Category: Ground Segment

ESA seeks $2.6 billion for Earth observation programs, weighs Digital Europe investment in data storage/transmission

Josef Aschbacher. Credit: ESA video
WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency (ESA) is seeking 2.35 billion euros ($2.6 billion) from its governments to fund next-generation Sentinel satellites and other Earth observation programs.
The budget will be decided at ESA’s Space 19+ conference of ministers, scheduled to meet Nov. 27-28 in Seville, Spain.
The biggest slice of ESA’s proposed Earth observation budget, at 1.4 billion euros, is intended as ESA’s share of the European Commission’s Copernicus program over the next three years. The commission is proposing to spend 5.8 billion euros over seven years as part of its own 2021-2027 budget.
ESA’s Copernicus Space Component budget line stretches over nine years given the time it takes to build, launch and operate the satellites.
While Earth observation is a popular investment among ESA’s 22 governments — it has accounted for an average of 27% of ESA’s total annual budget since 2015 — the negotiations this year will be colored by the fog surrounding Brexit.
Britain has indicated that while it will be leaving the European Union, it will redouble its commitment to ESA: http://bit.ly/2kQWyfz
Even so, the Sentinel satellites’ appeal for ESA governments likes in their recurring business. The first models are built mainly with ESA funding, and follow-ons are funded by the European Commission. It is still not known whether Britain’s Brexit deal will leave it out of Copernicus with respect to the commission’s budget.
ESA’s second-large budget envelop is for what it calls Future EO, a series of missions focused on Earth observation science, many of which could make it into Copernicus once their technology has been validated. For Future EO, ESA is asking 650 million euros over three years.
The agency’s proposed InCubed+ program is looking for 150 million euros that would be matched, mission by mission, by private-sector investment.
Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s director of Earth observation, has welcomed the New Space movement and its focus on geospatial imagery and data analytics. Aschbacher hopes the private sector eventually will be able to take over some of what ESA does, leaving the agency to focus on the risker technologies.
In an interview here during the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), Aschacher said ESA has opened a dialogue with the European Commission’s DG-Connect to figure out how to store and distribute the current 250 terabytes per day of Copernicus data. It was 150 terabytes just a year ago.
You have said the European Commission’s proposed seven-year Copernicus budget, at 5.8 billion euros, is 2 billion euros short of previously set program goals. Where does this stand?
This has not changed. The same delta is still missing if we assume the same content and a confirmation of the Long-Term Scenario Content in 2021. We will have a review in 2021, when we will have the real cost from our Invitations to Tender (ITTs) to industry, which are now open. We are soliciting proposals from industry.
What is the schedule for selecting the winners from these ITTs for future Sentinel satellites?
Two will close in December and the rest, early next year. By then we’ll know ESA’s funding level and the Commission’s budget, and we should know what the Brexit situation is — a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit. If it is a soft Brexit, then the UK can negotiate an agreement with Brussels for 2021 and beyond.
All these things should be on the table by then, and other things as well, such as the state of performance of the current Sentinels. That will help us define a launch and deployment scenario for the next generation.
The European Space Agency manages three categories of Earth observation missions. Science missions are ESA’s own satellites, funded by its member governments. Copernicus is the European Commission’s large environment-monitoring network whose Sentinel satellites are developed by ESA and majority-financed by the commission. Similarly, meteorological missions are financed mainly by the 30-nation Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization, with ESA handling development. Credit: ESA
In 2021 we have our major review point with the commission, and with our member states, to decide how to proceed. That may have an impact on this 2-billion-euro issue and on our next funding slice on the ESA side.
The 2 billion that is missing was over seven years?
On the EU side, yes. For ESA funding, It covers three ESA ministerial — 2019, 2022 and 2025. But the period goes longer. Some of the activities extend beyond 2030 because of the start of the next generation of Sentinels.
And the shortfall you mention is set against commonly agreed to Copernicus program objectives?
Yes. I should stress that all six Sentinels whose ITTs are now out have the same priority. Some people say CO2 [the Sentinel 7 satellite] has the top priority. It does not. It is more urgent because we have a 2028 [United Nations] COP deadline for stock taking. To use Sentinel 7 for stock-taking in 2028, we need to launch by the end of 2025.
But ESA and the commission have signed statements saying that all six have the same priority. We are not de-selecting one or of delaying any of the six. They are all moving at the same speed but we have to have a firm late-2025 launch date for CO2.
When do you want responses by industry for Sentinel 7, the CO2 monitoring satellite?
It was part of the second batch, which means it’s around January 2020.
How will this 2-billion-euro deficit be absorbed by the program?
We don’t know. That’s why we have this decision point in 2021. If the UK joins the EU program, that, together with Norway and Switzerland [non-EU nations that are ESA members] would be roughly 1 billion euros. So the 2 billion becomes 1 billion — if the UK comes in at its usual GNP position. That would be a big addition.
The Sentinel 6A and 6B satellites, to launch starting in 2020, follow on from the U.S.-French Jason series of ocean altimetry satellites, which have been instrumental in measuring sea-surface rise since 1993. Sentinel 6A is a collaboration between ESA, NASA, Eumetsat and the U.S. NOAA. Credit: ESA
Another thing: Several of the Sentinels are scheduled to be launched in the 2028-29 time frame, but we included the launches to be fully paid in the current commission’s 2021-2027 budget.
Since they are launched after the budget period, this funding can be pushed out.
If the UK is not part of Copernicus at the EU, other companies will need to assume responsibility for the contracts UK companies have been managing with ESA money. How big a headache is that?
The nominal case is that the UK puts money into ESA and they get their money back, just like in all the other ESA programs. Of course, UK industry and the UK Space Agency are also interested in continuing with the follow-on, recurrent units. That’s the interesting part.
This option is already built in to the ITTs we have sent out. It says very clearly that in the event the UK is not joining the EU program, then the work has to be transferred from the UK into other countries.
But effects on the Sentinels’ budget and schedule?
Schedule wise there will be an impact, and also money-wise. This will require negotiations but this is foreseen and there is a very small delta cost which is foreseen to allow this to happen. It’s a very small amount.
From a programmatic point of view, having the UK on board makes a huge difference. They add a significant amount of money — whatever they subscribe to ESA and whatever they might bring through EU channels. That is good for a solid, stable Copernicus program, which is good for all the countries involved — France, Germany, Italy, everyone.
So embedded in your budget request is the expectation of a substantial UK contribution?
I do expect a very solid UK subscription, yes.
What is the Arctic program you’re proposing?
The Arctic Weather Satellite is new. It was proposed by Sweden. It is a small LEO-orbit satellite, with one year of observation, carrying a radiometer to complement to the [Eumetsat] Metop SG radiometer. This would be the first prototype of a future constellation of small satellites. There are different numbers — 12, 16, 20 satellites — that have been proposed.
Eumetsat will look at the data from the first and decide if they find it interesting. Then, in a few years, they might agree to a joint program with a constellation.
With one satellite you demonstrate the added value. Then you need the temporal coverage. Sweden proposed it, but it is an ESA mission and we have had a huge interest from other countries, not only Arctic countries. I am pretty confident that this will be well-subscribed.
After Copernicus, your Future EO program is the biggest funding slice, at 650 million euros.
Future EO is a domain where I am most concerned about getting a good subscription. It’s the most important program, the backbone. There are small Scout mission proposals, and HAPS [high-altitude observation platforms]. We are pushing the technology, as we do with any program.
How to you look at higher-resolution Sentinel satellites with respect to what’s going on at the national or private-sector level?
It would not be a problem to develop 50-cm satellite for ESA. But it’s a programmatic issue. ESA will not compete with its own commercial companies in its own member states. So it is unlikely we would enter this domain because it remains a commercial domain.
You refer to Future EO as over nine years, three segments of three years each.
Yes, we used to have an envelope program that spanned five years. Now we have three years and the 650 million is for that.
Were you surprised that the French space agency, CNES, and Airbus agreed on the jointly funded CO3D 50-cm constellation?
They are convinced that there is a very good market, a good business case and I appreciated the fact that they did this. I think they did the right thing.
Look at Pleiades Neo [Airbus’s future 30-cm optical satellites], where they have invested they own money. it was courageous of them to do that. They had to work very hard to get it approved. I applaud them for doing it.
Airbus said it has advance orders of several hundred million euros for Pleiades Neo, two years before the launch of the four satellites.
Isn’t that great? It shows that Earth observation is becoming a very dynamic domain, growing very fast, and with a much higher commercial commercial element than it used to have.
So you’re optimistic about prospects fo the businesses of the New Space startups? There are a lot of them in the Earth observation sector.
I am very positive. What they have managed — Planet and Spire and others — is to create an awareness of the use of Earth observation for many aspects of society, which of course we also do with our public missions. But they are funded in a very different way. They have given it such a momentum and positive energy. It’s good for everyone. I really hope they succeed and make big money.
What effects does this have on your program?
It makes us, on the public side, think about how to realign our concepts for the long term. It’s clear that in the medium to long term, our future will look quite different in terms of the kind of satellites we produce and how we produce them and how we get data.
It’s a way for us to critically assess our program in relation to those companies, and to find synergies to use their data along with the more classical, traditional companies.
It’s clear that the resolution scale is moving downward, but it’s also clear that we, as ESA, have to move out of segments that are becoming commercial.
That’s the whole idea of a government R&D agency.
It is the whole idea. But sometimes people are reluctant to do what they are supposed to do. It’s not as easy as you might think. We’re not unique at ESA in this reflection. We are taking it very seriously and we need to see how it affects our architectural setup. We will continue to provide some segments of this Earth observation part, but others, meaning commercial, will be integrated into our system.
Airbus Defence and Space is financing, without government anchor-customer guarantee, four Pleiades Neo 30-cm-GSD satellites to match competitor Maxar at the very-high-resolution end of the market. Credit: Airbus
Do you see any particular threat to the package you are putting before ministers at the end of the month?
I think Copernicus will do very well, assuming that the UK comes as strongly as I hope. We may even get more than the requested 1.4 billion euros.
As for an Aeolus [atmospheric dynamics satellite] follow-on, I’ll make a proposal in 2022 after we learn lessons from the current design. We’re looking at this with Eumetsat.
Has there been a definitive resolution to the laser issue?
Yes. It was running on the A-laser for about a year but that laser was degrading continuously. We have switched to the identical B laser and it has degraded slightly but this is what yo expect. They do degrade over time. But it is degrading much less. We switched from A to B in July. Since early September we have regular measurements and they are very good.
One lesson I have learned is that despite a reduced signal, the wind information is just as good. So maybe we don’t need to aim for such a high power going forward.
There’s a lot going on in orbit and in data analytics, but ground storage and data dissemination has not taken off as much in the private sector. Does this need an extra push?
Of course. In space we have reached a good infrastructure in Europe with the Sentinels and Earth Explorers and the national missions. We have a good picture of where to go and what investments will come.
What I see missing is on the ground. We’re going to hit a bottleneck pretty soon.
150 Tb per day from Copernicus a year ago, 250 Tb today; possible collaboration with DG-Connect
Today we are disseminating, with Copernicus, 250 terabytes per day from the central hub in Esrin [Italy]. It was 150 We manage well. The data uptake is good, the data flow is good and users are happy. We have a 98.5% or 99% reliability so it’s really working well.
But we’re going to reach our limit on IT capabilities sooner or later. The trend is to go to cloud-based processing. The other part we’re pushing is AI for data management.
I’ve met with DG-Connect’s head —  Roberto Viola — twice now. He has written to request that we make a concrete proposal for how Earth observation could be used as a case for investment under the framework of Digital Europe. That’s in the seven-year budget as well, but on the DG Connect side. I am now doing this assessment and we need to see what this means.
But certainly I would need to reinforce access to high-performance computing, most likely with a networked approach. But this needs to be verified. And we need to se what is needed on our side to increase our computing capability.
Does DG Connect have in its seven-year budget room to do something with you?
Yes, they do.

Eutelsat debuts M2M/IoT service using its own Ku- capacity; Leo play launches 2020

Luis Jimenez-Tunon. Credit: Eutelsat
PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat, moving forward on a strategy that sees M2M/IoT as a major driver for future growth, announced the service availability of Eutelsat IoT First, which connects to Eutelsat’s current fleet of Ku-band satellites to offer two-way IP traffic.
The Eutelsat IoT First service will complement Eutelsat’s ELO constellation of small, low-orbiting satellites to carry share messages sent from small devices. Eutelsat sees an eventual constellation of 25 such satellites, and has contracted for the first four demonstrators to launch in 2020 and 2021:http://bit.ly/2Mye7fP
Eutelsat said it had already installed a network of IoT First hubs at the company’s teleports in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, and had contracted with two companies — Egatel of Spain and Ayecka Communications of Israel — to build IoT First terminals for fixed applications.
A mobile service will follow once Eutelsat has settled on a builder for flat-panel phased-array antennas.
For fixed applications, Eutelsat said it has priced IoT First to be on a par with telcos’ terrestrial wireless offerings of less than $10 per month. The Egatel and Ayecka terminals are expected to cost customers less than $200.
Luis Jimenez-Tunon, Eutelsat executive vice president for data business, discussed the service, and how it fits into Eutelsat’s strategy including low-orbiting IoT satellites. Eutelsat announced IoT First at the IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona.
When are you ready to go to market?
The service is ready to sell now in several regions — the United States, South America, Europe and the Middle East. It is up and running as of Oct. 29. We have a network of hubs already deployed and they are operational. The 24/7 monitoring is done from our facility in Turin, Italy.
What are the main vertical markets for Eutelsat IoT First?
We start with a fixed product to connect large customers — retail points of sales, ATMs on the banking side, oil and gas and utilities, construction, agriculture, telecom.
What needs to happen for you to debut the mobile IoT piece?
For the mobile IoT, one of the key aspects is the availability of flat phased-array antennas. Our IoT FIRST works in Ku-band. Once we are ready to procure them we can place the mobile service directly into the existing fixed business. It will be the same service infrastructure.
Eutelsat is debuting next year a test service using small, low-orbit satellites for IoT called Eutelsat ELO. Is IoT First a precursor to that?
There is no single answer to all of the possible use cases. The two systems are complementary. Even if we are able to get a flat phased-array antenna for the mobile solution, the two complement each other.
ELO is not designed to transport IP data. it is more for messaging from objects that are already using chipsets for low-power, wide-area networks, and with minor modifications they are able to talk to the satellite. So it is an integrated hybrid system designed for object and low ARPUs and very low prices for the devices. Whereas FIRST from megabytes to hundreds of MB per month of IP bidirectional data.
So Eutelsat IoT First is for higher volumes than ELO?
Yes, starting at a few megabytes per month to a few hundred MB per month. It talks to our GEO fleet in Ku-band and the entire system is optimized to achieve the lowest price possible for connectivity IOT devices with geostationary satellites.
You need to compete with the price points for cellar operators and with Iridium, Inmarsat, Orbcomm on the satellite side?
The different players have advantages for different verticals. aero, maritime, broadband. We wanted something different. We believe there is a nascent makes for communications that do not require high throughput but need very low price points.
We are not competing with VSAT systems. But some of these fixed-use cases are still VSAT applications. They are expensive and power hungry. We are attacking some of these verticals that have not been reached by VSATs.
Credit: Eutelsat
Our prices will start with a few single-digit euros per month for the data subscription, with devices that are at or below $200.
Who is building the terminals?
Our entire system is based on proprietary system devision and protocols. we have selected two partners fo the devices. One is called Egatel of Spain. The other is Ayecka Communications Systems of Israel.
You have already given them volume production contracts?
Correct. As of today we already have a stock of several thousand units produced. And as I said we are ready to sell both from a contract point of view and from a services offering.
Is Sigfox a partner for Eutelsat IoT First?
We expect Sigfox will become a customer of this.
They are big IoT players, looking to provide connectivity beyond the reach of their cellular networks.

RBC Signals on Earth observation X-band, AWS Ground and why a delayed Series A is good news

Christopher Richins. Credit: RBC Signals
PARIS — Satellite constellations of every stripe — broadband, narrowband, Earth observation — are delayed, launch schedules are still iffy, and some venture investors may be getting impatient. Sooner or later these trends will affect a commercial satellite services player like RBC Signals.
But the news of late has been good for incoming contracts and the company postponed a Series A fundraise because it had no immediate need of the cash and preferred to wait. If the deals materialize, the next round can be done at a higher valuation.
AWS Ground? It may have looked like a major threat in late 2018, but became a collaboration partner earlier this year and RBC Signals Chief Executive Christopher Richins sees Amazon’s entry into the business as good news.
RBC’s latest move is to offer X-band downlinks for Earth observation systems for $19.95 per satellite pass, with a minimum of $595 monthly charge. On the hardware side, it’s an area that ThinKom Solutions, known best for its aeronautical connectivity antennas, is also getting into: http://bit.ly/2nLeARA
Why the recent push on X-band?
X-band is important for the industry because when we talk about value creation and starting to reach out and create value-added products, one of the drivers of that value arguably would be Earth observation data. IOT will do a lot but that’s more subtle. Earth observation data has a lot of value, and there’s a large volume of data that needs to be transmitted from space to the ground.
Why weren’t you there earlier if it was so important?
We were there earlier. The challenge has been the existing, legacy EO companies. They were very set in their ways. When I started the company four years ago, I thought it would be intuitively obvious to them that if I could drop the cost of downlinking their data materially, it would allow them to serve more customers in a better way with new products, lower-latency data products, things like that.
RBC service levels
What we found was that because those companies were so used to serving slow-moving government entities, for them to roll out a new product — they just didn’t have the internal will. Even if it was free, they wren’t interested in low-latency data because there was no market pressure. The new guys hadn’t come on line yet. The customers hadn’t been exposed to these kinds of products. Their minds weren’t focused on: What could I do if I had data that was five minutes old instead of 28 hours old?
What we’re seeing now is pressure, because some of the smaller constellations are able to push data with lower latency.
What constellations do you mean?
Like Planet, or Black Sky, if BlackSky reaches its targets.
We are trying to make the cost of bringing that data down so low that applications that may not have been able to afford the raw data can now get access to it.
We want to see the price of images — per km or whatever metric you use —  we want to bring that price down. So we want to make it easier to get the data down with low latency so it has more value, and we want to make it less expensive so that the hurdle for an app developer to create some information product because he won’t be paying so much money for this data.
To inject the industry with a booster, basically. We wanted to make the price-point so low – $600 a month – that they could swipe a credit card and not even think about it. They could just try out the service and thin what they could if this was this inexpensive to bring down. We’re almost at 70 antennas around the world. You could bring your data down almost anywhere.
How many have X-band?
The vast majority have X-band downlink.
Where’d you get the $600 monthly minimum?
Basically we know where the market is for prices on high volumes and we just wanted to make that price so low that you couldn’t say no to it. It’s that $20 per pass, one pass per day number.
Does this mean more capex for you to upgrade your existing network of stations?
No, that’s already there.
The FCC came out with smallsat regulations earlier this year. Do you see any problems with them?
No, I think it’s great, I’m grateful they’re listening to the community, that they’re making changes. It’s a move in the right direction. It doesn’t solve everybody’s problems but it’s nice to see them being mindful about the difference between a geostationary comsat and a LEO cubesat test or demonstration mission.
On the whole it will be positive for my customers.
How much do you care about orbital debris?
We care about it because we provide regulatory services, so we have to help our customers go through those analyses. It’s important for the industry to show that we care and we’re not ignorant of those potential risks. It needs to be regulated somewhere and I think [the FCC] did a good job of soliciting comment and engaging with industry on it.
What happened with your customer on the Spaceflight Industries/SpaceX  SSO-A mission?
They never established contact with the spacecraft. We were not providing the ground station for it from a TT&C perspective, but, let’s put it this way: They never enabled the optical payload. We didn’t announce the name of the customer.
You built an optical station for this customer.
It was made for that, and it’s not doing anything for the moment. The next spacecraft that’s flying an apparatus that could test with it is scheduled for launch Q1 2020. The same customer.
And the launch date is holding?
I think so – all this stuff is crazy right now. Everybody is slipping.
Would you agree that the various constellations are moving forward more slowly than expected?

Absolutely.
How do you explain that? Telesat, OneWeb, the narrowband Sky and Space Global — they have their separate schedule issues.
It’s a mix of things. There are significant technical challenges that have not been addressed yet, such as the user terminals, the antennas required to provide service for the broadband. All the broadband constellations have user terminal problems.
The narrowband constellations have commercial problems. They don’t have a service that has been launched and they don’t have enough investment to get there from here. And they don’t have a compelling enough product service to capture significant revenues to fund it. So they’ve got funding challenges on the narrowband side.
They also need partners and user commitments.
The scale of it isn’t enough to launch a commercial space company.
But these are your customers too.
Sky and Space Global is a customer of ours. They’ve launched their three Diamonds [cubesats]. The next constellations are the Pearls. We root for them and track them really closely. But they need to pay their bills and unfortunately they’re publicly traded and they get a lot of negative press.
But in terms of your business you don’t see any reason to knock down the growth you hoped for?
I don’t know about knocking down the growth. We believe a lot of that demand is still there, but it’s shifting out. Even amongst the smaller Earth observation constellations are moving slowly. Each of the project phases — the test and demonstration mission, initial commercial operation — is taking longer and it’s just pushing everything out. And any launch failure makes that even worse.
The RBC network. Credit: RBC Signals
A lot of people for a lot of years were saying launch was the bottleneck. Now we’re seeing the spacecraft playing schedule chicken. The satellite manufacturers did a lot of complaining about launch scheduled, but when it’s time to start delivering the spacecraft to launch and you’re seeing spacecraft bumping themselves, because the spacecraft isn’t ready.
Technology is hard. Planet may have been able to get away with ‘We’ll fail fast,’ but ‘Failure is not an option’ is the way people are trying to operate. They’re trying to be a little bit more careful because they know if they fail they’re not going to raise that next round.
So things are delayed but it doesn’t mean a smaller universe of opportunity than what you might have seen two years ago?
I am moderating my expectations because I’m not seeing as much traction as I want from my customers. I want to see my customers signing deals and I’m not seeing as much of that as I need to see. I’m seeing my customers missing their funding milestones. It may not mean they’re going to fail, but it certainly means they’re not growing, they’re not launching on the right schedule, and that investment timing is probably the biggest thing.
You had forecast 500% growth for RBC in 2019. Is that still your target?
It is, and we’re on target — despite everything. We have slow-rolled our Series A.  I’m not going to say we didn’t try. But we actually slow-rolled it ourselves because some pretty amazing deals have come through to us.
In terms of revenue?
Yeah. So we could float it because we had customers prepaying and providing cash, and we started government deals, which was huge for us. We started doing geostationary deals, there’s real money in those things. We haven’t disclosed who it is, at their request. Because it’s a drift/BIU [ITU Bringing into Use of a satellite location] thing. It’s not illegal, but until it’s done it’s not done.
So revenue allowed you to delay your Series A.
Yes, and we’ve also got other big deals that are company-making-scale deals for us that are in the works. We don’t want to run out and raise money on the current valuation when that deal may come through and materially change that valuation.
We can keep the lights on with our current cash flow, but I will say we’re running leaner than I want. We’re missing opportunities because we don’t have the bandwidth to take them in.
What is your current headcount?
We’re still about 10. I could use more, but I also understand cash is king and if things are going to be pushing out we need to be managing our cash flow. It means right now everybody’s working at a feverish rate to execute on the deals that we’ve already done. We’re keeping service levels high. We’re having to pick which opportunities we take on. We’re doing six RFPs right now. We get RFPs every week that need to be responded to. The volume of incoming is incredible, and that’s without us even trying.
What have you seen from AWS Ground or its partner, Lockheed Martin, since the initial big-splash announcement?
It’s still unclear to me what role Lockheed is going to have in that service. I’ve got a hypothesis that the big JEDI [Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative] government cloud services deal played a role. AWS wanted to show it had aligned itself with a major DOD prime.
But as far as ground stations go, they’ve got two ground stations that are operational as far as I know. We add those antennas to our network as soon as they turn them up. And we’re a vetted, approved partner for them, so we can resell those services.
Whose hardware is on those things?
They put Viasat antennas on their data centers.
Have you seen any hardware from Lockheed for AWS?
No. They’re still trying to establish what the actual product is going to be. But it has not been rolled out yet. And when they do, we will gladly add their infrastructure to our network.
You announced collaboration agreement AWS ground. You’ve got the greater market knowledge, but you know what they say about dining with the devil.
Use a very long spoon.
What does the collaboration mean?
Amazon has a particular way of doing things. I would have allowed myself to use a shorter spoon but they’re insistent on figuring it out themselves. So they’re rolling their own. And to the extent that right now I don’t have customers knocking down the door trying to use their stuff, what they’re doing doesn’t impact me. We’re out there marketing it and when somebody comes then I’ll probably take a little higher interest in making sure it’s actually doing what they say it’s going to do. But right now I’m not taking passes on their stuff, so I’m not as concerned.
Amazon is known for taking its time.
They’re smart people, they’ll figure it out.

Astronics, Boeing Global Services, Newtec, Zodiac Data Systems: IFC interoperability is a pipe dream for now

Stephane Bloch, director, international operations, Astronics. Credit: Euroconsult
PARIS — Airlines and in-flight connectivity service providers say they want hardware to be interoperable. Why is it so hard?
Astronics, Boeing Global Services, Newtec and Zodiac Data Systems agreed: Standardization of in-flight connectivity hardware so far is going nowhere, except maybe through the rare M&A such as ST Engineering’s bundling of Newtec with VT iDirect.
Addressing Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here Sept. 9-13, these companies offered a ground’s-eye view of why, in addition to the lack of standardization, none of this — installation, regulation, life cycle, future-proofing — is obvious, or inexpensive. As will be clear in the discussion, neither Viasat nor Hughes were present.
A 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) bird and a radome
 Stephane Bloch, director of international operations, Astronics: For large radomes or anything external, there is the bird strike requirement where you have to show that if your system is hit by a bird of more than X pounds, the aircraft will survive. For engines it’s birds over 8 pounds, and for whatever reason for radomes it’s birds over 4 pounds. So you have to run all the tests, you have to shoot actual birds in the radome.
[U.S.]FAA and [Europe’s] EASA have this interesting game of whenever someone puts out a requirement the other one makes a best effort to put up another requirement slightly different from the first. So one of the biggest constraints is how do I design something that will match all the FAA and EASA requirements, and how do I design something that will last throughout the years, not in terms of aging but in terms of allowing with the highest possible probability the operator to upgrade his systems.
 One of the industry answers to that is ARINC 791 [Ku- and Ka-band aeronautical terminal equipment standards], which was supposed to provide interoperability. It did not. For example, the involvement of Boeing in ARN 791 was limited, or it did not have the same interests as Airbus. Our friends from Panasonic did something slightly different than Viasat, etc.
‘Is the IFC ecosystem moving to interoperability? No’
Everyone speaks about ARINC 791 but I’m not sure a lot of people are actually following it. So do we have a real industry normalization? No. Does the industry have a clear path to preserve the future in terms of systems being interchangeable and interoperable? The answer to that is clearly: No.
 We are not yet at the transition between gimbaled antennas and phased-array, but we can see that coming.  How do we design something now that will eventually allow phased array antenna to be installed on the aircraft that will have previously been severely modified if not damaged by the installation of the current generation? Yet can we wait for the next generation? No, our industry would die.
Brian Saunders, strategy lead, Boeing Global Services. Credit: Boeing
 Brian Saunders, strategy lead, Boeing Global Services: On the lack of standards: Putting out aircraft at rate, you don’t want the airplane varying as it comes down the line – this one’s going to have Panasonic, that one’s a Gogo system. Even in the retrofit market, the variations across all those and the FCC processes that go into that, it’s something that needs to be dealt with.
We can actually learn a lot looking at some of the standards brought into the cell phone industry. It’s different for integration onto the aircraft, but really driving toward standards and then making people stick to those standards. Because each of the providers wants to tweak their solution in such a way that they have an edge over the other guy.
 Q: How do you feel about standardization, different technologies and slight variations? For your IFC business do you have one modem or multiple modems?
Thomas Van Den Driessche, chief executive, Newtec. Credit: Newtec
 Thomas Van Den Driessche, chief executive, Newtec: We have a third-generation modem, one that actually works. We have a couple of thousand installed and we’re peaking at 50 installs a week. You may be familiar with the Panasonic network we did. We’re standardizing by consolidation [Newtec was recently purchased by ST Engineering, which also owns VT iDirect], by patching different satellite networks together. We do have a single network over an SES high-throughput fleet, and Eutelsat and Intelsat and regional Ku-band satellites – patched all together. We get close to seamlessly switching between them. Newtec by itself is actually a standardization company, we are in multiple standardization bodies.
‘Don’t blame us modem manufacturers’
 The industry is not great at standardization because they look at the modem manufacturer to standardize. If you compare it with the cellular world, it’s an ecosystem problem, not a modem-manufacturer problem. Our modems are software defined so we have no problem running standardized stuff. An aero modem is a software-defined modem these days. You can upgrade it over the air even, although you’re not allowed by FCC rules, that’s another thing. So looking at modem manufacturers is the wrong thing.
Look at all the different payloads there are. Every satellite operator is now on the verge of coming to the new digital payload that does something completely different than the next MEO or LEO guy, and every payload is different. That’s one reason why it’s become very difficult to standardize. It first starts with the antenna choices, is it Ku, is it Ka, is it combined, can we really combine that on an airplane? The ground segment will not be the problem, it’s the other part of the ecosystem.
 Q: What is the biggest pain point today in IFC integration
Jean-Marie Betermier, president, Zodiac Data Systems. Credit: CNES
Jean-Marie Betermier, president, Zodiac Data Systems: The industry is still very much suffering from the silo organization. Service providers are in silos trying to differentiate themselves by adding a new feature. We know the technology is here now, but this verticalization doesn’t help the final decision-makers when it comes to investing a lot of money for a minimum of five or six years. Software defined modems are now reality. What prevents us from delivering a software modem with some more standardization? I’m not talking the same waveform, the same access, but at least having hardware that could be installed in aircraft.
 Van Den Driessche: The modem is indeed not difficult, today we can provide modems that can do that. If you can get the rest of the ecosystem in line with that, that’s the issue. For instance, there’s a difference between a Panasonic network and a Viasat network – Viasat is completely vertically integrated. We can provide a modem that can be software-upgradeable but I’m not sure Viasat would actually want it. Today it’s possible to put the same modem on every airplane, but it’s not possible to put the same antenna on every plane,
 Q: Integrating equipment, has it gone down in terms of pressure, or is it just cost? 
 Bloch: Having agnostic modems would be a great step forward. We’re talking about satcom, satellite connectivity, IFC, but IFC is usually a complement to something inside the cabin. No one will install a very high-level IFC with no IFE system inside the cabin. Then you need to consider a server, CWAPs [cabin wireless access points], etc. Efforts are in process to provide the next generation of equipment that is fully agnostic and interchangeable, instead of having one server and several CWAPs, for example.
‘Changing broadband is peanuts, technically. But antennas…’
 Swapping your broadband is technically peanuts. Financially, it’s a lot, it’s an investment. The big issue will always be the antennas. Swapping an antenna is a big thing. Changing the generation of an antenna may be a major undertaking and in some cases may be close to impossible. In some extreme cases your only option is to risk the aircraft and start from scratch, which is basically a $1.2 million ticket per aircraft. The message is the modem or any airline interchangeability will never be an issue from a technical standpoint, the big thing will be the antenna.
 Q: Do you think if the cost for equipment will pick up? What is the impact in terms of adoption by airlines?
 Saunders: Airlines want to make that investment once and have it pay off for a long time. They are saying ‘I understand I need this on my aircraft, but I don’t want it to have all these variabilities in it, I want to make the investment once and I want it to last for a relatively long time.’
Ku vs Ka: Pick one
Van Den Driessche: The modem can handle GEO, LEO or MEO types of constellations. The actual constellation shape and number of satellites doesn’t really make a difference. In the end, the difficulty is still Ku-Ka. The rest you can solve. Handovers, LEO/MEO, timing, schedule, synchronization, Doppler speed, software-defined radio, that’s all solvable. The difference between Ku and Ka is the big issue for airplanes. And there are no good solutions that have both on them to install.
 Betermier: You hit the nail on the head. Just take a look at the new NGSO constellations [like] OneWeb and Telesat. They will both offer mobile connectivity, and more specifically to aircraft. One will operate in Ku, the other in Ka. What type of bet are you ready to make, even if you believe the NGSO will bring a lot of advantages? It’s very scary.
When we launched the first development three years ago, we decided to go for the Ka because the higher the frequency, the higher the bandwidth, the lower the cost. That was the first bet. We are sticking to that.
 Then for the gimbal, in this system we had since the beginning a vision that we could have something relatively agnostic that could handle various types of connectivity.
After three years, what we learned is for GEO it’s not a big issue, it works with any type of GEO. For MEO satellites, it could be a good solution, so long as you stay [connected] when you have to swap from one satellite to another.
But this type of technology is not valid when you have to track a constellation and have beam hopping every five minutes. Then you totally lose the essence of what the NGSO constellation is offering, low-latency and so on. For this type of business, an AESA antenna where you could have multi-beam forming and one beam having to look at a LEO satellite realize at the same time another one is opening the link with this new satellite at the horizon, it’s absolutely mandatory.
Amy Svitak is a contributing editor of Space Intel Report.
 

ThinKom brings its aero phased-array antenna to the ground, starting with S-/X-band Earth observation

Bill Milroy. Credit: ThinKom
PARIS — With 1,300 commercial aircraft flying its phased array antennas, mainly with Gogo, and 100-plus land-mobile installations as well, ThinKom Solutions Inc. is now looking at applying the same basic technology for fixed Earth stations taking down Earth observation constellation data.
The idea: Use flat panel phased arrays in groups, an “array of arrays,” to enable Earth stations to link quickly from one satellite to another in ways that parabolic arrays cannot, while dispensing with the investment in large, heavy installations.
Dispensing with electronic scanning means lower electricity costs, which at some installations could be a factor.
ThinKom’s solution will start in S- and X-band before moving up to higher frequencies as the market demands. The layout is an array of arrays less than 2 meters tall and occupying less than 7 square meters of terrain will do the same job of eight 2.4-meter parabolic antennas, or three 4.5-meter dishes.
Bill Milroy, ThinKom’s chairman and chief technology officer, outlined the reasoning behind the move and ThinKom’s strategy.
You’re using Earth observation as an entry into the fixed ground antenna market, not the LEO broadband, which grabs the headlines. Why?
We’re starting in X- and S-band because we think the nearest-term market for this is the Earth observation marketplace. Planet Labs and similar systems are disadvantaged because they are so small — 1U to 3U size satellites that maybe put out 1W of RF power. The disadvantage on the satellite side means you need to make that up on the teleport side.
Using around a 4- to 4.5-meter dish, which is typical for those systems, at their lowest elevation angle, that’s what we’re starting out.
We do think we will be able to expand. We have already done our antennas at Ku-band and Ka, and Q-band. We’re not worried about going to the other bands. We just think the nearest-term market to start is the X-band Earth observation marketplace. We have begun design and will soon begin prototyping a 1-meter building bloc — a 1-meter X-band phased array.
What’s your go-to-market strategy?
We’re talking to all of the usual suspects in that marketplace, the third-party folks who have come forward to serve that Earth observation
market in terms of third-party teleport suppliers. We’re getting excellent traction.
So RBC, Kongsberg, AWS Ground, Lockheed, just to name a few — you’re in contact with them?
Yes and yes.
How big is the addressable market in terms of units?
We’re also working at ThinKom on the really large-quantity consumer and enterprise LEO terminal part. Those are very large markets in terms of units — 10s of thousands to 100s of thousands. We don’t think this [Earth observation] market is going to be that large, certainly in terms of teleport positions. But each teleport may have 30-100 of our 1-meter building blocs. So a smaller number of teleports for sure, but a larger number of antennas per teleport.
Credit: ThinKom
Your configuration shows 37 elements equal to eight 2.4-meter dishes?
Thirty-seven 37 units just happens to fit into a hexagonal packing of the array. There is nothing magic. We chose that because we thought that was the centroid of the industry.
Some people want a 2.5 meter;  and some competitors in this particular tracking dish market are in the 2.5- 3.5-, 4.5-meter area. There are some people who want to push up into the 5.4- and 7-meter range and we can accommodate all of those. We can use the whole array to get one 7- or 8-meter antenna or eight 2.4-meter antennas, and the cool thing is we can do anything in between.
And this array cluster can handle multiple very small satellites coming over the horizon?
The concept of operations you’d like to have is a large dish available when you absolutely need it for a tiny, 1U cubesat that is really low on power but has a lot of data it wants to bring down in a single pass.
Or you might have a 3U cubesat that has a little more power available to it and doesn’t need maybe quite as large a dish.
If you’re a third party catering to multiple constellations you need the flexibility of being able to bring to bear an antenna on short notice. This gives the flexibility to do one beam, three beams, eight beams. If you need eight beams because that’s how many satellites you have in view, and on occasion those beams will have to be 7 meters, that drives you to mount eight 7-meter dishes, just in case.
Your documentation shows no radomes over your arrays.
This is a really low profile, less than 2 meters high. It doesn’t suffer the same kind of wind issues so in general we don’t have to cover this with a spherical radome.
And we can operate in really bad wind conditions. A lot of teleport antennas with no radome will have to go into birdbath mode to reduce wind loading until the wind drops. That is not going to be good news for those depending on the teleport for that pass of the satellite.
In an urban environment we can put these on a roof. One or two people can carry the arrays themselves in a freight elevator. You don’t need to bring in a crane or a helicopter lift.
And you are probably not going to need to reinforce the roof or the floor below the roof as you do typically when you have even a 4.5-meter teleport dish, which can often require a lot of reinforcement below.
So from a total cost of ownership we think we bring a capex advantage but a recurring cost of ownership advantage as well.
Can you quantify the capex advantages?
We’re still trying to determine that. It’s hard to compare our antenna. Its not like our antenna equals three 4.5-meter dishes. It’s like our antenna equals some combination so that when you price it all out it’s difficult to do a head to head comparison.
The feedback we’re getting is that even at a capex level, we are more affordable. By that I include here not just the dish, but also the cement pad, the preparation of the site. This is not including the fact that we have a much smaller leased footprint and we can go on a roof and reduce lease costs there.
And power requirements?
Compared to an electronically scanned array for sure, we don’t consume any power to hold the beam in a particular location. In remote locations they are running off a diesel generator. Using less power means less maintenance compared to an electronically scanned array.
In receive mode, each of the 1-meter sub arrays takes about 15 watts for the LNB, so 37 of those is 500-600 watts including the electronics. An electronically scanned array might be 10x that amount.
We are having a hard time figuring out what mechanical dishes require in terms of power. They require a pretty large motor for pointing accuracy, anti-backlash motors, even power when they are holding position to maintain a beam on target. We are comfortable we are using less power than the dish, but we’re not claiming a big power advantage — but a big advantage compared to an electrically scanned antenna.

On maintenance, we are learning more and more. It sounds like often these dishes have to be lubricated for maintenance, and taken off line to do that on occasion. Our system does not have any periodic maintenance requirements.
How do you segue into the potentially much larger LEO satellite broadband market?
We’re new to this and we want to walk before we run. But X and S- band are on the lower end of where we build these antennas. Ku band is not a problem, nor is Ka band or Q band. Ka-band for 2.5-3.5-meter equivalent, but as many as 12 beams per teleport. So we are trying to scale that market now to see what the demands are and then comparing it to the tracking dishes.
We will be dong some flight tests by the end of the year on our Ka-band version, which is 30 GHz transmit and 20 GHz receive.
SES O3b, Avanti, Inmarsat, Telesat LEO — you have been demonstrating your Ka-band hardware with all the systems?
Yes.
Is ThinKom investing time and resources on the assumption that at least one broadband LEO constellation will be built?
Yes. We’re being pulled in that direction. Aero is one example and the airlines are talking to the service providers, which we sell to, and saying: We’re not sure what will happen in LEO but we want to have a LEO-capable solution. That is the impetus to us to make sure our system is future proof, so that the airlines know this’ll be the best solution now and for the future — GEO and LEO when it comes on line.
LEO is still a tough business case.
We see competitors starting to come out with LEO-only solutions. The beauty of LEO is that the G/T requirements of the antennas themselves can be modest and maybe the elevation is higher for the LEOs. But it’s vey dangerous for an airline to gravitate to a LEO-only solution.

Eutelsat commits to 4 revenue-generating IoT payloads from Loft Orbital, AAC Clyde to test market with SigFox

ELO: A test payload from Tyvak, then two from Loft Orbital and two from AAC Clyde Space. Credit: Eutelsat
PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat has selected Loft Orbital and AAC Clyde Space for the launch of four payloads, two from each manufacturer, to debut commercial service of Eutelsat’s ELO IoT system.
Eutelsat’s commitment, which includes terrestrial-IoT provider SigFox as an anchor — but not exclusive — customer, puts more pressure on the French government-overseen Kineis constellation, which has secured initial funding but has not yet committed to a constellation of satellites: http://bit.ly/2FdWKww
ELO is another example of Eutelsat’s setting itself apart from peers including SES, Intelsat, Telesat, Hispasat, AsiaSat and others.
All are faced with the same somber market projections for what is now their principal revenue source — television broadcasters.
But instead of seeking growth opportunities in low- or medium-Earth orbit broadband, Eutelsat is staking its future on a stabilizing satellite-TV business in emerging markets, deploying large geostationary-orbit satellites to deliver broadband in Africa and Europe, and narrowband IoT globally.
The satellite-TV and IoT markets could not be more different. One is based on relations with relatively few broadcasters paying to lease large chunks of capacity, while the other features a much wider addressable market of corporate users paying only a few dollars per month per subscriber terminal.
Eutelsat said the entire 25-satellite ELO constellation would cost no more than 25 million euros ($28 million) and that the company will commit to the follow-on investment only after validating the global satellite-delivered IoT market with the first four spacecraft.
The contract with San Francisco-based Loft is for the launch, in 2020, of payloads on two Loft-built satellites that will also host other missions, including an Earth observation service, in low Earth orbit. Eutelsat’s ELO payload will weigh eight kilograms. The satellites’ launch mass will be around 85 kilograms.
In 2021, Sweden- and Scotland-based AAC Clyde will launch two 6U ELO-dedicated cubesats.
In both cases, the manufacturers are handling the cost of the satellites’ manufacture, launch and insurance.
The four satellites will follow the launch, which has now slipped into early 2020, of a Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems-built 6U ELO Alpha spacecraft to make initial tests of the ELO system.
Eutelsat has an agreement with terrestrial-IoT provider SigFox under which SigFox has agreed to use only the ELO network for SigFox’s satellite-IoT services. SigFox currently operates in 65 nations and has said it would use the ELO network to fill in gaps in its current terrestrial coverage. Eutelsat is free to sell ELO services to other customers.
Under the agreement, SigFox also has responsibility for developing the ELO ground terminals that will communicate with the satellites for brief periods whose frequency depends on the users’ requirements. The ELO ground segment and operations are under Eutelsat responsibility.
Eutelsat said AAC Clyde is the presumed builder of the rest of the 25-satellite ELO constellation, which will be contracted only once Eutelsat has validated the market’s potential with the first four spacecraft. The company said it is keeping its options open as part of its strategy of dual-sourcing.
Eutelsat said the system cost will be no more than 1 million euros per satellite. AAC Microtec said the Eutelsat contract was valued at between 2 million and 5 million euros, depending on options.
“This relatively modest investment at Group level, which is fully scalable, enables Eutelsat to access an additional potential growth lever in the context of its Connectivity strategy,” Eutelsat Chief Executive Rodolphe Belmer said in a statement.

Speedcast’s Beylier on M&A ‘speeding ticket,’ Carnival contract issue, uneven bandwidth availability and IoT

P.J. Beylier. Credit: Speedcast and WTA
PARIS — Satellite services provider Speedcast has had a rough few months. The delayed rebound of the energy markets and a technical glitch in the ramp-up of its large Carnival Cruise contract, among other issues, caused a 65% drop in its stock price since late June: http://bit.ly/2ZqQbxF
Chief Executive P.J. Beylier survived a board shakeup that resulted in the departure of its chief financial officer and is now charged with turning a showcase M&A company into one focused on organic growth.
Beylier addressed these issues Sept. 10 during Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week. Here are excerpts from his remarks.
Why remain a publicly traded company?
“We have been publicly listed for five years. The first four years have been fantastic. The past 12 months have been painful. Other companies in this sector have gone through that. We’re not the only one.
“We decided five years ago to list. At that time it was opportunistic more than anything else. I think it has been good for us. With respect to the last 12 months, when you look at what happened, the situation with energy where we are expecting it to start recovering, there is an overreaction and the snowball effect of the public markets.
“Some of the pain was self-inflicted. We made some mistakes. Now we are very focused on organic growth, getting our systems and processes where they need to be. We’ve grown a lot, very quickly, integrating all the different companies. We’re getting a speeding ticket. Now we’re focusing on furthering integration. But we are excited and convinced about the power of the platform that we have been building over the last five years.
“The company is solid and we have capabilities that are second to none in the industry and we are in a very strong position to generate organic growth above what the market will achieve in the coming next ew years. We’re very focused on that and going through the pain but that is part of the experience.”
Speedcast provided a record 3.174 Gbps of throughput to the Carnival Horizon ship during the ship’s inauguration in 2018. But it was provided by several satellites while the ship was in New York harbor and is not reflective of average bandwidth available. Credit: Carnival
What happened with the Carnival Cruise contract that caused costs to rise?
“It’s an issue we will all be facing as an industry. We are a little bit ahead of the pack. To bring the level of bandwidth that our customers need, and the price points they expect, we need to go beyond what we have done in the past in the type of capacity we are using.
“We need the ability to go through a maximum number of options. On a cruise ship, we need to be able to use C-band, Ku-band and Ka-band. To do that we are using tri-band antennas, and there are some teething issues with that. They work on some Ka-band satellites but not as well on others.
“As we are fixing some of these communications it has led us to use higher-cost Ku-band capacity instead of the Ka- band we wanted to use. But we’re getting there.”
Despite all the new capacity coming into the market, you have difficulty duplicating the 1-Gbps-level bandwidth in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean during the trans-Atlantic passage?
Today we are serving ships with 4,000 to 8,000 people aboard, and 400-500 Mbps is becoming common. That is far from enough, because when I say 400-500 mbps this is adding both directions — so maybe 200 Mbps down.
We think this 500 Mbps will become a gigabit, or a gigabit and a half, and 2 gbps potentially. Today we are facing some limits to that. We have delivered 3.2 gigabit to one cruise ship, but this was using different satellites and to a place where we could use different satellites. [New York City harbor]
We are going to be faced with a situation where we can deliver a gigabit to a ship in the Caribbean, but we cannot deliver that 1 gigabit when that ship crosses the Atlantic to go to the Mediterranean. So there are regions where we have access to significant capacity, and there is more coming, and there are regions where we are lacking capacity.
So yes, there is a lot of capacity coming. But it’s not a homogenous picture. there are differences from region to region and frequency to frequency.
When you say a lack of capacity, do you mean there is no capacity available or that it’s too expensive?
Both. Over the crossing we have issues with the amount of capacity available and we have a price issue.
Do you see a long-term need to continue to use C-, Ku- and Ka-band, plus L-band?
We still use a lot of C-band and we would like to continue to use C-band. We have customers who want 99.97% availability for critical applications and we can achieve that only with C-band spectrum. L-band works as well but it’s not the same amount of bandwidth.
I could see customers dividing applications, with noncritical applications going to Ku and Ka and the more critical ones staying with C-band. We are very agnostic in terms of spectrum. For customers who need a lot of spectrum we need Ku-band and probably Ka-band as well to get to that price point.
So I think you will continue to see us using those three spectrums, L-band as a backup as a troubleshooting when things are down.
Our mission is not to fill assets in the sky. It is to satisfy the customer. We are dealing more and more with hybrid networks, with LTE, and in dozens of key ports, big wireless radio hubs so that when the ship is in port, where they may not be able to use the satellite, depending on the regulation, they have connectivity.
You reported having 20,000 IoT devices under contract. Is that a growth area?
We are seeing growth in IoT, meaning narrowband applications. For years we have been talking about more and more megabits, but there is a significant opportunity in IoT for narrowband to connect a growing number of objects.
What is the ARPU for your IoT business?
Let’s assume it is around $10 per month per device.
What’s your latest thinking about whether new flat-panel antennas will be a growth driver for your markets?
In cruise, flat panel is not key, nor is it for energy and offshore. But it could be interesting for commercial shipping and yachts with 60-cm antennas. Current antennas are complex to install, configure and maintain. The idea of an antenna that you throw on the ship with no maintenance because there are no mechanical parts is a game changer.
The same is true for land mobility. Having a small, low-cost antenna that we can install on various assets that move around with a decent amount of bandwidth Government, NGOs and the UN could use this too. That could be very interesting.

China’s IAC attendance, Galileo’s 7-day outage, ESA’s future budget: Jean-Yves Le Gall updates all three

UPDATE Sept. 17: This story was updated to reflect the European GSA’s comment on the Galileo outage and board of inquiry.
PARIS — U.S. visas for Chinese nationals seeking to attend the October International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington, July’s seven-day outage of Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing system and the upcoming European Space Agency (ESA) conference to set multi-year budget and program priorities were among the subjects addressed by Jean-Yves Le Gall.
Le Gall is president of the French space agency, CNES, which is ESA’s largest contributor. He is also chairman of the ESA council, which is preparing the Nov. 27-28 ESA ministerial conference in Spain, and chairman of he board of the European GNSS Agency, GSA, which manages Galileo.
International Astronautical Congress aims for 10,000 — how many Chinese?
He is also president of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), which organizes the annual IAC conference, which is perhaps the biggest space-sector meeting of the year.
Le Gall said he bet NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine that this year’s IAC, scheduled for Oct. 21-25, would surpass the 10,000-registrant market.
Some 4,330 abstract proposals were submitted.
But this year’s meeting comes at a time of rising tensions between the United States and China. How many Chinese papers will be presented, and how many Chinese will arrive in Washington, will depend on the U.S. State Department’s visa requirements.
“We have sent several messages to the U.S. administration” about the visa issue, Le Gall said. “At this point I have no information of any difficulties in getting visas. I cannot predict what will happen between now and the end of October, but at this point our Chinese colleagues have not had problems with visas.”
Galileo July outage: Still no word on root cause
Galileo service shut down on July 11 and took seven days to recover following an unspecified anomaly at one of its two main ground stations: http://bit.ly/2XOqcQ9
Two months later, the board of inquiry established to determine the cause of the problem and prevent its recurrence has still not rendered its conclusions, Le Gall said. He declined to discuss what happened until the inquiry is terminated.
“There are two ground stations, and while one was undergoing maintenance, the other had a problem,” he said.
The GSA said on July 19, after service was restored, that the issue was related to an anomaly in “the calculation of time and orbit predictions, which are used to compute the navigation message. The technical incident affected different elements of the ground facilities.”
Le Gall conceded that communication about the event fell short. A system managed by three organizations — the European Commission as owner, the GSA as operator and ESA as technical lead — makes it difficult to coordinate communications.
In a Sept. 17 response to Space Intel Report inquiries, the GSA said:
“Further to the Galileo technical incident in July 2019, the European Commission set up an independent Inquiry Board to investigate the incident and provide recommendations for the future. The first meeting of the Inquiry Board took place on 5 September 2019. Preliminary recommendations are expected in October, with the final recommendations by the end of 2019.”
ESA ministerial: 14-plus billion euros, if all goes well
Le Gall said ESA’s 22 member governments are still determining their level of space spending for the next three years even as they debate with each other how much ESA’s new budget should be.
One reason for optimism, Le Gall said, is that the usual push-me, pull-you between the agency’s two biggest members, France and Germany, has become less contentious. He agreed there are still points of disagreement on spending details, but said 80%-90% of the issues have been resolved between the two nations. The current proposed total spending, including payments from the European Commission, Eumetsat and others, is about 14.25 billion euros ($16.2 billion).
ESA’s current budget proposal, subject to change, is that its general operating budget, couple with its mandatory-contribution science program, be financed at 4.3 billion euros for the three years starting in 2021.
Exploration would receive nearly 2 billion euros for Europe’s role in the International Space Station and future exploration missions.
An ESA budget line relating to industrial competitiveness in satellites would receive 2.4 billion euros, mainly for Earth observation and telecommunications-related spending.
Launch services: How and how much to compensate for market decline?
That leaves the “access to space” budget line, which includes work on the future Ariane 6 heavy-lift and Vega C light launchers, and technology investment into future launcher technologies including a possibly reusable rocket first stage.
Le Gall said this budget has been tentatively set at slightly more than 2.6 billion euros. He did not provide a breakdown of the different spending categories.
One of the potentially contentious budget lines will be to compensate industry —- ArianeGroup, OHB SE, Avio SpA, Ruag and others — for the collapse of the market for large telecommunications satellites.
This market may or may not be rebounding but has been the life blood for Europe’s Arianespace launch service provider over the past 40 years.
How, and by how much, to mitigate the the impact of this market development on Europe’s launcher sector is almost certain to be an issue at the ministerial conference.

Sky and Space Global receives UK R&D tax credit, secures high-cost loan while completing share placement

Credit: Sky and Space Global
UPDATE OCT. 10: Sky and Space Global (SAS) received a tax rebate of 1.425 million British pounds ($1.74 million) from UK tax authorities as part of an R&D credit to the company’s British subsidiary, and said it had secured a loan of $550,000 to tide it over while it completes a $10.15-million share placement, approved by shareholders on Sept. 27.
The 8-month loan from CSS Alpha(BVI) Ltd. matures on May 17, 2020, and comes attached with hefty charges. CSS Alpha is taking a 13.6% fee, meaning SAS is receiving a net of $474,938. SAS has agreed to pay 2% monthly interest on this amount, which compounds if it is not repaid. In addition, CSS Alpha has a right purchase $550,000 in SAS stock in a future funding round, to occur within three years, at a 10% discount to that round’s pricing.
UPDATE SEPT. 27: Sky and Space Global (SAS) said is shareholders approved a resolution to raise 15 million Australian dollars ($10.15 million) through the placement of 1.5 billion new shares, priced at 1 Australian cent apiece, to finance the construction of eight 6U cubesats at manufacturer GomSpace and to launch them in 2020. These satellites, in an inclined orbit, are designed to provide early revenue to help SAS financing its larger constellation.
Of the 1.082 billion shares voted by proxy, 98% were in favor of the motion. SAS said it wold “now proceed to complete the placement… to finalize new board appointments and recommmence trading on the ASX as soon as practicable.”
PARIS — Startup satellite IoT/M2M provider Sky and Space Global (SAS) has begun a 10-day road show in Asia and Australia to make a do-or-die case to investors to fund new satellites that the company says will carry it to recurring revenue.
In its latest presentation, SAS asks investors to see it as occupying a sweet spot between other satellite operators, narrowband and broadband, some of which are themselves in startup phase and looking for financing.
Credit: Sky and Space Global
SAS is asking shareholders to purchase 1.5 billion new shares, at 1 Australian cent each, to raise 15 million Australian dollars ($10.5 million): http://bit.ly/342vUlA
As of Sept. 13, SAS had a market capitalization of 61 million Australian dollars, with 2.1 billion shares held by 9,400 shareholders.
The funds will be used to pay satellite manufacture GomSpace of Denmark and Sweden to build eight 6U cubesats to be launched in time to begin revenue generation in late 2020. These satellites will use an inclination to provide coverage between 60 degrees North and 60 degrees South latitude.
These satellites then will be complemented by SAS’s larger 3U constellation in equatorial orbit that will focus on the company’s core equatorial markets. The first three of these satellites have been in orbit since 2017.
Credit: Sky and Space Global
SAS said it had signed agreements with more than 50 customers, “providing material revenue opportunity once first commercial satellites launched.”

Hughes: Early data shows $150-$200/month revenue from community Wi-Fi in South America, Africa, Russia

Credit: Hughes Network Systems
PARIS — Satellite broadband hardware and service provider Hughes Network Systems’ early experience with rural Wi-Fi in South America, Africa and Russia has shown that each installation generates, on average, monthly revenue equivalent to two U.S. fixed broadband subscribers.
Hughes Chief Executive Pradman P. Kaul said it was too soon to say whether this figure would hold up as Hughes expands its community-Wi-Fi service, but that the early results show each installation producing $150-$200 per month.
“Community wifi is exciting for markets to address people who can only afford $5-$10 per month by combing them to get ARPUs of $150-$200 per month,” Kaul said here Sept. 10 during Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week.
“This represents our initial experiences in these countries. It varies from country to country, but that is the general ballpark. I think it is sustainable. We’ll learn a lot more in a year or two. But it is a number that is standing up right now.”
One industry official familiar with community Wi-Fi in Mexico said that in some cases it can return $500 a month in gross revenue, but that a provider like Hughes or its U.S. competitor, Viasat Inc., will take home no more than half of that or less after paying local partners and what this official said is often-onerous government license fees.
Another industry official with experience in Brazil agreed. “Some governments, and Brazil is one of them, talk about universal access to broadband but then make it difficult for a service provider to make it a profitable business,” said this official, who does not work for Hughes or Viasat.
Hughes has said that a community-Wi-Fi terminal typically needs to have a capacity of up to several hundred Mbps to afford download speeds of 10 Mbps or more per user. Each Wi-Fi unit can cover a 500-meter area, depending on the local geography.
Hughes’s Russian partner, KB Iskra, has installed high-power Wi-Fi access points to provide coverage of more than 1,000 meters from the terminal, enough for an entire small village.
“Typically, each VSAT supports 20 to 30 subscribers, each paying on average 50% less each month than individuals with home-based service in urban areas, thanks to the cost-sharing model. The company has installed more than 600 shared VSATs, and now provides affordable service to almost 20,000 regular Wi-Fi users who would have otherwise remained unconnected,” Hughes said of the KB Iskra experience in eastern Russia.

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