Category: Launch Segment

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 begins 10-day road show to secure crucial investor backing

Credit: Sky and Space Global
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.”

After 4 years of unwanted excitement, Spacecom looks to return to normalcy; Amos-17 operational in November

Spacecom Chief Executive David Pollack. Credit: Spacecom
PARIS — Israeli satellite fleet operator Spacecom has weathered its own plague of frogs and can now wish for nothing more than stability.
The company reported a nearly 4% increase in revenue, to $41.2 million, for the first six months of 2019 compared to the previous year. Gross profit was up 23%, to $15.3 million. The increase was mainly due to an uptick in revenue from the Amos 4 satellite at 65 degrees east.
Its new, Boeing-built Amos-17 satellite, launched by SpaceX on Aug. 6, is healthy in orbit and scheduled to enter commercial service in November — a longer-than-usual testing period to give Spacecom time to get used to the satellite’s digital channelizer.
As of Sept. 1, Spacecom had booked $61 million in orders for Amos-17, which is replacing Amos-5 at 17 degrees east.
So, a string of relatively normal events for a company that has not had a normal life for several years:
The 2015 in-orbit failure of its Amos-5; the 2016 on-pad failure of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, destroying the Amos-6 satellite and scuttling an African partnership with Facebook; turmoil at its largest shareholder; dithering by the Israeli government on future satcom demand; an abandoned buyout offer by a Chinese investor — Spacecom has had to contend with all of this.
It’s issues now are more garden variety, including building a business in a rough, highly competitive African market, and waiting for the Israeli government to decide whether communications satellite manufacturing is a strategic national priority.
David Pollack has been Spacecom’s chief executive through all of these travails. With light now appearing at the end of the tunnel, Pollack was able to discuss business as a “normal” satellite operator.
When will Amos-17 enter commercial service?
In November. We will have a long payload test procedure. This is the first time we are using a digital channelizer. We want to check all its possibilities.
Were you kept informed of the inquiry into the failure of the Intelsat IS-29e satellite, which like Amos-17 is a Boeing 702MP model?
We were as much a part of the investigation as we could be. We followed it very, very closely. We had a U.S. citizen who was authorized to be part of it with the Boeing team. We were updated as much as ITAR permits. But our American representative was fully updated and we were assured everything was OK.
The IS-29e situation was known before we purchased our [Amos-17] insurance and the insurers were very involved in this. They received all the answers to their many questions. And Boeing performed some additional checkouts for the satellite after what happened.
You’re looking at lots of markets in Africa for Amos-17, which has C-, Ku- and Ka-band capacity. What are the most promising?
I am still grieving the loss of Facebook as our customer for Amos-6. Unfortunately, I do not yet have another Facebook. But we changed the design of the satellite [compared to Amos-6] because we know that nothing stands still. So the Amos 6 design, which Facebook liked, we don’t have any more. We have HTS on C-band and we are targeting large customers for in-country C-band in several nations. C-band isn’t easy to put many beams on because the equipment is larger, but the guys who designed this did a very good job.
We are already in discussions with potential large customers on C-band. I believe that shortly after the satellite starts commercial operations, we will have some large contracts. Not 5MHz or something like that, but larger.
Amos-17 during testing. Credit: Boeing/Spacecom
On the Ka-band also — this is different from the Amos-6 Ka-band, resulting from lessons learned. Many are going in the Amos-6 design with multi-beam Ka-band in Africa today. Everyone is going there. But our Ka-band is different and I think most of it will be sold soon after commercial start.
We did not plan to fill the satellite immediately. I believe we will follow that path.
Is a 50% fill rate within a year of operations reasonable?
In general, for a satellite that is not a replacement but has to build an orbital position, 50% is aggressive.
What is the most promising market for Amos-17 in the first five years?
MNOs definitely will be big.
Africa is already competitive, and more competition is coming, including your former Amos-6 customer, Eutelsat, with its Konnect satellite, and Viasat in 2022.
My wish is that both Eutelsat and Viasat win each other’s business! We are a bit away from the crowd there, so that we don’t repeat the Amos-6 payload concept.
What do you mean by that?
A Ka-band multi-beam satellite is for a specific market and everybody will compete there for low prices to see who can produce the cheapest megabit. A lot of capacity is required, I just hope that people don’t bring in more capacity than is required.
What is the level of preorders you have for Amos-17?
It’s about $61 million.
How is business on the Amos-3 and Amos-4 satellites?
You have forgotten Amos-7.
I meant the native-born Spacecom assets. Amos-7 is leased from AsiaSat.
Amos-3 and Amos-4 are full right now. Amos-7 is in good shape. We need to have more customers in Africa on Amos 7 and we will have.
Is there any news on an Amos-8, which has been stalled by Israel’s debate over industrial policy?
That is a semi-political question. All the parties are still talking and there may be a decision soon. What we are looking for is to replace Amos-3. Amos-8 should have replaced Amos 2 or Amos 6 but now we are looking at another concept and a the replacement of Amos-3. We might have partners fore Amos-8. So we cannot make our own decision on this.
Your Amos-7 contract with AsiaSat goes to 2020. Will you renew it?
It is too soon to say because AsiaSat is the owner and we have not yet worked out with them the possibilities.

OneWeb gives up on Bpifrance export-credit financing for now, plans more equity raises in coming months

OneWeb Chief Financial Officer Tom Whayne. Space Intel Report photo
PARIS — Startup satellite broadband constellation startup OneWeb has given up on securing export-credit financing from France’s Bpifrance and will conduct several new rounds of funding from current and prospective equity investors in the coming months to complete its Phase 1 capex plan, OneWeb Chief Financial Officer Tom Whayne said.
Whayne conceded that the universe of investors willing to support OneWeb is not large given the company is building a greenfield infrastructure with no existing customers.
What Whayne did not say, but what has been said by bankers looking at OneWeb for months, is that the company has a risky business plan and a major investor — Softbank of Japan — whose own debt is classed as junk by the major rating agencies and whose role in OneWeb remains unclear.
OneWeb has raised $3.4 billion with the latest $1.25-billion round completed in March. To complete its first-generation network, what OneWeb calls Phase 1, of 650 low-orbiting satellites, the company needs around $5 billion.
Given that OneWeb has partnered with Airbus Defence and Space to build the OneWeb fleet, and with France-based Arianespace to launch the constellation, albeit mainly aboard Russian rockets from Russian territory, OneWeb sought the support of Bpifrance.
Offering broadband to the world’s poorest regions was never going to be an easy sell, and industry officials said the lack of customer commitments made it tougher. OneWeb has since tweaked is business model to go after vertical markets including aeronautical and maritime customers. But these markets already coveted by multiple other satellite operators.
One industry official said OneWeb’s hopes for Bpifrance support were all but abandoned months ago.
Addressing the World Satellite Business Week conference organized by Euroconsult here Sept. 9, Whayne said the search for new equity investors has already begun, as well as preparations to seek more capital from the existing equity owners.
“We are in active discussions with our existing investors as well as some new potential investors for an equity financing. We’ll do one in the next few months. We are also having conversations with a number of third-party debt providers and we’ll do some debt financing in the next few months. And we’ll do a fair amount of equity at some point next year.”
An easier-to-tell story once monthly launches start
Whayne said investor sentiment toward OneWeb should improve as the company starts launching satellites on a regular basis.
Six OneWeb satellites are in orbit and working well, the company has said. Monthly launches of 30-plus satellites each on Russian Soyuz rockets from three Russian spaceports are scheduled to start in December.
Stephane Israel, chief executive of Arianespace, said here Sept. 9 that Arianespace, on the strength of its agreement with Russian entities, was selected because of Russia’s demonstrated capability to launch Soyuz rockets at sustained high levels. OneWeb has contracted for 20 Soyuz launches, each carrying 30 or more 150-kilogram OneWeb broadband satellites.
“When we sit here next year, we will have half our constellation deployed,” Whayne said. “We think that will be very interesting for new equity investors. Export credit finance will not form the bedrock of our phase-one deployment, but it is something we are actively thinking about for our Phase 2 and Phase 3 deployments once we’re fully operational.”
OneWeb founder Greg Wyler has already been talking about what a more-capable next-generation system would look like.
But outlining tomorrow’s architecture does not do much for financing today’s constellation design.
Whayne said educating investors on the OneWeb story has been no easy task. He said the technical and financial due diligence has been “the most exacting I have ever seen.”
The fact that [several original OneWeb investors] stepped forward and continued to support the company in a big way — most having participated in multiple rounds — says a lot,” Whayne said.
“Given where we are in the deployment phase, and how much capital we have raised and how much we have to continue to raise, we cannot go tap many sources. It’s a very unique story — something for equity or debt providers willing to roll up their sleeves and understand the story.
“And like our existing investors, they have to be willing to get behind the fact that we have a decided, multi-year advantage versus anybody else that’s going to be a potential competitor, and have comfort int eh commercial opportunities that we have, and our business plan and our ability to defend it.”
OneWeb’s $1.25-billion equity round, which caused some original investors to write down the value of their stakes in the company, included $500 million from Softbank, $300 million from Grupo Salinas of Mexico, $200 million from Airbus, $98 million from Qualcomm and $27 million from the government of Rwanda.

Vega failure review conclusion: ‘We’re not sure what happened. Check everything for a Q1 2020 return to flight’

Giulio Ranzo, chief executive of Vega prime contractor Avio, in a Sept. 5 video on the findings of the Vega failure review board. Credit: Avio video
PARIS — The board of inquiry investigating the July 11 failure of Europe’s Vega rocket issued preliminary findings that left unanswered the core question of why, after 14 successes since its inaugural flight, the vehicle’s second stage appeared to break up under normal launch conditions.
The commission’s recommendation, that the Vega team make its own verification of the findings and then conduct unspecified “corrective actions on all subsystems, processes and equipment concerned,” did not help clarify the issue.
One European government officials who was not part of the inquiry agreed that the inquiry’s conclusion seemed vague, but said the history of space launches is replete with inconclusive failure investigations that allow rockets to return to service without finding a definitive root cause.
The Vega rocket lifted off without incident on July 11 carrying the United Arab Emirates’ FalconEye-1 optical reconnaissance satellite, which was insured for 368.2 million euros ($413 million). The failure resulted in the single largest loss in the history of the space insurance industry.
The commission concluded, as expected, that the rocket’s P80 first stage performed nominally. The Z23 second stage ignited as expected and burned without incident for 14 seconds.
Then, at 130 seconds into the flight, “a sudden and violent event” occurred around the second-stage motor, leading to the launcher’s breakup into two pieces — the second-stage engine and the rocket’s Zefiro 9 stage, the rocket’s fairing and the satellite.
At 213 seconds, ground controllers sent a neutralization command to end the mission. As of 314 seconds, no more telemetry was received.
In a Sept. 5 statement issued by the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA), the commission said the most likely cause is a “thermo-structural breakup” of the forward dome of the vehicle’s second stage.
There was no explanation of whether the temperatures or other data showed unusual stresses, or whether the inquiry had found traces that might point to a defect in workmanship on the Z23 stage. The investigation had reviewed documentation from the production sites of Vega managed by Vega contractor Avio SpA.
The other possible causes investigated — including the inadvertent activation of the Z23 stage’s neutralization system or “a malicious act” — were ruled out.
Nonetheless, the board said Vega launches could begin in the first three months of 2020.
Avio Chief Executive Giulio Ranzo, in a Sept. 5 video statement on the inquiry’s conclusions, said the company will implement all recommended actions to be able to return to flight in early 2020 and would report back before then on what it has done. Ranzo said the inquiry was supported by ESA, the French space agency, CNES; the Italian Space Agency, ASI; Arianespace and Avio.
“Learning from failures is an integral part of the mission to provide our customers with improved products and solutions,” Ranzo said.

Eurospace steps up effort for space sector exemption from EU waste database rules

Eurospace Secretary-General Pierre Lionnet. Credit: Eurospace
PARIS — Europe’s space industry association, ASD-Eurospace, is urging the European Commission to grant an exemption to a coming European Union waste-disposal policy that Eurospace says would force publication of sensitive space technologies.
The decision to create a task force to address the EU’s Waste Framework Directive comes nearly a year after Eurospace asked the commission to formally exempt the space sector from rules designed to reduce waste on EU territory.
Materials designed for launch do not produce such waste and should be exempted from the regulation, which was adopted by the EU in July 2018 and is scheduled to be ratified by individual EU governments by July 2020, Aerospace said.
“At the end of its service life, space systems typically burn in the atmosphere or are re-/de-rbited and never come back to Earth,” Eurospace said in its letter. Notwithstanding that, Eurospace said the EU directive’s language appears to include space items.
Eurospace said it received no response to its October 2018 letter asking for a legal clarification.
For Eurospace, the problem is that under the directive, suppliers of identified waste items are required to notify the European Chemicals Agency of the presence of chemicals covered by the EU’s REACH — Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals — regulations.
The agency then will publish a database on these operations that will be accessible to waste treatment operators.
Eurospace argued that the notification requirement is already of minimal relevance to the space sector. The regulation language orders notification if:
“the substance is present in those articles in quantities totaling over one tonne per producer or importer per year; or the substance is present in those articles above a concentration of 0.1% weight by weight” http://bit.ly/2lsL6Xs
The space industry is “a user of chemicals in very small volumes, compared to other industry sectors,” Eurospace said.
But the main issue is that publishing details of certain space missions may run counter to other accepted standards including the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) or export licenses granted European companies under the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR). Several EU nations have their own versions of ITAR restrictions that would restrict publication of the data.
“Information disclosed to waste treatment operators on the space systems concerned may breach confidentiality requirements associated to sensitive technologies (such as those covered by MTCR, or required by such customers as French DGA e.g.) and/or associated to export licenses; e.g. granted under ITAR,” Eurospace Research Director and Secretary General Pierre Lionnet said in a statement.
“The European space sector has noted that complying with the notification requirement to the ECHA database may thus be challenging in many cases. Regardless, it is considered as pointless and out of scope of the Waste Framework Directive for space systems that will end their life in space and will never be treated by waste operators, for whom the ECHA database is intended. Eurospace will further elaborate on the related issues in its revised Position Paper, which is due to be released shortly.”
Industrial members of the task force are Airbus Defence and Space, ArianeGroup, MT Aerospace, OHB SE, Ruag, Tesat and Thales Alenia Space. The 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA) is an observer, as are the European Defence Agency (EDA) and the national space agencies of France (CNES), Germany (DLR) and Italy (ASI).
 

Chinasat-18 to be declared $250-million loss; will delay China’s aero-connectivity plans, deepen 2019 space insurance losses

The Chniasat-18 satellite during testing. Credit: mp.weixin.qq.com
PARIS — The inaugural flight of China’s new-generation communications satellite platform is almost certain to be declared a total loss and carries a total insurance package of about $250 million, industry officials said.
More than a week after its Aug. 19 launch, the Chinasat-18 Ku- and high-throughput (HTS) Ka-band satellite has been unable to deploy its solar arrays. Its batteries will have been depleted, leaving little hope of a recovery.
The new platform, called DFH-4E, featured multiple improvements in payload and power over its well-established predecessor, the DFH-4. The new platform debuted for China Satcom’s Chinasat-18 telecommunications satellite, which was successfully launched by a Long March 3B from China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
Chinasat-18 was to complement high-throughput Ka-band coverage from Chinasat-16 to introduce aeronautical broadband throughout Chinese airspace. Israel-based Gilat Satellite Networks is under contract with China Satcom to develop the ground network. Viasat Inc. of the United States has partnered with China Satcom for a future commercial in-flight-connectivity service that had been based on Chinasat-16 and Chinasat-18. Chinasat-16 was launched in 2016.
China Satcom reported initial glitches with the 5,200-kilogram satellite following its separation from the rocket. Industry officials meanwhile have said that Chinasat 18’s solar panels failed to open, depriving the satellite of power.
After a week or so, its batteries would have run down, resulting in the loss of the mission.
China Satcom officials did not respond to requests for comment on the satellite’s status, and notably when they would notify their insurers of the loss and file a claim.
Coming after the July failure of a European Vega rocket carrying the United Arab Emirates’ FalconEye 1 optical reconnaissance satellite, a launch insured for 368.2 million euros ($413 million), the Chinasat-18 loss will push the space insurance market further into the red for 2019.
The depressed market for GEO-orbit telecommunications satellites, the still-unconfirmed market for insurance of large constellations of low-orbiting broadband satellites and the overcapacity of space insurance coverage have combined to make space insurance unsustainable: http://bit.ly/2S2B3Vv
The space insurance market paid claims of $605 million in 2018 but generated just $459 million in premiums, the lowest level in 25 years. Large geostationary-orbit communications satellites have historically been the principle source of space insurance revenue.
But even as this market has shrunk in the past three years, insurance underwriters have continued to enter the market, pushing down premiums.
China Satcom said after the launch that the Long March rocket correctly placed Chinasat-18 into geostationary transfer orbit, but that the satellite showed anomalies almost immediately.
“The company is working with satellite manufacturers and other parties to carry out satellite troubleshooting,” the company said in a statement. “The satellite project of Zhongxing No. 18 [Chinasat-18] is a civilian satellite project with a total investment of 1.518 billion yuan.
“According to the relevant agreement of the satellite procurement contract of Zhongxing 18, the ownership and risk of Zhongxing 18 satellite will be transferred to the company from the time of launch. China People’s Property Insurance Co., Ltd. is the chief underwriting of the Zhongxing No. 18 satellite project and issues a policy, which covers the investment amount of the project. For the losses incurred by the company during the launch of Zhongxing No. 18 satellite, insurance claims may be applied according to the fault investigation conditions and in accordance with the terms of the insurance contract. 
“The company currently operates 16 commercial communications broadcast satellites. The current status of the Zhongxing 18 satellite will not affect the company’s current on-orbit satellite operations and daily business operations.”
At current exchange rates, 1.518 billion Chinese yuan is about $215.5 million. But two industry officials said the total insurance package is valued at $250 million.

After exhausting alternatives, Sky and Space Global to ask shareholders for another cash lifeline

Sky and Space said the new funds would go to building and launching the company’s 6U cubesat constellation in higher-inclination orbit to produce early revenue. Credit: Sky and Space Global
PARIS — Narrowband satellite constellation startup Sky and Space Global is asking its shareholders to invest further in the company to carry it through the current liquidity crisis to the promised early revenue.
In what looks like a last-ditch effort to secure funds that apparently have been unavailable elsewhere, Sky and Space will ask current shareholders to purchase 1.5 billion new shares to raise 15 million Australian dollars ($10.5 million).
A shareholder meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27.
The latest share issue will be the third time this year that Sky and Space has gone to shareholders for new capital.
The new funds will be used to finance construction, by smallsat manufacturer GomSpace of Denmark and Sweden, of two groups of eight 6U cubesats, to launch in mid- and late 2020. These satellites will form the basis for what Sky and Space says is an an early revenue-generating opportunity to launch into higher-inclination orbit.
UK-registered, Australia-traded Sky and Space Global and GomSpace have a relationship that, for GomSpace investors, has become mutually dependent to an uncomfortable degree.
Without Sky and Space, GomSpace loses its biggest customer, the one that GomSpace used to justify investment in plant and equipment to pave the way for a regular business of satellites from operators of smallsat constellations.
Without GomSpace, Sky and Space would have trouble finding a manufacturer offering the same price level and the same amount of indulgence that GomSpace has showed thus far in waiting for its customer to sort out its complicated financial situation.
Sky and Space trading has suspended trading on the ASX exchange while it searches for two Australian-resident non-executive directors, a requirement of ASX-traded companies.
GomSpace has suspended work on Sky and Space’s original 3U constellation of 200 satellites while waiting for fresh payments. The two companies agreed to focus first on the 6U satellites as the more likely to produce near-term revenue.
GomSpace shareholders will be asked to purchase shares at one Australian cent per share. Shareholders who purchase four shares will be given a free option for another share, priced at 2.5 cents, expiring in July 2022. This option totals 375 million shares.
In addition, the two lead managers for the transaction, Merchant Corporate Advisory Pty Ltd. and Chieftain Securities Pty, will receive cash equivalent to 6% of the total gross proceeds, plus 375 million options with the same pricing and expiration date as offered shareholders.
Sky and Space said that beyond the 15 million Australian dollars it hopes to raise from the newly issued shares, it is working on a debt financing package from the United States.
This is likely a loan package from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to cover most of the cost of launching Sky and Space satellites with Rocket Lab, which operates a spaceport in New Zealand; and Virgin Orbit, whose small vehicle launches from beneath the wing of a modified Boeing 747 jetliner.
Rocket Lab is operational and recently completed its eighth mission. Virgin Orbit has scheduled its inaugural orbital flight for late this year.

Satellite operator Ovzon moves Ovzon-3 launch to Arianespace Ariane 5 from SpaceX Falcon Heavy, says still gets 20-yr service life

Ovzon said its revenue and profit should improve in the second half of this year. Credit: Ovzon
UPDATE Sept. 16: Ovzon said it had booked contracts valued at $13.7 million from the U.S. Defense Department through its partner, Intelsat General Corp. The contracts are for six months of service, using satellite capacity leased from Intelsat. Ovzon said the likely extensions will cover the period when the Ovzon-3 satellite, the company’s first spacecraft, is scheduled for launch.
UPDATE Aug. 27: Launch-service provider Arianespace confirmed the 2021 launch of the Ovzon-3 satellite in 2021 into geostationary-transfer orbit aboard an Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket. Arianespace said the payload would weigh 1,500 kilograms at launch.
MARGARETVILLE, NY — Satellite broadband provider Ovzon AB has switched the launch of its first fully owned satellite from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to the Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket.
The Ariane 5 launch is scheduled for 2021. The Falcon Heavy launch agreement, announced in October 2018, was for a launch no earlier than late 2020.
Ovzon Chief Executive Magnus Rene said Aug. 27 that Ovzon-3 uses an all-electric design that should give it 20 years of service life. By launching into geostationary transfer orbit — instead of the direct-to-GEO alternative offered by the Falcon Heavy — the satellite will spend several months making its way from the Ariane 5 drop-off point to its operational, revenue-generating position. The cost of the transfer orbit, he said, will be time, not satellite operating life.
Rene said the Arianespace contract clearly stipulates a launch window. It will be up to Arianespace to secure a co-passenger for Ovzon-3, as the Ariane 5 business model depends on launching two satellites at a time into geostationary-transfer orbit, except in rare cases where owners of very large satellites are willing to pay for a dedicated launch.
Ovzon had said previously that the unusual agreement — the 1,500-kilogram Ovzon-3 satellite riding aboard a large rocket for direct injection into geostationary orbit — was to avoid the transfer orbit used by most other geostationary-orbit launch service providers.
Ovzon-3 is the inaugural model of Maxar Technologies’ Legion-class satellite frame, which borrows fro both the SSL 1300 telecommunications satellite heritage and the new Legion-size platform that Maxar is building for its next-generation optical Earth observation satellites.
The Maxar agreement took the place of a 2015 deal with Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, the former Orbital ATK, under which Northrop would build Ovzon-3 and provide the ground segment. Ovzon said not all the advance payments made to Northrop Grumman would be applicable to Ovzon-3, resulting in a write-down of 12.3 million Swedish krona ($1.32 million) on the previous payments against its second-quarter 2019 earnings.
In an Aug. 23 note to investors, Ovzon said only that it had “left the preliminary agreements we had” for the Ovzon-3 launch. “Arianespace is a leading launch service provider with a long track record of successful launches with Ariane 5. Arianespace recently launched Intelsat IS-39,” the company said.
Referring to the SpaceX deal as a “preliminary agreement” leaves open the possibility that it was SpaceX, and not Ovzon, that decided it could no longer accommodate Ovzon-3 in 2021, and that the arrangement was never a formal contract.
Ovzon also did not say what effect the switch would have, if any, on the cost of the Ovzon-3 program, previously estimated at 1.5 billion Swedish krona.
Intelsat is a major Ovzon partner. Intelsat has agreed to lease capacity on Ovzon-3 under a three-year contract valued at $56 million, which is the majority of the prelaunch capacity that Ovzon has sold.
Ovzon currently leases capacity on five satellites. Its plans are to gradually move toward its own fleet of spacecraft tailored to offer broadband to mobile terminals for government and other vertical markets employing Ovzon’s terminal design.
For the six months ending June 30, Ovzon reported revenue of 109 million Swedish krona, up 5.4% from the same period a year ago, and an operating loss of 6.54 million krona compared to a loss of 13.5 million krona a year ago.
The company completed a rights issues in January and secured a loan of $60 million and subordinated debt, led by Proventus Capital Partners, for 100 million krona to complete the Ovzon-3 financing.

18 nations, 63 satellites deployed, 1 held prisoner: Spaceflight’s SSO-A exploit may be a one-off

Credit: Spaceflight Industries
LOGAN, Utah — Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay didn’t summit Everest again after their historic success, and small satellite launch integrator Spaceflight Industries outlined why it’s unlikely to repeat its 53-customer, 64-satellite SSO-A rideshare launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in December 2018.
Here’s just a few of the data points along the way:
— Two large microsats weighing 350 and 600 kilograms drove the design specifications for the Multi Payload Carrier, built by Airbus Defence and Space. But neither satellite ended up flying on SSO-A.
— Customers dropping out and others coming in, and other specific payload alternations forced 196 “dispositioned” changes and 88 versions of the coupled-loads-analysis model.
— Twenty-two revisions of the Visio document tracking the location of satellites and deployers identifying the customers, the ports they were using, their separation system or dispenser.
— Sixteen failure review boards.
— Seventy-five non-conformance reports, 42 product deviations and 57 waiver requests.
SSO-A was delayed for well over a year for different reasons, which was part of the reason for payloads moving in and out of the mission.
“We knew we were going to have customers that would be changing in and out. We didn’t quite anticipate as many as we did, Spaceflight Mission Director Jeffrey Roberts aid here at the SmallSat Conference. “We also learned that the manifest could change weekly, if not more often.
“Why did we have numerous delays? Some of those were due to things outside our control,” Roberts said, citing the September 2016 Falcon-9 on-paid failure and the busy schedule at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“With regards to customers, about half were hurting because they needed to get to orbit. The other half were breathing huge sighs of relief because they could actually get to orbit” because of the delays.
Astonishlngly, seven satellites failed to show up in time and missed the launch, Roberts and Spaceflight Chief Engineer Adam Hadaller said in a paper published for the conference: http://bit.ly/2KU9Lxa
Another was lost for a week at a shipping hub. Spaceflight’s advice: “Pay the extra money for tracking sensors.”
18 governments, 264 people integrating 64 satellites. Credit: Spaceflight Industries
More than 30 organizations were responsible for the 64 satellites that finally flew on SSO-A. Some 235 people submitted badge requests to Vandenberg for satellite integration, plus 29 Spaceflight personnel.
Eighteen governments were represented on the mission, including the United States. Some of these had sensitive payloads on board. Each customer got a three-by-five-meter screened-off integration space for a maximum of five people at a time.
Sixty-four satellites were integrated in 60 days.
Licensing issues multiplied. The final mission design included two free flyers, the Airbus-built one and a lower free flyer built by LoadPath. Spaceflight’s design required no uplinks to the free flyers’ avionics, which caused worry at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Future iterations will have uplinks.
Shipping lithium-ion batteries by road required Department of Transportation clearance.
“We all understand the U.S. licensing regime pretty well,” Roberts said. “But what’s the licensing process for Brazil, Switzerland, Thailand, Kazakhstan? We had to know. The FCC looked at and said: Make sure your customers have licensing before we give you yours. So we had to do some learning there.
“Export compliance, if done correctly, will allow foreign customers, US commercial customers and US government customers to all launch on the same mission. We had them all here.”
Shipping lithium-ion batteries by road required U.S. Department of Transportation clearance.
No license (or a late one) = no get-out-of-jail card
One customer’s satellite was loaded onto the SSO-A stack on the assumption of an immediate license, which came several days too late: Spaceflight sealed the satellite into its dispenser and was not deployed or operated.
“This is an unfortunate example of uncertain regulatory requirements for a unique customer,” Roberts and Hadaller said. “We integrated them with the condition that they had to show licensing. They didn’t, so we sealed the container.”
That left 63 satellites to deploy — 15 microsats and 49 cubesats. All of them deployed. Four did not function and never made contact with their owners.
Spaceflight has previously described some of the difficulties in identifying all the SSO-A satellites, and said some satellite owners have not registered with the U.S. Air Force Combined Space Operations Center, CSpOC, which in the absence of another international body acts as the de facto global space traffic management agency: http://bit.ly/2vopMnO
Roberts said that as of Aug. 1, 12 satellites, or 18% of the total, had still not self-reported to CSpOC. It’s an example of the limits of self-reporting and one reason why some industry representatives, including Spaceflight, do not oppose new regulations.
Credit: Spaceflight Industries
Four of the satellites that have not reported to CSpOC are non-functioning. Roberts said he talked to two other owners during this year’s SmallSat. As for the other six, they have declined to contact CSpOC “despite repeated attempts, emails, phone calls, messages and understanding before the mission.”
The bottom line for Spaceflight: It’s not ruling out another SSO-A-size mission, but there has to be a better way, and given the evolution of the smallsat launch sector, there is.
Keeping 50-plus customers on one mission is extremely hard, especially in this industry, where not a lot of the customers are very mature. They don’t understand the timelines. Some experience test failures and have to pull off.
“This was very difficult to maintain. That’s why Spaceflight is looking more at smaller rideshare missions, half a dozen, a dozen customers at a time using some of the newer vehicles that are coming to market. But we’re not against doing another SSOA-type mission. So if the market demands that, we know how to do it and we will do another mission at this level.”

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