Category: Launch Segment

ESA’s ruling council ends without launcher agreement, stalemate with Europe’s Ariane 6 contractors continues

An Ariane 6 upper-stage hydrogen tank is delivered from MT Aerospace to prime contractor ArianeGroup’s Bremen, Germany, facility. Credit: ArianeGroup
PARIS — The European Space Agency’s ruling council on March 21 ended with no resolution of the standoff with Europe’s launch industry that has kept sparkling-new Ariane 6 production facilities off-line.
No one calls it a strike, but it has the earmarks of one. ESA governments say they need Ariane 6 in full service by late 2020 or early 2021, some six months after the vehicle’s planned mid-2020 inaugural flight.
A batch order of 14 Ariane 6 vehicles to cover launches between 2021 and 2023, the transition period from the heavy-lift Ariane 5, is long overdue.
Much more delay in starting production of the 14-rocket series will mean the vehicles will not be ready by early 2021, delaying the planned ramp-up in Ariane 6 flights and potentially missing opportunities to launch European government payloads.
Industry’s position is that it cannot commit capital to a bulk rocket order without customer commitments, and European governments have been unable to commit to more than a few launches.
The two sides have been camped on their positions over a year and have not moved. In the interim, nothing has happened in the commercial-launch market to give industry any hope for a sudden influx of Ariane 6 orders in 2021.
Of course, each mission added to the manifest helps. The OneWeb constellation of low-orbiting broadband satellites recently contracted with Arianespace to launch 30 10-kilogram OneWeb satellites on the inaugural Ariane 62 flight in 2020. The contract included two Ariane 6 options.
OneWeb recently contracted to launch 30 satellites on the inaugural Ariane 6 flight in mid-2020, with two options included in the contract. Credit: ArianeGroup
Already some in Europe are talking about scenarios in which OneWeb’s order of 20 more Russian Soyuz rockets launched from Russian spaceports might be divided with Ariane 6. OneWeb’s launch campaigns are scheduled to start in earnest at the end of 2019.
In fact, given the time lag between satellite construction contracts and launches, 2021 looks like it will be a very bad year for anyone operating large rockets and looking for commercial business — Arianespace, SpaceX, Blue Origin — anyone.
Meeting in Marseille, France, the ESA council had the immediate urgency of the Ariane 5-Ariane 6 transition at the top of its agenda. But while there were signs of a consensus on a solution, none was concluded.
Instead, the council asked ESA  Director-General Jan Woerner and his team to meet with industry in the next three weeks in an attempt to find a way forward, and to report back to a special ESA council meeting set for April 17.
Government and industry officials said privately that the solution will include having ESA governments accept that they will pay more to launch their payloads, at least through 2023, than they had originally thought.
In return, industry must accept a simulacrum of a legally binding commitment to launch seven payloads on Ariane 6 between 2021 and 2023.
ESA Launcher Director Daniel Neuenschwander declined to specify what a deal might look like. He said the meeting was not an easy one, but that all ESA governments were united on at least one point:
“Industry has to provide the launchers to be available for our institutional missions, and without delay,” Neuenschwander said.
“We have missions to launch. Ariane 6 has to be ready. If industry is on time, they will get this business. If they are not ready, they miss a huge opportunity and they will have more difficulty in putting this launcher on the market. I hope this much is clear,” Neuenschwander said.
Without resorting to double- or triple-shifts, which would add cost, ArianeGroup estimates it will take about 18 months to produce Ariane 6 vehicles from the time of the order. Currently the 14-rocket batch order for the Ariane 6 transition period was for launches starting in early 2021. That date is still feasible — but only just.
The number of combined missions planned for ESA, European national governments, the European Commission and Eumetsat between 2021 and 2023 is exceptionally high for Europe, where government launches have traditionally been no more than 25-30% of the business for the Arianespace commercial launch company.
But even a high-water market in European government launch demand cannot fully offset the decline in the market for large geostationary-orbit satellites, which for for 40 years have been Arianespace’s main business.
Sensing what was coming, Arianespace and is owner, Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 prime contractor ArianeGroup, in 2018 agreed to reduce their last batch order of Ariane 5 rockets from the contracted 10, to eight.
“It’s a way to phase out, a bit earlier, the costlier asset and favor the Ariane 6 ramp-up,” said one Ariane contractor. Ariane 6 is designed to cost at least 40% less to build and launch than Ariane 5.
That last Ariane 5 batch was supposed to be launched starting in 2020. Whether it might be put into service later than that given the slowdown in orders is unclear.
Every year of dual operations of Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 is a year of high cost, which is why ESA and industry had agreed to a cost-sharing plan to get through it. But that plan now needs to be reviewed given the state of the commercial market.
ESA governments are determined to steer clear of paying annual subsidies — they call them offsets to certain launch industry fixed costs — as they begin the Ariane 6 era.
Neuenschwander said that remains the goal. “It’s better to use it than to subsidize it,” he said. “We don’t want to subsidize the system. The best thing is to come to a rapid ramp-up of Ariane 6 and then transition to the regular exploitation phase.”

OneWeb raises additional $1.25 billion from SoftBank, Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm and Rwanda

Credit: OneWeb
PARIS — Startup broadband satellite constellation operator OneWeb said it has raised $1.25 billion in new capital from existing shareholders SoftBank Group Corp., Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies and the government of Rwanda, bringing total equity financing to $3.4 billion.
The announcement did not include any mention of OneWeb backers Virgin Group, Airbus and Hughes, which may have been part of an unannounced funding round of several hundred million dollars completed before the Feb. 27 launch of the first six OneWeb satellites.
OneWeb Chief Executive Adrian Steckel made passing reference to these investors in statements before the launch, saying they had “just re-upped their commitments.”
As currently configured, OneWeb is a 650-satellite constellation of low-orbiting satellites offering broadband connectivity in areas of the world that are now unserved or poorly served.
The inability of the company to secure project finance loan guarantees from Bpifrance, the French export-credit agency, has raised questions about whether lead investor SoftBank remained as committed as it was in the past.
Also of concern was the fact that OneWeb had not secured commitments from prospective customers for large chunks of OneWeb capacity — a commitment that a loan-guarantee source like Bpifrance would want to see before backing a project with a capital cost estimated at $4 billion to $6 billion.
The March 18 announcement may have quieted those concerns. OneWeb did not detail the level of investment of each shareholder. But Steckel said the latest ground “makes OneWeb’s service inevitable and is a vote of confidence from our core investor base in our business model and the OneWeb value proposition.”
The first six OneWeb satellite, all reported healthy in orbit, are migrating from their carrier rocket’s drop-off point to their final orbital positions at 1,200 kilometers in altitude. Once they arrive there and begin broadcasting for at least 90 days, the company will have secured International Telecommunication Union (ITU) registration of its operating frequencies — a key milestone that OneWeb had hoped would unlock further investor commitment.
OneWeb’s spectrum rights have long been considered the company’s key asset.
Marcelo Claure, chief executive of SoftBank Group International, said in a statement about the financing:
“OneWeb has extended its first-mover advantage and is on track to become the world’s largest and first truly global communications network. At SoftBank, our aim is to invest in transformative companies at the leading edge of technology disruption.
“OneWeb’s potential is undeniable as the growth in data from 5G, IoT, autonomous driving and other new technologies drives demand for capacity above and beyond the limits of the existing infrastructure.”
With the continuous quality improvements in high-throughput broadband satellites operating in geostationary orbit, it is unclear how much of a service advantage OneWeb will have in less-developed countries once the constellation is operational in 2021-2022.
Also still to be tested is whether OneWeb’s architecture is relevant to 5G, IoT and the coming autonomous-vehicle market.
OneWeb’s first six satellites were built at partner Airbus Defence and Space’s Toulouse, France, facility as part of a 10-satellite lot.
The remaining satellites are to be built at two production lines housed in a new factory in Exploration Park, Florida, which is scheduled to be open in time to produce satellites in volume by the end of this year.
The OneWeb statement referred to the “near-completion of our innovative satellite manufacturing facility,” and said the company would be launching 30 satellites a month starting in the fourth quarter.
OneWeb has contracted with Russia’s Glavkosmos and Europe’s Arianespace launch service providers to fly 20 Russian Soyuz rockets carrying more than 30 OneWeb satellites each.
Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson said after the Feb. 27 launch that OneWeb had “already raised over $2 billion. That is sufficient money to see it to profitability and it should be relatively easy to raise further money.”

Rocket-builder Avio posts double-digit revenue, profit increase with peak in government development funding

Avio says its Vega light launcher now generates more revenue than the company’s work on the Ariane 5 and future Ariane 6 heavy-lift rockets. Development as a percent of total revenue is expected to drop as both the upgraded Vega-C and new Ariane 6 vehicles enter service starting in 2020. Credit: Avio
PARIS — The world’s only pure-play, publicly traded launch-vehicle manufacturer, Avio SpA, reported double-digit increases in revenue and profit in 2018 with a peak in government-financed work on new rockets.
For Avio, the question is whether demand for its Vega small-satellite launch vehicle and for the heavy-lift Ariane 6, which uses Vega’s first stage as its strap-on boosters, will be sufficiently strong to offset the inevitable decline in government development funds.
Avio in 2018 reported revenue of 388.7 million euros ($445 million), up 13% from 2017. EBITDA was 11% of revenue, and net profit, at 25.8 million euros, was up 18% from a year earlier.
Avio divided its revenue into business dedicated to Ariane, and that coming from Vega, for which Avio is prime contractor. In recent years, Ariane-generated revenue declined relative to Vega as Vega entered operations.
Vega is expected to fly four times in 2019. Two of the flights will carry the UAE’s Falcon Eye 1 and Falcon Eye 2 optical surveillance satellites. Credit: Avio
The Vega share has been climbing faster than the Ariane share and in 2018 accounted for 53% of Avio revenue, compared to 38% for Ariane. The remaining 9% of Avio’s business is from tactical and “other” activity.
Avio said development, meaning Ariane and Vega-related work funded by the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), accounted for 38% of total revenue in 2018.
The upgraded Vega-C rocket is expected to make its first flight in early 2020. Ariane 6’s inaugural flight is scheduled for the second half of 2020. Development funding for both vehicles will be winding down.
One unknown on the development side is what additional work Avio might win from programs decided at the triennial ESA ministerial conference, scheduled for  November.
The company’s 2018 performance was good enough for Avio to propose a 15% increase in its proposed dividends to shareholders, to 11.5 million euros, a 45% payout ratio. In addition, the company’s board has approved a potential buyback of up to 10% of Avio’s publicly traded shares.
“This is a picture of a business that grows and generates cash,” Avio Chief Executive Giulio Ranzo told investors March 15. “We have the right product in the right place.”
From a strict market-positioning viewpoint, Vega and Vega-C occupy a middle position between the plethora of small launchers now in development — and one, the Rocket Lab Electron, in service — and the larger rockets, including Ariane, the SpaceX Falcon 9 and others.
The small, dedicated launchers can offer orbital drop-off points tailor made to their individual customers. The larger rockets are less able to do that, but can offer a lower per-kilogram cost.
“We can do both,” Ranzo said of Vega — launches dedicated to single satellites weighing several hundred kilograms, and those with multiple small satellites using Vega’s Small Spacecraft Mission Service, to make its debut in August.
Ranzo cited the many market forecasts showing the galloping demand for small satellite launch capacity for telecommunications, Earth observation and other missions. The same assessments say the market for large rockets is flat at best, if not declining slightly in the coming years.
The Vega-C’s main P120 stage is also used for the Ariane 6’s strap-on boosters, meaning Vega profitability is closely tied to Ariane 6’s success. Credit: Avio
As a rocket program, Vega is protected from the demand slide for large telecommunications satellites. But as a company, Avio is not. Much of its business model depends on generating material economies of scale by producing the P120 Vega first stage in high volume because of its use as the strap-on booster for Ariane 6.
Estimates of the number of Ariane 6 rockets to be launched per year starting in 2023 have been declining with the precipitous drop in demand for geostationary-orbit telecommunications satellite.
The geostationary-orbit market is sure to recover somewhat, if only to replace highly profitable satellites now in orbit. But whether this launch market will ever return to its previous volume of 20-25 satellites per year is uncertain.
The lack of clarity in the future market is one reason why Europe’s Arianespace launch-service provider, which sells Ariane and Vega rockets, has not yet made an order for the first batch of Ariane 6 vehicles.
Avio sees the Vega rocket as ideally suited for the current growth of small low-orbiting satellites, avoiding the constraints of smaller dedicated rockets and the ride-share options of larger vehicles. The Vega Light included here is notional: No production decision has been made. Credit: Avio
Ranzo noted that the small-launcher market is now bursting with up to 100 new rocket-development programs. How many will make it to production, and of those, how many will make a successful business, is anyone’s guess.
Government demand in the United States and China could permit several small vehicles to survive in those nations, enabling them to attack the global commercial market with a durable anchor customer.
There is no such anchor customer among European governments, which are much less active in space than their U.S. and Chinese counterparts.
Avio still doubts the market for very small rockets, and is not convinced by Rocket Lab’s Electron
That hasn’t prevented a half-dozen small-launcher proposals from popping up in Europe.
Avio has thrown its hat into this ring with Vega Light, designed to carry up to 300 kilograms into a low Earth orbit, and has talked with Portuguese authorities about their proposal for a spaceport in the Azores.
But despite its assertion that it could build a Vega Light for very low cost, Avio is unclear that such a vehicle can be profitable.
“The business model is radically different than that for larger rockets,” Ranzo said. “First, because the customers are not as rich. Second, the market is maturing now and it’s not easy to understand whether the business case is clearly positive.”
He agreed that the growth in small satellite production for commercial business could be a complementary market to what Vega can serve without eating into Vega’s business.
But still…
“It is a very complex case, the one for min-rockets,” Ranzo said. “The only one who has started operations is Rocket Lab, with Electron. it has flown so far three times, with a load factor of 5%. The problem is, if you fly forever at a load factor of 5%, you never make money.
“We’ll do a min-rocket if we find a way to make money out of it. Otherwise we won’t. It’s a simple as that. We have built a rocket from scratch before so we know what it takes. We can be faster to market. But we also want to be safer to market. We don’t want to drag a listed company into a non-existent business.”

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.

Japan’s New-Space star, Axelspace Corp., releases first imagery, books 3-satellite launch with GK Launch Services

This image of Japan’s Haneda Airport is a panchromatic GRUS-1 product with a 5-meter resolution resampled with a 2.5-meter panchromatic image. GRUS-1 was launched on Dec. 27, 2018. Credit: Axelspace Corp.
PARIS — Axelspace Corp. of Tokyo, Japan’s answer to Planet and BlackSky of the United States, released images from its first Earth imaging satellite and booked a three-satellite  launch deal with GK Launch Services of Russia.
The launch, to occur no earlier than mid-2020 aboard a Soyuz-2 rocket, will get Axelspace closer to its operational goal of being able — as Planet is today — of imaging any land location on Earth once a day.
The first GRUS satellite, GRUS-1A, was launched Dec. 27 aboard a Soyuz rocket into a 600-kilometer polar sun-synchronous orbit.
Axelspace said March 12 that it had contracted with GK Launch Services to launch the identical GRUS-1B and 1C satellites, no earlier than mid-2020, along with a third satellite, called Fukui Prefectoral Satellite, owned by the Fukui Satellite Technology & Research Association (FSTRA).
FSTRA will have access to the four-satellite constellation to increase revisit rhythm over its areas of interest in Japan, and Axelspace will use the satellite to increase its global coverage.
The GRUS satellites weigh 80 kilograms and are capable of taking panchromatic images at 2.5-meter resolution, and multispectral images at 5-meter resolution. The images have a 57-kilometer swath width. They are designed to operate for at least five years.
The first image from GRUS-1A, taken March 2, is of Japan’s Haneda Airport. It is an overlay, or resampling, of lower-resolution color and higher-resolution black and white imagery from the satellite, Axelspace said.
A full-service geospatial imagery provider these days is nothing without a data platform that automates constellation operations and speeds processing to deliver usable data to customers.
Axelspace said its platform and its web portal is scheduled to be operational in May.
The commercial value of 2.5-meter/5-meter imagery in the 2020s is a subject debate worldwide as multiple companies from China, Europe, the United States and South America enter the high-revisit-rate, medium-resolution piece of the market.
Axelspace has been a New Space star in Japan. Its latest funding round, Series B in December, raised 2.6 billion Japanese yen, or $23.6 million, from a group of investors including Global Brain Corp. and 31Ventures, both of which had been part of of the Series A round in September 2015.
Including a seed round in 2014, Axelspace has raised 4.5 billion yen, or $40.9 million. Other investors include the Japan Science and Technology Agency, established telecommunications satellite fleet operator Sky Perfect JSat Corp., Mitsui & Co and Innovation Network Corp. of Japan.

OneWeb satellite solar array component provider says 2019 to be ‘staging’ year before production

OneWeb Satellites’ Florida facility includes two production lines. Production is scheduled to start there later this year. Credit: OneWeb Satellites
PARIS — The company recently contracted to provide substrates for the solar panels that will power the OneWeb constellation of 600-plus satellites said it views 2019 as a “staging” year — not a full-on production year — as it prepares the ground to execute on the contract.
Montreal-based 5N Plus Inc. in late February announced that its U.S. subsidiary, 5N Plus Semiconductors, had won a contract with SolAero Technologies Corp. of New Mexico to satellite solar arrays for multiple applications, including “a constellation of several hundred low‐orbit broadband satellites being manufactured by Airbus OneWeb Satellites. This network of satellites will provide global, persistent, low latency internet access that promises to bridge the digital divide.”
On Feb. 27, 5N held an investor call on its 2018 financial results and described the SolAero contract schedule this way:
“There are different levels of that business,” 5N Chief Executive Arjang Rosham said. “2019 will be a lot of staging of the program. First launch is scheduled today [Feb. 27], but it’s typical to have delays in that industry. The way we’re treating this — most likely in 2019 we will not look to put huge amounts of revenue against it. It is still staging and ramping up. There have to be over 20 launches, to put the satellites into orbit.”
The first six OneWeb satellites were successfully launched on Feb. 27. They are expected to make their way to their 1,200-kilometer operating orbit by late April or May.
They will then begin using their assigned broadcast frequencies and thereby satisfy the International Telecommunication Union’s “bringing into use” requirement to safeguard its operating license.
OneWeb is registered in the United Kingdom but in June 2017 received an operating license from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC license, which at the time was for 720 satellites, required that OneWeb place its satellites in orbit within six years, our June 2023.
The FCC has since determined that large constellations of non-geostationary-orbit satellites would have to launch at least half of their constellations within six years of a license, and the remaining half within nine years.
The six satellites launched on Feb. 27 are part of an initial 10-satellite batch built at Airbus Defence and Space’s Toulouse, France, facility. The remaining satellites will come from the Florida plant.
At some point during the year — after the six in-orbit satellites’ performance has been validated — the OneWeb Satellites Florida facility is expected to begin serial production of the 150-kilogram OneWeb spacecraft.
Launches aboard Russian Soyuz rockets are scheduled to start at the end of this year, with each Soyuz carrying 30 or more satellites.
The OneWeb schedule is subject to available financing. Having reduced its first-generation constellation from 900-plus to 600-plus satellites, the estimated capex will drop from a previously estimated $6 billion to a figure that will be validated only after OneWeb has concluded negotiations with its supply chain on a batch order.
OneWeb is seeking both debt and equity financing. It had raised about $1.7 billion as of late 2018. Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group — a OneWeb investor — said Feb. 27 that OneWeb had raised more than $2 billion.
SolAero has said its OneWeb contract was to provide solar arrays for 700 of the initial 900 satellites. Production had been scheduled to start in earnest last September on OneWeb’s previous schedule.

12 European space companies appeal to EU Commission, Parliament, Council to approve space regulation

Twelve European space companies appealed to European Union organizations to set aside their differences and approve regulations for the 7-year space budget.
PARIS — The heads of 12 European space-technology companies implored European Union agencies to settle their differences and adopt a legal regime to accompany the EU’s proposed seven-year, 16-billion-euro ($18.3-billion) space budget.
The 12 companies were reacting to the apparent stalemate over the proposed space-program regulation that emerged when the European Commission objected to a deal worked out between the European Parliament and the European Council.
The Commission had declined to accept the agreement, citing what it said were risks that too much power over space affairs would be ceded to entities out the European Union: https://bit.ly/2IGwHSB
The dispute is the latest iteration of an ongoing argument among European institutions over who has what power over the space program now that the European Union — through its executive agency, the Commission — is increasing its space budget.
The dispute is particularly sharp between the Commission and the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA), which beyond having different memberships have different operating procedures with respect to contract awards and program management.
For Europe’s space industry, the worry is the seemingly esoteric disagreement could stall adoption of the seven-year budget until after the European Union elections in late May. A new parliament, and a newly formed Commission, might not share their predecessors’ enthusiasm for space spending.
The 12 companies’ March 6 letter uses diplomatic language and avoids any criticism of the Commission, asking only that all sides settle the issue and move forward.
But by praising the compromise reached between the European Council, now under Romanian direction as part of the six-month rotating presidency, and the European Parliament, the letter is a rebuke to the Commission.
“[T]he common understanding reached last week between the European Parliament and the Romanian Presidency constitutes for our industrial community an important milestone, paving the way for a successful conclusion of the negotiations in the near future,” the letter says.
The letter is signed by the chief executives or space-division heads of Thales Alenia Space, ArianeGroup, Air Liquide, Telespazio, Arianespace, Deimos, Airbus Defence and Space, Terma, GMV, OHB, Sabca and Sener. Here is a copy of the letter:
EU industry letter March 2019

Startup cubesat constellation operator Sky and Space Global solves immediate cash crisis with new funding

The above Sky and Space Global commitments, in Australian dollars, are mainly payments due to GomSpace for construction of the Pearls satellite constellation. Also included is the launch of a first batch of satellites on Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, which is still in development. The cost of subsequent Virgin Orbit launches is not included “due to material project delays by the launch provider,” Sky and Space Global said. Credit: Sky and Space Global
UDATE March 19: Sky and Space Global said its priority offer to shareholders of 3 million Australian dollars ($2.21 million) in shares at 3 Australian cents per share was oversubscribed, and that it will accept the oversubscriptions. The total amount raised will be announced once the funds have cleared, the company said. An earlier placement had raised 12 million Australian dollars. The most immediate priority was to make overdue payments to satellite prime contractor GomSpace.
LONDON — Startup commercial voice, data and M2M satellite constellation operator Sky and Space Global has received the first of two tranches of fresh capital following an equity raise that solves an immediate cash crisis.
The company said it had raised 12 million Australian dollars ($8.5 million) from unidentified “sophisticated and professional investors,” with another 3 million Australian dollars to come from a priority rights offer. The first payment of 7.8 million Australian dollars was received Feb. 22, the company said. The second, of 4.2 million Australian dollars, is scheduled to arrive in April pending shareholder approval of the transaction.
The first order of business was to make a payment of 3.2 million Australian dollars to satellite prime contractor GomSpace of Denmark.
GomSpace, which had stopped work on the planned 200-satellite constellation in late 2018 because of nonpayment of bills, on Feb. 28 confirmed that it had received a Sky and Space Global payment on Feb. 22, without specifying the amount, as the remaining milestone payment due for completion of the critical design review for the Sky and Space constellation of Pearls satellites.
GomSpace did not announce a new schedule for the Pearls deliveries.
In a Feb 26 statement to shareholders, Sky and Space Global said it still expected a first batch of satellites — the company previously had said it would take delivery of 16 spacecraft — in time for a mid-2019 launch on Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.
LauncherOne is a new development and VirginOrbit has not confirmed a date for its first orbital launch beyond saying it was scheduled for this year.
That notwithstanding, Sky and Space Global told shareholders that the latest payment allows “the commencement of the nano-satellites’ assembly and integration phase.”
The company said the assembly schedule was now “on track to launch the first batch of Pearls satellites in mid-2019,” in time to begin generating revenue that, by the end of this year, should reach an annualized volume of 10 million to 12 million Australian dollars from 30 customers.
Sky and Space Global in 2017 contracted with GomSpace for a constellation of around 200 satellites to cost between 57 million and 89 million Australian dollars over four years.
Sky and Space Global said is board of directors, including the chairman and chief executive, invested 710,000 of their own money into the latest funding round, “highlighting their support and confidence in the company.”
Sky and Space Global, whose constellation is licensed by the UK Space Agency and whose shares are traded on the Australian Securities Exchange, had suspended trading in mid-February while negotiating the new financing.
Negotiations for an alternative launch service with the China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) are continuing, with an eye to establishing “broader collaborative projects” in China, Sky and Space Global said.
The company’s auditor, KPMG, on Feb. 26 warned that the new cash was not, by itself, enough to complete the constellation.
“The reliance on the ability of the Company to raise sufficient funds to enable it to successfully launch the Group’s nano-satellites, and to meet its contractual expenditure commitments, represents a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt on the Group’s ability to continue as a going concern.
“Should the Company be unable to continue as a going concern it may be required to realize its assets and extinguish its liabilities other than in the normal course of business and at amounts different to those stated in the financial statements. The interim financial report of the Company does not include any adjustments relating to the recoverability and classification of asset carrying amounts or to the amount and classification of liabilities that might result should the Company be unable to continue as a going concern and meet its debts and liabilities as and when they fall due.”

Russia buys majority of OneWeb Russian JV, removing an obstacle to OneWeb operations in Russia

Dmitry Bakanov, director-general, JSC Satellite System Gonets. Credit: Gonets
PARIS — Russian organizations have purchased a majority share of the OneWeb Russian joint venture, a necessary step in clearing the way for deployment of OneWeb’s satellite broadband service in Russia, the president of a joint-venture partner said.
Dmitry Bakanov, director-general of JSC Satellite System Gonets, said Russian majority ownership of OneWeb operations in Russia, and OneWeb’s decision to purchase 21 Russian Soyuz-Fregat rockets to launch the OneWeb constellation, are strong arguments in favor of allowing OneWeb to operate in Russia.
In an interview with Russia’s Kommersant newspaper published Feb. 25 on the website of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos — https://bit.ly/2IxCJoB — Bakanov agreed that Russia’s Federal Security Bureau still needs to weigh in on whether OneWeb will be allowed to operate in Russia. Gonets operates a low-orbiting satellite system for M2M/IoT applications, and also manages Russia’s Luch data-relay satellites for the Russian government.
The first batch of six OneWeb satellites is scheduled for launch Feb. 27 aboard a Europeanized Russian Soyuz-Fregat, operating from Europe’s spaceport on the northeast coast of South America. The launch is managed by Europe’s Arianespace commercial-launch provider.
Stressing that he did not want to prejudge the outcome of the security discussion, he said only two issues need to be resolved. The first has to do with interference by OneWeb with the operations of Russian geostationary-orbit telecommunications satellites operated by Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) and Gazprom Space Systems.
RSCC officials have said said it expects competition from LEO systems and is not afraid of it as it works to develop its own national satellite-broadband system, called Express-RV, in highly elliptical orbit: https://bit.ly/2Ip1UGo
Gazprom, which is pursuing its own national broadband program with ground network provider Gilat, has said it assumes OneWeb will receive landing rights in Russia: https://bit.ly/2RByetM
The second, and more important, issue, is the ability of Russian authorities to monitor OneWeb traffic in Russia. OneWeb’s first generation of 600-plus low-low-orbiting satellites does not employ inter-satellite communications links, meaning OneWeb requires many ground gateway Earth stations.
“Russia has strict legislation in the field of information security and it’s not so easy to comply with all standards,” Bakanov said. “Therefore, a detailed study is necessary.”

Global mobile satellite services provider Iridium Communications — which does use inter-satellite links — faced the same issues in Russia and ultimately was obliged to install a ground station to satisfy security concerns.
“The share of the Russian side in the joint venture has been brought up to 51%. Information is being exchange between the interested parties to analyze various issues, including security issues and processes related to the first launch of OneWeb satellites are underway,” Bakanov said. “Negotiations are under way about the possibility of Russian capital participating in OneWeb. The final decision will depend on the outcome of each of these components.”

Satellite ground terminal builder Ovzon reports flat revenue, higher losses as it finances its own satellite

Ovzon’s first owned satellite, Ovzon-3, is scheduled for launch in 2021. Credit: Ovzon
PARIS — Swedish mobile satellite ground terminal provider Ovzon AB, which plans to launch its own satellite in 2021, reported a 3.4% increase in revenue in 2018 on stronger terminal sales and a favorable foreign-exchange environment, but deeper losses as it incurred the cost of its satellite and R&D expenses.
Ovzon is transitioning from a company that leases capacity on others’ satellites to one that operates its own spacecraft. The first of these, Ovzon-3, will use an Ovzon-designed on-board processor to provide higher revenue for the company.
Ovzon is spending 1.5 billion Swedish krona ($168 million) to build, launch, finance and insure Ovzon-3, a 500-kilogram satellite under construction at Maxar Technologies’ SSL. The company has said it may seek export-credit financing from Export Development Canada.
A 2021 launch directly into geostationary orbit has been contracted aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. The satellite, an SSL-500 platform, is expected to weigh about 500 kilograms at launch. Ozon-3 was one of the few commercial geostationary-orbit satellite contracts in 2018, a year in which the multi-year slump in geostationary-satellite orders showed now sign of a recovery.
The company concluded a rights offering in January, clearing the path to funding Ovzon 3: https://bit.ly/2S8rfbr
The new shareholder mix is OverHorizon (Cyprus) Plc at 36% of Ovzon equity, Investment AB Oresund (13%), Bure Equity AB (12%), and other shareholders, 39%.
Ovzon, which in May 2018 conducted an IPO on the Nasdaq First North Premier exchange, reported 2018 revenue of 207.9 million Swedish krona ($23.3 million), up slightly from 2017 with help from the higher-value U.S. dollar relative to the krona.
After an operating profit of 24 million krona in 2017, Ovzon swung to an operating loss of 17.5 million krona in 2018. The company said the underlying profitability of its satellite service did not change. The loss was due to “market and innovation initiatives and costs related to procurement of Ovzon-3.”
“Revenues are expected to reman relatively constant, going forward, with existing contracts, until we can offer our customers more capacity on satellites that have sufficient performance to make our service competitive and cover the areas where there is need,” Ovzon Chief Executive Per Wahlberg said in a statement on the 2018 financial results.
Intelsat General Corp., which is Intelsat’s government services arm, continues to be one of Ovzon’s major customers, signing contracts valued at $22.8 million in 2018.
Ovzon said it recently booked its first European customer, an unidentified British company, a milestone that Ovzon said “validates our unique offering on the European market. We expect it to be followed by more orders in the next few years,” Wahlberg said.
Ovzon in 2018 protected its rights to one of the five orbital slots it has registered with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by leasing, for $1.6 million, an in-orbit Eutelsat satellite and stationing it at the Ovzon-reserved location for at least three months. Ovzon said the ITU reservations of its other orbital positions do not expire before 2021.
Ovzon’s story resembles a Ku-band version of the transformation of Viasat Inc. of the United States from a terminal builder into a fully integrated broadband provider.
Viasat grew frustrated that its satellite operator customers were not moving fast enough to provide high-throughput satellites, so it struck out on its own. Ovzon is doing the same, for the mobile communications market, on behalf of its core terminal business.
The company estimates that Ovzon-3, “in the case of an optimized utilization of the satellite,” will generate up to 1 billion krona in annual revenue, “with better margins than the current service.”

Loading