies will no longer receive Allied investment, Allied’s portfolio will not grow and its headquarters’s operating cost will be reduced by more than 50%.
In its annual report, Allied said its management’s performance in 2018 was “substantially below target” when measured by the specific performance metrics set at the beginning of the year. Set against these objectives, management was given a rating of 65%, compared to 131% in 2017.
Chief Executive Jill Stern said Allied will consider selling off some of its assets in 2019 if opportunities arise, but that the cost cutting measures should give the company enough cash for a couple of years even without monetizing its portfolio.
The space-related investments met their 2018 objectives and both Hawkeye and BridgeSat are about to start commercial operations.
BridgeSat closed a $10 million Series B financing round led by Boeing’s Horizon X venture fund, valuing BridgeSat at $38 million, and began to deploy its ground infrastructure. The company’s business plan is to deploy 10 optical ground stations. Two are in operation and three more are under contract.
BridgeSat in 2018 signed revenue-generating contracts with five U.S. government agencies and entered a strategic partnership with startup synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite fleet operator Iceye of Finland. IceEye will be deploying a BridgeSat laser terminal on its satellites.
BridgeSat and Sitael SpA of Italy, a space services company that also builds small satellites, for a ground station in Italy; and with Qatari satellite operator Es’hailSat, also for an optical ground station at Es’hailSat’s headquarters.
Allied’s chief financial officer, Joseph Pignato, said in an investor call that BridgeSat is likely to see additional funding late this year.
Credit: Allied Minds
Hawkeye 360 launched the first of a planned 10 clusters of three satellites each, flying in formation in low Earth orbit. The satellites are working as expected, Stern said.
Hawkeye contracted with the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies’ (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory for a second cluster, to be delivered in time for a late 2019 launch.
The company is scheduled to contract for three more clusters this year, with launches in 2020 and 2021, after a financing round that is under way now and that has shown promising early results, Stern said.
Hawkeye’s last financing round, in August, valued the company at $89.9 million included a big investment by Raytheon. Co-investors included Sumitomo Corp. of America and venture capital investors Razor’s Edge, Shield Capital, Space Angels, Woodford Investment Management and Invesco Asset Management.
The entry of Raytheon diluted Allied Minds’s Hawkeye 360 share to 48.32%.
Credit: Allied Minds
Orbital Sidekick deployed its first hyper spectral imager on the International Space Station, on Nanoracks’s external platform, in December. The company received a contract from the U.S. Air Force’s AFWerx innovation-promoting program, and will deploy a second hyperspectral sensor on a satellite to be launched by Loft Orbital.
The early target market for Orbital Sidekick are oil and gas companies.
Credit: Allied Minds
Spark Insights, formed in late 2018, is designed to provide satellite-based and other analytics to the insurance sector. This year it will need to prove itself to insurance companies and demonstrate product differentiation in a market that is teeming with direct competitors.

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

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

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

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

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:
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.”

China’s new-generation BeiDou-3, with 2-way messaging, goes global in 2020 with 3 satellite launches this year

The third iteration of China’s BeiDou satellite navigation system is expected to be completed by 2020. Credit: China Satellite Navigation Office
PARIS — The China Satellite Navigation Office expects to complete the buildout of its third-generation BeiDou positioning, navigation and timing — plus 2-way messaging — network by 2020 with the launch of three satellites this year.
The satellites, once in service, will complete the four-year BeiDou-3 (BDS-3) development phase, which has already seen the launch of 14 medium-Earth-orbit satellites and, most recently, a geostationary-orbit satellite launched in November.
The navigation office in December declared the primary BDS-3 system completed despite the coming launch and verification of the GEO-orbit satellites.
The spacecraft launched in November is still in test phase and is expected to be validated for service by June, said Jun Shen, deputy director of the navigation office, in a presentation to the March 25-27 Munich Satellite Navigation Summit.
The three GEO satellites — to operate from 80 degrees East, 100.5 East and 140 East — will make up the space-based augmentation system for the BeiDou MEO-orbit fleet and offer CAT-1 precision approach for commercial aircraft in China and the surrounding region.
The three satellites will also provide short messaging capability for the region, with a capacity of up to 10 million messages per hour with an average message size of 14 kilobits.
A global short-message service from BeiDou, with lower capacity, is scheduled for introduction after its 14 MEO-orbit satellites are in orbit. Eight of them have been launched, and are being tested, Shen said. The system’s capacity is 200,000 messages per hour at 560 bits per message.
China is promoting market adoption of BeiDou devices. Credit: China Satellite Navigation Office
BDS-3’s Search and Rescue service, using standards developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Cospas-Sarsat organization, will be provided from six MEO-orbit satellites carrying Search-and-Rescue payloads.
Two of these MEO satellites have been launched with four more coming soon, Shen said, without being more precise.
Finally, BDS-3 2ill offer precise-point positioning service through the three GEO-orbit satellites covering China and its environs. Shen said the service will include the broadcast of precision-positioning information from several navigation systems.
China and the United States in 2017 signed a statement agreeing that BeiDou and the U.S. GPS systems would be mutually compatible and interoperable. In 2018, China signed a cooperating agreement with Russia regarding the Russian Glonass positioning, navigation and timing network.
China is undertaking many of the same market-stimulation efforts for BeiDou as Europe is for its Galileo satellite navigation network. Shen said high-precision BeiDou products are now available in 90 nations, and that 6 minion buses and other speciality road vehicles, plus 30,000 postal vehicles, have been equipped.

Russia starts major upgrade of Glonass satellite navigation network and its geostationary-orbit overlay

Russia’s Glonass augmentation system, similar to those in the United States, Europe, Japan and China, uses geostationary satellites, in this case Russia’s Luch series, to validate Glonass system performance. It is scheduled for a major upgrade and expansion starting in 2020. Credit: Roscosmos
PARIS — The Russian government is preparing a major upgrade to is Glonass positioning, navigation and timing network by doubling the number of ground stations providing system validation via geostationary-orbit satellites and boosting the number of satellites connected to them.
The upgrade also includes the launch of six elliptical-orbit Glonass satellites to augment coverage in the Eastern Hemisphere, with launches scheduled between 2023 and 2025.
Ivan Revnivykh, head of the Glonass applications division of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, said Russia’s Glonass overlay, called the System for Differential Correct and Monitoring (SDCM), has completed testing for its initial capacity and is now being certified.
The current network uses three Luch satellites in geostationary orbit, at 167 degrees East, 16 West and 95 East longitude. The ground network includes 19 stations in Russia and six in other nations.
SDCM is similar to geostationary-orbit overlays employed for the U.S. GPS, European Galileo and Chinese BeiDou satellite navigation systems. The main constellations operate in medium-Earth orbit (MEO).
The Russian government has consistently invested in the Glonass positioning, navigation and timing satellite network even as it has let other space programs, such as space science, decline. Credit: Roscosmos
Revnivykh told the March 25-27 Munich Satellite Navigation Summit that the current Glonass constellation 24 MEO-orbit satellites, plus one in-orbit spare and one that as of late March was in flight testing.
the network provides 100% availability in Russian territory and 99.99% coverage in the rest of the world.
The SDCM upgrade starting in 2020 will feature new satellites launched into the geostationary-orbit slots at 16 West, 95 East and 167 East, plus a new satellite at 160 West, he said.
Integrity verification messages are sent to users within six seconds. The network upgrade will not improve the current horizontal accuracy but will sharpen vertical and 3D positioning accuracy.
A new Glonass satellite platform series to be launched starting in 2023 should boost navigation performance in the Eastern hemisphere with six satellites in elliptical orbits. Credit: Roscosmos
Overall Glonass accuracy now is listed at 1 meter. Supplemented by several thousand ground-based reference stations in Russia, the system is capable of 3-centimeter accuracy, and 1 centimeter for a high-precision service for automated transport systems and precision engineering.
To improve coverage in urban canyons and other places with obstructed views of the MEO constellation, Russia is launching six new Glonass satellites into  three orbital planes inclined at 64.8 degrees relative to the equator. The satellite are scheduled for launch, two at a time, aboard Angara-A5 rockets from Russia’s Plesetsk and Vostochny cosmodromes.

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.

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