Category: Ground Segment

FCC’s O’Rielly to cable broadcasters: Don’t get greedy on C-band; ties issue to unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Credit: C-Span video
PARIS — U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly told a U.S. cable broadcast group that its concerns about compensation for lost C-band spectrum in a propose satellite operator-managed clearing were valid but could only be resolved if the FCC approves the proposal.
He also said any clearing of the 3.7-4.2 GHz C-band spectrum now used by satellite operators “will need to be accompanied by efforts to expand unlicensed services into the corresponding uplink band at 6 GHz.
“This spectrum, along with 5.9 GHz, provides the best chance o expand current Wi-Fi and other unlicensed operations,” he said.
Addressing the ACA Connects — formerly American Cable Assn. — conference on March 20, O’Rielly sought to reassure cable networks that their legitimate worries about the Intelsat–SES–Eutelsat–Telesat proposal have been heard.
“If you don’t get greedy or seek unfair enrichment in the allocation, your concerns will have to be fully addressed,” O’Rielly said.
The FCC has made no commitment about when it will decide the issue, but most industry observers expect a decision sometime this year. Outstanding issues that have been raised in recent months include how current C-band spectrum users will be compensated, by how much, and who makes the decision.
The C-Band Alliance of satellite operators has committed itself to compensating customers, including retrofitting thousands of antennas and launching additional satellite capacity for that portion of their mid-band C-band allocation that remains to them, if the alliance’s proposal wins FCC approval.
The current C-Band Alliance proposal is to cede 180 MHz of spectrum, plus a 20-MHz guard band, for terrestrial wireless use as the United States adopts 5G technology.
The alliance has stressed that whatever else may be said about its proposal — and a lot has been said — there is little doubt that its mechanism of private sales to terrestrial network bidders will clear the band more quickly than any alternative.
The alliance has also emphasized the fact that given the FCC’s intention to make a slice of this bandwidth available to terrestrial wireless networks, the alliance-proposed scenario is the most likely one to produce compensation to current C-band users.
C-Band Alliance response to O’Rielly
In a statement issued after O’Rielly’s comments, the alliance said:
“With a huge effort and heavy investments, based on newly launched satellites, tens of thousands of filters on Earth stations, re-groomed spectrum and protecting guard band, we conclude that 200 MHz is what can be delivered for 5G in 18 to 36 months from a final FCC order. The remaining portion of the band is needed for broadcasting.
“The CBA proposal is by far the best and fastest way to clear C-band spectrum for the roll out of 5G in the US. All other proposals are technically unfeasible, unrealistic, legally impossible or far too slow, if not impossible to implement. It would, for example, be extremely difficult to deploy a solution that results in cities having more cleared spectrum than suburban and rural areas. The reason is that the C-band signals blanket the US ubiquitously, and cannot be ‘turned on or off’ in certain distinct zones. We are pleased that the FCC understands that complexity and supports our goal to protect the video ecosystem while clearing a good portion of the spectrum for 5G. We look forward to explaining the technology realities to all stakeholders so that everyone understands the challenge in clearing this spectrum and the unique advantages and benefits of the CBA solution.”
O’Rielly did not lean one way or another in his remarks, but said: “The open issues pertain to the appropriate mechanism and time frame to make the process happen. I ask that you keep an open mind and work with the commission to bring this to a speedy conclusion.”
O’Rielly implied that the FCC could select a band-clearing formula without having settled all the legitimate compensation issues beforehand.
“For instance, many have asked for greater specifics about how the ‘market-based’ or C-Band Alliance proposal can protect incumbents,” he said. “Those details will have to be fleshed out if or when the commission moves forward with that or a similar approach.
“The key is not having a knee-jerk reaction in opposition while the complex issues are being considered and resolved.”

French space agency to co-finance, with industry, constellation of high-resolution imaging satellites

CNES Chief Operating Officer Lionel Suchet. Credit: ESA
PARIS — The French space agency,CNES, expects to select in April an industrial partner to build a constellation of 50-centimeter-resolution Earth imaging satellites to collect global digital terrain elevation data and stimulate French industrial competitiveness.
CNES’s board of directors approved the project, called CO3D, in which CNES would finance a large minority stake but manage the procurement so that it is purchasing digital-elevation products, not satellites.
Satellite prime contractors Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space, both of which are building their own Earth observation constellations with major design differences, are bidding for the CO3D work.
But CNES has concluded that neither Airbus’s four-satellite Pleiades NEO 30-centimeter ground resolution system nor the BlackSky satellite constellation being built by a joint venture of Thales Alenia Space, Telespazio and Spaceflight Industries fits the CO3D bill.
Thus a new development whose twin goals are to qualify a small — 200-300-kilogram — satellite design to collect 1-meter-accuracy terrain elevation data on sites of interest to the French government, and to give French industry a new, commercially competitive product line.
Assuming CNES likes what it sees from the competitive procurement now under way, a winning bid will be selected in April, with the first satellites to launch in 2021 or 2022.
Lionel Suchet, CNES’s chief operating officer, stressed that the winning bid must demonstrate a business model that has staying power beyond the French government’s imagery demand.
What’s the genesis of the CO3D project?
It’s the result of a reflection by CNES on the evolution of the Earth observation sector, which is moving toward demands for repetitive coverage, temporal resolution, and the fact that we need innovative systems. We need to get industry to take more responsibility as the landscape evolves.
The current Pleiades system [two high-resolution optical satellites for military and commercial use, in orbit and commercialized by Airbus], was purchased outright by the government. We decided to try to change that traditional procurement path and started thinking about CO3D two or three years ago.
CO3D is first an advance in Earth observation, and second an innovation in the role of government agencies with respect to the private sector.
It’s not a classic public-private partnership, but a system where we purchase some experimental innovations, and we purchase a product.
The product you will purchase is the digital terrain model?
Yes, our first objective is a digital surface terrain model with 1-meter accuracy. That has no equivalent today.
The second objective is to promote innovation in space technology, both on board and on the ground. This is our role as an agency, to pull innovation higher.
Finally, we want to give industry a capacity to build observation satellites for a very low cost. The technology available today allows us to develop such systems much more inexpensively than was possible several years ago.
Airbus Defence and Space is building four Pleiades Neo satellites. The first two are scheduled to launch in 2020, with the second pair in 2022. Specifications: 30cm panchromatic resolution & 14-km swath at nadir, 6 multispectral channels, 10-year service life at 620 km orbit, daily revisit at 30 degrees off nadir, twice daily at 46 degrees off nadir. Credit: Airbus
We’re asking industry: Are you able to apply innovation to produce low-recurring-cost satellites providing a digital surface terrain model of interest to the government — government in the larger sense — for security and development?
If you in industry think you can, and you can develop an associated business model with it, we’ll put X amount of money on the table to to purchase the digital surface terrain models on areas that interest us, and we’ll purchase the in-flight R&D demonstration that shows us we can to do that.
So CNES will not own the system?
Correct. We are not buying the system. It remains the property of the industrial prime contractor. The winner must demonstrate a business plan that allows the continued development of the system — the satellites and the associated ground segment. We then will have succeeded in pushing innovation to a higher level, permitted industry to qualify a new technology, and we’ll have a digital surface terrain model for areas of interest.
What amount could you invest to reduce the market risk for the winning team?
We are purchasing R&D work — an in-orbit demonstration in fact — and we are ready to pay a certain portion of that cost. For industry, the cost of investment is tied to what they want to do with the system.
For example, the industrial team might want to build a system that is much more complex than what we would need for our purposes and to invest much more, or decide to invest a lot less, for a system that covers our needs and not much more.
In any event, the industrial share will be more than 50% of the total system cost.
Surely you have an idea of the total system cost?
We do, but because the call for offers is still ongoing, I don’t want to cite figures. We transferred the project to our board of directors for their go-ahead approval, which we have now received, so we move forward and choose the winning bidder.
And if these first phases are positive, we can go to the end. Development will be incremental. But until we have chosen the winner, I can’t disclose detailed cost information.
Will the final cost to CNES depend on the industrial winner’s plans for the system?
Correct. This represents a major evolution in our way of proceeding with this kind of project. For example, our call for bids was extremely light on specifications to industry. We want an innovative design, and satellites of low recurring cost. We did suggest a range for the constellation’s size. Importantly, we need a business model associated with it to show this is not just for our needs but that can be taken further.
Those are about the only requirements we have set.
There are the current Pleiades dual-use satellites; the CSO satellites for the military only; Pleiades NEO, four 30-cm-resolution satellites being built by Airbus; and the LeoStella joint venture in BlackSky Earth observation satellites composed of Thales Alenia Space, Telespazio and Spaceflight Industries.
Despite these systems, CNES sees a gap?
Correct. The ability to make native digital surface terrain models with meter-level accuracy, and to do it quickly — to produce digital terrain products with a minimal delay — and you need numerous satellites and the ability to evolve toward a highly reactive constellation with rapid revisit over a given area.
Having a lot of satellites is not part of the CNES requirements at the start. But this program will give industry the ability to add satellites quickly if the business model justifies it.
The CO3D satellites will need to have a ground resolution of 50 cm?
To get digital terrain models at a 1-meter accuracy you need an imager with about twice that resolution, so yes that’s about what is needed.
Pleiades NEO doesn’t do it for you even if a satellite or two is added?
No, that’s something different.
And the Thales Alenia Space JV with Spaceflight isn’t quite it either?
No that does not exactly respond to our criteria for this project. But industry has the right to join forces with others for this project if that reinforces their proposal, and that could include partnerships.
The Thales Alenia Space/Telespazio/Spaceflight Industries BlackSky constellation features 1-meter-resolution satellites to start and focuses on high revisit rates from an inclined orbit offering 40-70 passes per day over major areas of interest. Credit: BlackSky
What we want, as an agency working with public money, of course, is that the major innovations of the system come from France and that French industry benefits. But there is nothing preventing, for the whole system, partnerships. This whole sector is diversifying at a high speed, so why not?
When will you select an industrial partner?
We hope to select a winner in April, so very soon. Then the idea is to have systems able to fly in 2021 or 2022.
A fairly tight schedule then.
One of the objectives is to be highly reactive, to have systems that are low cost, meaning that can be developed fairly quickly. I think the direction we’re going in here is supported by the entire space ecosystem in France, and elsewhere.

ESA opens its door to European micro-launcher and start-up spaceport proposals

ESA Launcher Director Daniel Neuenschwander. Credit: ESA
PARIS — The European Space Agency (ESA) will propose to its governments late this year that the agency offer assistance to individual ESA nations planning their own spaceports and micro-launchers.
The goal: “to nurture commercially viable ideas from European industry to open up new space transportation markets. This program would support proposals for privately led privately funded space transportation services,” ESA said.
The decision comes at a time when ESA’s own rockets — the new Ariane 6 heavy-lift vehicle and the light-lift Vega C — need all the help they can get in finding a profitable way forward in a rough commercial market. Ariane 6 is scheduled to launch first in mid-2020. Vega C was recently delayed from late this year to early 2020.
The micro-launcher proposals also come at a time when the world appears awash in new small-launcher developments — as many as 100 by one count. Only a few are likely to survive.
Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s launcher director, described what the agency has in mind with micro-launchers. He minimized the Vega-C delay, saying he’s confident of a Q1 2020 flight.
What’s ESA’s goal with the micro-launcher sector? Britain, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden all want their own national spaceports.
The main menu of course we are proposing to our ministers in November is the transition to Ariane 6 and Vega C. We will work to enhance Ariane 6 and Vega-C competitiveness. We also put on the table the development of the Space Rider [reusable unpiloted shuttle to LEO].
The Space Rider’s development will be on the table for ESA governments to approve in November. Credit: ESA
And there is a small investment, but important in content, for ESA to support competitiveness and innovation with new space transportation services on behalf of our member states.
So there are two points: to support privately led commercial space transportation services — I stress, commercially led — where micro-launchers might be one topic. The market will decide which projects survive. We’ll support initiatives such as providing expertise on technology maturation.
The second point is to support ESA member states that want to develop either national spaceports or test infrastructure related to space transportation. As long as it’s in a member state’s territory, ESA is ready to support this.
What kind of support can you offer?
It can be co-funding, expertise, in-kind resources. For example, if you want a spaceport there are safety and other topics you need to understand. And we want to facilitate access to ESA’s Business Incubation Centers.
Why? The world doesn’t need another small rocket.
We are doing it because we are convinced we should support our member states in developing their own capacities. On the one side, their industries; on the other side, their national infrastructure.
Ultimately space transportation — over the very long term — will be as widespread as air transportation is today. It is not the objective now, but ultimately this will be the case, so we better start now.
Does ESA tell its governments to beware launcher investment given the dubious business model?
The main objective — the strategic objective — is independent access to space. It’s a high-level request from ESA ministers and EU ministers. At ESA, we guarantee this independent access to space — with Ariane 5 and Vega and Soyuz at CSG today, and tomorrow with Ariane 6 and Vega C.
This is our main topic, the center of our work. What we are speaking about here is just an offer of expertise. It’s important that ESA give equal treatment to all our member states. For example, we cannot provide a service to Norway that we would refuse to Portugal, and vice versa.
So we need a framework under which we provide expertise in the same way to all member states, the same content to each of them. Either they buy it or they don’t buy it. We’re here to provide technical and programmatic expertise — not to do market assessments for the member states or market participants. That is not our job.
There’s an emergency now confronting Europe’s access-to-space model. And yet you have time to support other vehicles…
Yes, the European model is challenged. Ariane 5 is challenged on the commercial market today. That’s a fact. We did some investigation in end 2018 on the benefits of the European space-space-access model and the benefit is evident. What we are proposing are activities that will allow us to stick to this model.
It’s true that the competitive, global commercial launch market is under more pressure than a few years ago. But it’s an opportunity for us to restructure the European sector to get even leaner than we are today. This is what we are striving at.
Priority one is European autonomy for access to space, and for this we have the ESA-developed launchers. This will be a main topic in Seville [at the November ministerial conference]: that we assure the proper market transition of Ariane 6 and Vega C.
But our ministers in 2016 decided on the initiative for lightsats, to try to use 100% of the space under the fairing for institutional launches. This was our aim, and also a way of strengthening the overall coherence of flying European, giving incentives to European governments to fly European.
ESA remains an agency for its member states, and if its member states need something to develop a national infrastructure, we will help them. And this we will continue to do — just like we offered support to Spain for development of the Seosat Earth observation satellite.
The Earth observation sector was not facing a four-alarm fire. The commercial launch-service sector is. And any small satellite that goes elsewhere is a satellite that Vega C doesn’t get.
Yes, but let’s be clear: A 10-kilogram satellite will not change the business case for Vega-C.
These don’t usually travel alone, but as parts of constellations.
Of course. But we are here to support our member states overall. A few countries are assuring — for ESA and the European Union — independent access to space for this continent. This they will continue to do. But you cannot close your eyes to all evolutions.
We will not put a lot of financial means into it. But if somebody from an ESA member state knocks on my door I will offer support.
Do you also say: Launchers have always been a bad business in terms of return on invested capital, and having new vehicles popping up doesn’t improve the business case? Does that conversation happen?
I am not preaching anything. If I get a question, I reply to it.
You have talked about some major milestones in 2019, staring with the critical design review of Vega-C.
Yes, and that has been completed.
Why was the launch was moved to early 2020 from late 2019?
The Vega CDR board agreed that the maiden flight would take place in Q1 2020. We will announce a precise date after two milestones.
One is the Vega SSMS [Small Spacecraft Mission Service] proof-of-concept flight, which is planned for August.
The is that while the CDR was very successful for the launcher, for the mission part there are a few points to be looked into.
Once we have these two clarifications, we will fix a date. We had said end-2019, now it’s Q1 2020. It’s not a big deal.
In our 2019 manifest we have four Vega flights, which is a lot. We need to have the combined tests [of Vega C] before the maiden flight. It’s a huge challenge from an operations point of view. The Vega team took a bet that they could use the same launch pad for Vega and Vega-C. The challenge is to have the right compromise between running operations of Vega and the proper time to do the combined test for the Vega C maiden flight.
So the elements that need to be nailed down are not linked to the Vega C launcher?
No, they are linked to the mission. To develop a launcher you need to integrate it and operate it. For operations there are some constraints and we need to look into that — what’s happening at the launch site before the payload is delivered to orbit. But the CDR was really successful and it’s perfectly normal that we want to work on some specific points.
The French space agency, CNES, is managing development of the new Ariane 6 launch pad under a 600-million-euro ($686 million) contract with ESA. This image dates from February 2019. Credit: CNES
For Ariane 6, CNES is building the new launch pad. From the photos it appears to be on schedule. Is it?
Yes, I can confirm that.
What is the next milestone for you for 2019 to maintain the mid-2010 inaugural flight?
To get the keys of ELA-4 from CNES before the November ministerial. That is an ambitious objective. But today everything looks positive, so I am confident we can do it. The more time we have for the combined tests, the better it is.
The Prometheus low-cost engine is designed to be 90% less costly than the current Ariane 5 first-stage engine. Will that program be continued with fresh funding at the ministerial conference?
Prometheus is well on track. We just passed some technical milestones. What was decided at the 2016 ministerial conference was that we would get Prometheus development funding until the first test firing.
Now we’ll come to the ministers with a Phase 2 proposal. We need further maturation of the system and then we start to produce Prometheus. The first objective is to have a lower-cost engine. The second is to allow Europe to make an informed decision on whether we stay with the cryogenic line, or move to methane.
For the Phase 2, we will propose a longer roadmap in terms of what activities could be concluded on reusability. One project, Themis, is proposed by CNES as a reusable rocket stage and we are looking at it.

Startup lasercom terminal builder Mynaric hires former SpaceX manager and leaves it at that

From Left, Wolfram Peschko, who heads Mynaric’s finance and strategic development; Bulent Atlan, the new co-CEO and former SpaceX vice president;  and Hubertus von Janecek, who joined Mynaric from Bosch Sensortec in 2018 and will lead airborne product sales. Credit: Mynaric
PARIS — Germany’s Mynaric AG, which builds laser communications terminals for space- and airborne platforms and ground-based applications, has hired a former SpaceX vice president as co-chief executive.
Bulent Altan, who is also starting a venture-capital fund called Global Space Ventures, left SpaceX just as that company was launching two test satellites for its future Starlink broadband constellation.
SpaceX has released few details about Starlink, resulting in industry speculation about whether the constellation of 4,000-plus satellites will ever be financed and built.
But the mere association with SpaceX carries enough of a glow to persuade Mynaric to hold press briefings to announce Altan’s arrival.
Despite the fact that Mynaric, unlike SpaceX, is publicly traded — on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange — it has declined to disclose the progress of its market entry beyond tantalizing but inconclusive tidbits.
The company provided laser com hardware to a Facebook subsidiary in 2018 for testing of high-speed telecommunications data transfers. It announced in October a memorandum of understanding with an undisclosed customer for up to 1,000 laser com units — for a 300-satellite constellation. It also announced the creation of a branch office in Shanghai.
But the company declined to disclose information about these or any other subjects during its March 13 briefing, which appeared to be devoted to the company’s catch of a prized former SpaceX manager.
Altan said he left SpaceX to be nearer to the management of a startup venture. He said he was personally convinced that SpaceX would proceed with Starlink, but he cautioned he had no inside information about the project’s status.
He said he would do his best to place Mynaric gear on the SpaceX constellation but cautioned that no one should draw conclusions about SpaceX’s Starlink supply chain from his arrival at Mynaric.
Mynaric had said in late 2018 that its 1,000-unit memorandum of understand was expected to develop into a contract by early 2019. Altan said that as he had only just arrived at the company, he could not comment on that.

Maritime connectivity provider OmniAccess is first customer for Telesat’s LEO satellite network

Credit: OmniAccess
PARIS — Maritime connectivity provider OmniAccess, a longtime customer of satellite fleet operator Telesat Canada, has signed a “major, multi-year” contract to purchase capacity on Telesat’ LEO constellation of low-orbiting broadband satellites.
OmniAccess is the first commercial customer for Telesat LEO, which is optimistically scheduled to enter commercial service in 2022. Telesat is expected to select a prime contractor for the LEO network later this year.
OmniAccess did not immediately respond to questions about whether it had taken an equity stake in Telesat LEO, whose financing remains unclear, or had agreed to a take-or-pay contract. The network is expected to cost several billion dollars.
The two companies said in a statement that OmniAccess “will become an important partner for Telesat LEO, and the agreement provides OmniAccess with certain limited exclusivity to serve the super-yacht market.”
Based in Lama de Mallorca, Spain, OmniAccess has been a regular customer for Telesat’s geostationary-orbit capacity for several years, well before the maritime service provider became part of the larger Marlink Group, in March 2018.
In late 2016, OmniAccess booked capacity on Telesat’s Telstar 12 Vantage high-throughput satellite for customers in the Caribbean. It has also booked capacity on Telstar 11N and Telstar 14R. Its VSAT-based service uses capacity on more than 30 satellite beams in C- and Ku-band with up to 500 mbps of throughput to certain customers.
OmniAccess was an early supporter of Panasonic Avionics’s planned XTS, or Extremely High Throughput, network, whose status is unclear.
Marlink has an extensive service portfolio that also uses Iridium, Inmarsat, Thuraya and Telenor satellite capacity for its customers. Marlink has 1,000 employees and reported 2017 revenue of around $500 million. It said OmniAccess would continue to operate as an independent company focused on the yacht and small-cruise-line markets.
OmniAccess said its customer base includes more than 350 vessels.
OmniAccess founder and Chief Executive Bertrand Hartman said Telesat LEO’s architecture will offer “ultra-low latency that rivals, our even exceeds, the fastest of today’s land-based fiber connections.
“For the first time in history, on-board systems and services will no longer be restricted by the limits imposed by today’s GEO and MEO-based technologies, finally bridging the digital divide that has held back on-board IT applications for so long,” Hartman said. “This will be a major game-changer for the maritime industry.”

For EchoStar, Brazil a broadband success for Hughes but a DTH failure 8 years after winning orbital slot

EchoStar paid $80 million in 2011 for FSS rights to 45 degrees west over Brazil. It moved a temporary satellite there in 2013, then put the new EchoStar 23 satellite at the slot in 2017, hoping to lure a DTH partner. No one showed up, so EchoStar has taken a $65 million charge against earnings and will put EchoStar 23 somewhere else. Credit: SSL
PARIS — EchoStar’s experience in Brazil mirrors its broader financial results in the past couple of years: Good news in broadband for the Hughes Network Systems division, and disappointment at EchoStar Satellite Services.
Takeaways from EchoStar conference call:
— Most broadband subscriber growth is coming from Latin America as the beams on Hughes’s North America satellites fill up.
— Hughes’s Q4 revenue of $445 million was up 10% from a year ago; EBITDA was up 12%, to $148 million.
— EchoStar Satellite Services Q4 revenue was down 15%, to $82 million; EBITDA was down 5.5%, to $69 million.
— Hughes consumer broadband profitability in Brazil is approaching the 50%-plus margin of the U.S. business.
— The loss of a competition to provide broadband services to Dish Mexico to fleet operator Hispasat and terminal builder Gilat is an example of one company agreeing to prices that the other refused to accept.
— After years of fruitless search for a DTH partner in Brazil, EchoStar is throwing in the towel, booking a $65 million impairment expense in Q4.
— Ask all you want, EchoStar is not going to disclose its S-band satellite-terrestrial strategy in Europe.
EchoStar still refuses to provide detailed financials for its international businesses. But its early experience in Latin America — despite  the loss of a recent Dish Mexico competition to Hispasat and Gilat — has sent positive signals about Hughes’s ability to replicate is North American consumer broadband success elsewhere in the world.
Next stop is Africa, where the Hughes partnership with fleet operator Yahsat of the United Arab Emirates will deploy Hughes-provided broadband hardware connected to Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 satellite.
Hughes’s near-term growth in North America is limited by the fact that its Jupiter 1 and Jupiter 2 Ka-band broadband satellites are nearly full. But the company has leased additional satellite capacity over South America.
In a Feb. 21 conference call with investors, Hughes President Pradman P. Kaul said Jupiter-3, under construction at Maxar Technologies’ SSL, will be in service in 2021, after which a new growth spurt in North America is expected.
Kaul said that as of Dec. 31, Hughes had 1.361 million HughesNet subscribers, up 11.5% from a year ago and 2.2% from Sept. 30. “Increasingly, much of our subscriber growth is coming from South America and we expect this trend to continue,” Kaul said. “Yes, the ARPU is lower than in North America, but it’s still a very good market. We make good margins.”
EchoStar Chief Financial Officer David J. Rayner said the above-50% margin of the U.S. consumer broadband business may well expand as new capacity is added and subscriber growth returns. And Brazil is on the way there.
From a margin standpoint, we’re approaching those kinds of numbers in Brazil right now. We’re starting to achieve scale,” Rayner said. “In smaller markets such as Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, realistically I don’t expect to get those margins because I don’t think we’ll be able to acted the kind of scale we see in North America.”
An auction-won orbital slot, eight years of effort and now a $65 million impairment charge
For EchoStar Satellite Services, Brazil has been a frustration. The company in 2017 placed the large EchoStar 23 Ku-band satellite over Brazil, at 45 degrees west — a slot EchoStar purchased in 2011 for $80 million at a Brazilian government auction in 2011.
Eight years later, EchoStar is calling it quits for DTH over Brazil. EchoStar 23 will be moved to another orbital slot, which was not disclosed, and EchoStar reported a $65 million impairment expense in Q4.
“We’re obviously going to be in discussions with the usual suspects about onward deployment opportunities” for EchoStar 23, EchoStar Satellite Services President Anders Johnson said.
Next up for Hughes is to use its new joint venture with fleet operator Yahsat to deploy broadband in Africa. The joint venture debuted in January and has about $160 million in cash to work with — $100 million from Hughes as its share of the enterprise, and around $60 million from Yahsat as part of a $108-million insurance payment for the fact that Al Yah 3 was placed into a bad orbit.
“The money allows us to have some ambitious expansion plans in Africa,” Kaul said. “We hope that we will buy more [satellite] capacity, either a hosted payload or a new satellite. We are very optimistic that we’ll rapidly start filling the capacity available on Yahsat 2 and 3 and begin our expansion planning.”
Piece by piece, Hughes has been expanding the geographic reach of its Jupiter broadband platform, which is used for consumer, enterprise and aeronautical broadband customers.
SES leased new capacity on Hughes’s Jupter 2 satellite, and contracted for ground gateways, as part of an SES-Hughes-Thales InFlyt agreement. Credit: SES
Hughes reported that its airline in-flight-connectivity partner Global Eagle Entertainment has outfitted more than 1,100 aircraft with the Jupiter platform, and that in Q4 satellite fleet operator SES, as part of a contract with Hughes and in-flight-service provider Thales InFlyt, ordered additional ground gateways and leased capacity on Jupiter 2 for aeronautical broadband serviace over Mexico and the North Atlantic.
“From a technology perspective, our Jupiter platform continues to be the de facto worldwide standard for satellite broadband operators,” Kaul said. “It should be noted that our competitors talk about having this ubiquitous infrastructure by 2022-23. We have it today.”
Recent Hughes broadband wins for corporate networks include telcos in Botswana, Tanzania, Indonesia and Russia. In India, three state-owned oil marketing companies have signed up to install a combined 19,000 sites.
The company is deploying more than 32,000 VSAT Wi-Fi hotspots in rural and remote communities in Brazil, Mexico, Russia and Indonesia.
Hughes’s U.S. competitor, Viasat Inc., recently reported success with village-Wi-Fi deployments and said the business may be as profitable as U.S. consumer broadband:
What Hughes wants in India more than oil-marketing company contracts is a license for a Hughes-affiliated, Indian-owned company to launch a consumer broadband service.
The company has regularly seen signs that India will permit such a project, which would be part of the Indian Satellite System.
But not yet. “If the Indian government makes a decision to issue such a license, we’re in a good position to be right up front among the companies that get the license,” Kaul said. But as of this stage we have not passed the final hurdle.”

Belgian court asks EU tribunal to assess legality of Inmarsat in-flight-connectivity service

Brussels Appeals Court. Credit: BX1
PARIS — The legal battle of Viasat Inc., occasionally flanked by Eutelsat, against Inmarsat’s European in-flight-connectivity has been given new life by a Belgian court ruling that questions whether Inmarsat’s license is valid given that the satellite payload entered service more than a year after the regulatory deadline.
The Brussels Court of Appeal’s Market Court, which made an initial pass at the Viasat-Inmarsat dispute in March 2018, made no clear decision of its own. But in its Jan. 23 ruling, it agreed with Viasat that the European Court of Justice should address two questions.
The questions are, first, whether national authorities must refuse Inmarsat’s request to deploy complementary ground components, to boost the signal where satellite capacity is lacking, in light of Inmarsat’s late satellite deployment; and second, whether these same authorities may deny the ground network on those grounds.
Inmarsat and Viasat agree that a decision by the European Court of Justice is likely to take up to two years, and that Inmarsat in the meantime can deploy its European Aviation Network (EAN) in Belgium.
In a Feb. 1 statement, Inmarsat said that’s what it’s going to do:
“We note the decision by the Market Court in Brussels to seek clarification on the EU regulatory framework before taking a decision on the merits of the case.  Inmarsat is confident that this clarification will confirm the previous decision by the Belgian regulator BIPT,” Inmarsat said.
“This ruling does not impact the timetable for the European Aviation Network (EAN), nor the decision of national regulators across Europe, which have granted the necessary licenses for EAN to operate in their countries as a fully integrated satellite and ground network service. EAN is commercially available and we expect passenger trials by our launch customer to commence shortly.”
Inmarsat said it will continue deployment throughout Europe, including Belgium, where its licenses remain in force. The company said the Belgium court’s questions are solely related to “interpretation of EU law and not the merits of the case. So yes, our plans continue as normal. From our perspective, once the ECJ rules, this will settle these two questions once and for all for every European court.”
Colin Ward, Viasat’s head of litigation, rejected that interpretation and said that if the European court answers “yes” to the Belgian court’s first question — that the satellite’s in-service delay means ground-segment licenses cannot be issued  — “then EAN will be dead, here’s no way around that.” Other national European governments will need to follow the court’s direction.
Ward said the Belgian court already appears ready to deny EAN the right to operate the ground network on Belgian territory. “Given the context of their decision, I would be very surprised if they don’t ultimately annul the [ground network] license once this comes back from the European Court of Justice,” he said.
Ward said Viasat has similar legal challenges ongoing in Italy and Germany and that Viasat is appealing an adverse ruling from the United Kingdom that nonetheless accepted the validity of certain Viasat arguments: In addition, Romania has yet to authorize the EAN ground network on its territory.
Viasat’s core argument is that Inmarsat’s license was for a mobile satellite services network that would cover most European territory. Instead, EAN is a relatively small satellite payload that is incapable of performing its licensed task without the network of ground signal repeaters, already deployed by Deutsche Telekom, making it an terrestrial wireless network dressing up as a satellite system. Viasat has its own in-fligiht-connectivity service in Europe and is an Inmarsat EAN competitor. So is Eutelsat.
Until the Belgian decision, the fact that the Inmarsat EAN payload was not in service until August 2017 — 14 months later than the license required — was not a major issue.
The Belgian court said that, up to now, there has been no apparent effort to penalize Inmarsat for its failure to meet the license’s deadline. It suggested that, in Belgium at least, such a penalty — it does not specify what form it would take — would be forthcoming.
Inmarsat has always accepted that its satellite payload’s late arrival could result in sanctions.
For Viasat, the Belgian ruling destabilizes EAN just enough to plant doubt in the mind of prospective EAN airline customers. Each aircraft must be fitted with a rooftop antenna to collect the S-band satellite signal; and an underbelly antenna to communicate with the ground network.
The Belgian ruling should give airlines pause insofar as it raises the possibility that any investment done before the European Court Justice decision may be wasted. “An airline partner who they sign up will lose the service if these legal challenges succeed,” Ward said.
If the European court answers “No” to the first question but “Yes” to the second — acknowledging that national governments may refuse ground-network licenses given the in-service delay — then EAN coverage would be subject to holes in its coverage. That might be acceptable on Europe’s periphery, but not in a centrally located nation such as Belgium.

French parliamentary committee: Space situational awareness should be top French space-defense priority

The signal-emissions site of France’s Graves radar. Graves was built in 2005 and in 2016 France’s ONERA aerospace-research facility and Degreane Horizon began a five-year renovation of the facility. Credit: DGA
PARIS — The French parliament’s Defense Committee has called for investment in space situational awareness (SSA) as France’s number-one military space priority, concluding that space defense begins with knowing what potential adversaries are doing. 
The committee refrained from recommending elaborate new capabilities that would be rejected as overly expensive. A new SSA capability would build on what France already operates with its ground-based Graves radar, which makes regular sweeps of low Earth orbit.
“The number one priority is space surveillance,” said Olivier Becht, co-author of the committee’s space-defense report, which was approved by the full committee on Jan. 15. “What is in space, who owns it, what is it doing and where is it going?”
The committee’s report is timed to influence the debate on military space organized by French President Macron. Defense Minister Florence Parly in September outlined a proposed military space posture that would enable France to act offensively in space.
Parly specifically called for small cameras to be aboard the next generation of geostationary-orbit telecommunications satellites to survey their surroundings:
In addition to the French debate, which is expected to result in a new policy announced by this spring, the European Commission has proposed a space-tracking program for its 2021-2027 budget, now in preparation.
The reception site for France’s Graves bistatic space surveillance radar. Credit: Degreane Horizon
In addition to this, the European Commission has proposed a European Defense Fund that would be available for multiple projects including space-based systems.
France’s proposed Military Program Law for 2019-2025 has earmarked 3.6 billion euros ($4.1 billion) for space, mainly to renew the Syracuse military telecommunications satellite fleet and for a next-generation optical and infrared surveillance and reconnaissance system.
France’s first operational electronics-intelligence mission, called Ceres, is scheduled for launch i 2020.
For now, French and European hopes of joining forces in military space spending among several nations has largely failed. Whether the proposed budget has much room in it beyond recapitalizing the current space assets is unclear.
The Defense Committee report proposes that France spend 1 billion euros over several years to upgrade the current Graves radar and to build a duplicate system in French Guiana, a French territory on the northeast coast of South America.
Also proposed is a network of ground-based telescopes, to be located in French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the Pacific, in Chile and on Reunion Island. Even with upgrades to the current telescopes, the system would not cost more than 11 million euros, the committee said, adding that the European Defense Fund could be a partial funding source.
The committee spent time in Washington, D.C., to get U.S. government and academic input on the proposed U.S. Space Force. While no identical system was proposed for France, the authors said a High Authority on Space Defense should be created, in partnership with the French Defense Ministry, that would report directly to the prime minister.
The committee said France’s historic combination of civil and military space — the French space agency, CNES, has a specifically dual-use mandate — has been a strength that has enable France to develop systems that might otherwise be unaffordable.
The committee endorsed the U.S. military view that current military space architectures are too easily compromised by adversaries, from the ground or in space, and that “resilience” should be the guiding principle for tomorrow’s spending. A constellation of small satellites is one way to distribute capacity and make it less vulnerable, it said.
the committee said Thales Alenia Space’s proposed Space Rider and Airbus Defence and Space’s SpaceTug, orbital vehicles designed for low Earth orbit and higher orbit, respectively, are ideas that would reinforce space-based space reconnaissance.
The two companies are also working on stratospheric platforms to provide months-long surveillance from 20 kilometers in altitude, which the committee said is one way to diversify France’s currently space-based observation and telecommunications systems.
At the Jan. 15 hearing, the committee could not avoid a discussion on whether France and the European Space Agency were correct in bypassing a reusable rocket several years ago in favor of developing the Ariane 6 expendable vehicle.
There remains much conflicting opinion in France, and in Europe, over whether SpaceX has already proven the economic merits of reusability with the recovery and preflight of the Falcon 9 first stage.
At one point, Becht said SpaceX was able to undercut the price of Europe’s Arianespace on a per-kilogram basis because of reusability. Later in the debate, he conceded that SpaceX had not yet used the previously flown stages enough to demonstrate its validity in purely financial terms.
The committee concluded that the choice of Ariane 6 was the right one given how long it would take to produce a viable reusable rocket.

Forced by Brexit, Inmarsat moves satellite/ground airline connectivity business to Luxembourg

The density of Europe’s commercial airspace is too much for Inmarsat’s S-band satellite alone. Deutsche Telekom has built an LTE ground network to handle much of the traffic. The business will as from April, be conducted from Luxembourg, and not London, as a result of Brexit. Credit: Deutsche Telekom
PARIS — Mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat of London is moving its subsidiary responsible for the ground- and satellite-based European Aviation Network (EAN) business to Luxembourg as a result of Brexit.
Inmarsat is one of two companies — EchoStar Mobile is the other — that received European Commission licenses to operate an S-band mobile satellite service to cover European Union territory.
Inmarsat has elected to use the license to deploy EAN, a ground- and satellite-based service to provide in-flight connectivity within European Union borders. The service, which has been slow to secure commercial footing, relies on a network of Deutsche Telekom-built LTE ground antennas to boost the signal to aircraft when the satellite payload, on a satellite Inmarsat shares with fleet operator Arabsat, is too weak to provide the broadband link.
The hybrid network has been attack in various European Union courts by Viasat Inc., which is planning its own European satellite broadband network and is counting on airline connectivity as a major portion of the business. Viasat has argued that Inmarsat’s EAN is an air-to-ground network with a small satellite piece, rather than the mobile satellite service European Commission officials had in mind when awarding the license.
Viasat recently suffered a defeat of its effort in a British court but said the ruling reinforced certain of Viasat’s arguments and that the company would continue its campaign in Belgium, Germany and other jurisdictions:
But EAN always had another problem, which is that the S-band license was given to Britain for a UK-based operation, and was not portable outside the European Union. Britain’s scheduled exit from the EU in March made it necessary for Inmarsat Ventures SE, which handles the EAN business, to relocate to an EU country.
The parent company, Inmarsat Plc, will remain in London and Britain will remain its tax home instead of the tax-friendly Luxembourg.
“With effect from the date of Brexit (29 March 2019), Inmarsat Ventures SE, the entity which was granted the MSS 2GHz award and national licences, will no longer satisfy the establishment condition required pursuant to the MSS 2GHz award as a result of the UK leaving the EU,” Inmarsat said in a statement. “To this end, Inmarsat Ventures SE will be redomiciled in Luxembourg, meaning that the award and national licences will be retained at all times by Inmarsat Ventures SE.”
The transfer is scheduled to occur before March 29, Inmarsat said.

Kratos reports $65 million in space/satellite contract commitments, expects 4th-quarter growth

Credit: Kratos Defense & Security Solutions
CARBONDALE, Colorado – Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, which has said its $200-million in annual satellite communications business was growing at 9-10%, said it had recently booked $65 million in multiple new contracts and customers’ exercising of existing contract options.
Kratos’s space and satellite business is hard to gauge as it sits inside the company’s Government Solutions division, which includes training and other programs that are unrelated to the satellite-related work. Further obscuring the picture has been that much of Kratos’s work is classified.
In addition, the focus of Kratos investors has been on what the company has promised as the coming huge growth in military drones. The satellite work, as a consequence, has been overshadowed.
That was true of the announcement regarding the $65 million in new business. “Due to customer-related, competitive and other considerations, no additional information will be provided related to these contract awards,” Kratos said in the Dec. 31 announcement.
The most recent contracts appear to have been from across Kratos’s space and satellite portfolio. The company said it “will provide solutions for satellite command & control, signal monitoring, end-to-end service assurance, cloud-enabled architectures and other applications.”
Phil Carrai, president of Kratos’s Space, Cybersecurity and Training business, said in a statement:
“The space sector is experiencing a technology renaissance, and much of that advancement is occurring in the ground segment solutions that Kratos specializes in: those which assure the availability, reliability, security and operational goals of these missions. The range of space missions enabled by these awards and renewals is extremely broad, and Kratos is one of the only companies that can support that breadth with industry-leading COTS products.”
Kratos has positioned itself to take advantage of the fast-growing commercial smallsat/cubesat market, which features constellations of low-orbiting satellites for a wide array of missions including telecommunications and signal monitoring.
The company operates a global network of radio-frequency sensors that commercial and government satellite operators use to mitigate, identify and localize potential interference, most of it accidental, that can jam signals or compromise broadcast quality.
The growing interest in space situational awareness – generally referring to the ability to discern what’s happening in orbit – is a more recent focus of Kratos attention.
Kratos’s satellite communications division does about $200 million in annual revenue, the company has said in investor presentations. Chief Executive Eric M. DeMarco said in early 2018 that the business was growing at a 9-10% annual rate:
DeMarco told investors in Nov. 3 investor call on the company’s third-quarter financial results that the satellite communication business “had a solid third quarter and that’s expected to have an even stronger Q4 with the space and satellite area of the [U.S. Defense Department] budget, seeing some of the largest increases due to the current threat environment.”
DeMarco said the company’s space and satellite business tends to receive contracts late in the year, concentrating in the third and fourth quarters.
“We are seeing this trend again in 2018, with, as I mentioned, Q4 looking to be particularly strong, and we currently expect to see this trend continue in the future,” he said.