Category: Mobility

Startup SigInt provider Kleos: 2-month Rocket Lab slip will delay early revenue, but liquidity is sufficient

The four-satellite Kleos Scouting Mission. Credit: Kleos Space
PARIS — The inaugural launch of commercial space-based signals intelligence provider Kleos Space has been delayed by launch-service provider Rocket Lab for at least two months, to no earlier than October, but Kleos said its liquidity remains sufficient to carry the company to first revenue.
Luxembourg-headquartered, Australian ASX-traded Kleos said in a statement that it had 2.69 million Australian dollars ($1.9 million) in hand as of June 30 and that it was “fully funded to revenue.”
Kleos had expected to generate revenue starting in August from early-adopter customers, which the company said had booked 3 million Australian dollars in services from the Kleos Scouting Mission of four satellites.
Kleos’s business model is similar to that of Hawkeye 360 of the United States, but without the large domestic market that is the U.S. government. The company’s constellation of low-orbiting satellites — in Kleos’s case, a 20-satellite constellation is planned — scan zones of interest to pick up radio signals.
Maritime domain awareness is a large prospective market, enabling coastal authorities to track vessels that have switched off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders to avoid detection.
These ships will need to emit signals for navigation and other purposes, and these frequencies can be picked up by the Kleos satellites.
U.S.-headquartered, New Zealand-based Rocket Lab completed its seventh mission on Jun 29 and announced it had built its 100th Rutherford Engine and was expanding production in addition to preparing a second spaceport.
Built at Rocket Lab’s Huntington Beach, Calif., facility, seventy of these 3D-printed engines have been flown.  Each Rocket Lab Electron vehicle uses nine engines on its first stage and a modified Rutherford on its second stage.
It was not immediately clear whether Rocket Lab’s entire manifest would shift to the right, with a next launch no earlier than October, or whether the company would substitute the launch with Kleos and other passengers for another mission to occur earlier than that.
In response to inquiries, Rocket Lab said July 22:
“Rocket Lab will still launch a mission in August – details about this mission will be announced this week. The Kleos satellites launch window has been extended to no earlier than October due to production and manifest requirements.”
Kleos Chief Executive Andy Bowyer, referred questions about the reason for the delay to Rocket Lab. He confirmed that the early-adopter revenue will only be delayed. “No impact on early adopter contracts themselves,” he said, adding: “Our satellites are boxed and ready to go.”
Kleos, in its statement, said:
“Due to Rocket Lab’s manifest requirements and their evolving production schedule, Kleos’s next available launch opportunity has been extended beyond our contractual launch period ending August 2019, to October 2019. We have been advised that Rocket Lab is doing everything possible to minimize schedule movements and launch the Kleos satellites as quickly as possible.
“Launchers are exceptionally complex and often prone to delays.”
The Kleos statement included a brief comment by Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck: “We look forward to launching Kleos satellites in the coming months as we continue to increase our launch cadence.” 
It was also unclear whether the Rocket Lab contract with Kleos and other customers includes liquidated damages to be paid to customers for launches occurring beyond the contractually designated schedule.
Credit: Kleos Space
In a statement, Bowyer said the company will use the additional time to “expand the number of customer contracts secured, continue to develop our data products and rapidly progress  our 2nd-generation satellites, [to be] focused on delivering enhanced coverage of the Earth closer to the equator, increasing our revenues and our customer base.”
The first four 8-kilogram Kleos satellites are built by GomSpace A/S of Denmark and Sweden under a contract valued at 2.34 million euros ($2.63 million).
Kleos in June received a 1-million-euro grant from the Luxembourg Space Agency, bringing to 2.96 million euros the Luxembourg government’s total funding to date.
Kleos recently announced an agreement with L3 Harris Corp. to put Kleos data on the list of services available for contracts by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

C-Band Alliance promises ‘significant, voluntary’ payment to US Treasury if FCC OKs auction, rejects other satellite companies’ claims

Peter Pitsch, C-Band Alliance. Credit: U.S. House of Representatives video
PARIS — Bending to pressure, the C-Band Alliance (CBA) of four satellite operators doing business in the United States agreed to donate to the U.S. Treasury an unspecified amount of the proceeds from their proposed spectrum auction.
In July 16 testimony to the U.S. House Energy subcommittee on communications and technology, CBA’s Executive Vice President for Advocacy and Government Relations, Peter Pitsch, committed to a “significant, voluntary contribution” to the U.S. general treasury.
Pitsch said the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which the CBA says will oversee the proposed auction of 180 MHz of C-band spectrum, could make such a future payment a condition of approving the auction.
Beyond saying that CBA believes it is legal for private parties to make unsolicited donations to the U.S. Treasury, Pitsch did not disclose how CBA would calculate the proposed payment.
Industry estimates are that the auction could yield gross revenue of between $10 billion and $30 billion.
The prospect of the four operators, none of them U.S.-headquartered, reaping billions in revenue from 5G terrestrial network providers through an auction of 180 MHz of U.S.-controlled spectrum has been cited as key CBA flaw by opponents of the plan. The CBA members are Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat.
Asked to amplify on Pitsch’s remarks, the CBA on July 18 said:
“We are willing to discuss a contribution with the appropriate government authorities at the right time. Upon acceptance of the material components of our proposal, we would address the economic aspects of a contribution. As we said before, we will not let a resolvable issue get in the way of moving forward with our proposal.”
The CBA offer removes, in principle, the taxpayer-compensation issue as a weapon used by many of its opponents since the four operators first proposed a privately managed auction as a way to cede spectrum needed for 5G rollout while protecting current satellite C-band users.
CBA has also made written commitments to owners of receive-only C-band satellite Earth stations saying the costs of relocating or modifying their facilities would be borne by the CBA.
In his testimony, Pitsch reiterated a principal CBA argument, that the proposed auction would be the quickest, easiest way to make mid-band spectrum into the hands of 5G networks. Spectrum could be cleared within 36 months of an FCC decision, with the first 60 MHz available in major markets within 18 months.
The FCC has said transaction speed has a high value in assessing proposed spectrum-clearing auction methods.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said the commission is likely to decide the issue in the autumn.
Compensation for ‘prior investment and opportunity costs’
In his July 16 testimony, Pitsch said the auction’s proceeds would allow CBA members to “secure compensation for their prior investment and opportunity costs, in addition to compensation for their reconfiguration and relocation costs, based on objective and verifiable measures such as 2017 C-band satellite service revenues.”
Two of the four CBA members, Intelsat and SES, account for some 92% of the current C-band satellite business in the continental United States. Eutelsat and Telesat Canada divide the rest.
But despite their minority position, Eutelsat and Telesat are indispensable to CBA, which must present a united front to the FCC because each of the operators has rights to the entire 500 MHz of C-band spectrum now reserved for satellite services.
Should even the smallest CBA member choose to quit the alliance, the prospect of a “holdout” would immensely complicate CBA’s life.
That would suggest that CBA, which has never disclosed how it would divide the proceeds among the four members beyond a pro rata distribution based on past revenue, may need to further incentivize Telesat and Eutelsat.
Asked whether these companies’ “prior investment and opportunity costs” mean Telesat and Eutelsat will get a higher percentage share of the proceeds than their past revenue would warrant, CBA said in its July 18 response to questions:
“The CBA not disclosed that [the split among the four members]. First we need an FCC decision. Then, we need an auction. We can’t anticipate the results now. We are discussing our proposal with the FCC, and there are still many moving parts. What is certain is that under our proposal to clear 200 out of 500 MHz, 40% of the satellite capacity becomes unusable.
“We have said the investment in realizing our proposal — developing filters, testing, labs, logistics, installations, the order and launch of new satellites – all this will amount to up to $2 billion. Then there is the acquisition cost at the time when we bought the U.S. entities that were holding the US licenses — in case of SES it was [GE] Americom, for which we paid billions. As far as incentivizing small market share members is concerned, let’s be clear about who that would be: The four satellite operators servicing the U.S. with C-band are in the CBA.”
The Small Satellite Operators group rejects the C-Band Coalition’s metric — 2017 U.S. C-band revenue — in favor of a model that accounts for potential future revenue impact of the loss of spectrum rights. Under this model, operators with aging fleets would suffer less than those that have incurred more-recent capex. Credit: Small Satellite Operators FCC filing
Four other satellite operators have received licenses to operate C-band satellites in the U.S. market — ABS, Empresa Argentina, Hispasat and Embratel Star One.
Acting together under the Small Satellite Operators (SSO) in FCC filings, these companies have said that the same “opportunity costs” that CBA proposes to include in distributing the proceeds among CBA members should extend to them as well.
The Small Satellite Operators argument, made as recently as July 3 to the FCC, is that past revenue cannot be used as a measure to apportion harm. Instead, they use some of CBA’s own reasoning to argue that it’s the loss of future spectrum rights, and not past revenue, that counts.
“In no way to a satellite operator’s spectrum rights depend on the amount of its past revenue,” the SSO members said in an FCC filing. “All eight [satellite operators] will suffer the loss of spectrum access.”
The SSO said all of its members “had plans to market or were actively marketing services using C-band spectrum in the United States,” but concedes that under its argument this should not matter much.
The left side is the distribution of proceeds to satellite operators under the C-Band Coalition proposal. On the right, the Small Satellite Operators’ proposed distribution, based on each operator’s active C-band satellite capacity and the age of each satellite. Credit: Small Satellite Operators FCC filing
The SSO group wants its four members to share in the proceeds as part of what it calls a Distribution and Scoring Model. Here’s how it would work:
Gross auction proceeds would first be used to compensate Earth station operators for their costs, plus a fixed incentive to get them to act quickly.
Then the U.S. Treasury would get its cut, a fixed percentage of the remaining proceeds.
The satellite operators would take their share from the remaining portion.
One-third of the proceeds would be equally distributed among all eight satellite operators with valid U.S. FCC C-band operating licenses.
The remaining two-thirds would be allocated to the eight operators as a function of the age and number of satellites that each of them has in service. The older the satellite — the nearer it is to retirement — the less compensation would be paid.
The SSO group says 62 C-band satellites are in operation with U.S. coverage.
In a July 18 FCC filing, CBA dismissed the SSO argument, principally because its members have no C-band business in the United States and therefore nothing to lose.
Moreover, CBA said the SSO group’s satellites’ beams in many cases do not reach the continental United States, and others have extreme look angles that make services “highly impracticable.”
“It is hardly surprising that the SSOs have been unable to obtain a single U.S. customer or earn a single cent of U.S. revenue despite having held U.S. market access authorizations for years — and in one case, over a decade,” CBA said.

Britain to join US Stratcom space initiative, launch US-UK military smallsat constellation, book Virgin Orbit launches

Penny Mordaunt, British secretary of state for defence. Credit: Gov.UK
UPDATE July 19: Virgin Orbit said it will provide, pending U.S. government approval, rapid-response launch services to Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) as part of a multilateral program with U.S. Strategic Command and other nations, with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) providing satellites for an initial constellation.
Virgin Orbit’s launch system, featuring a converted Boeing 747-400 aircraft carrying a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket released at 35,000 feet with satellite payloads of 300 kilograms, uses U.S. rocket technology and is thus subject to ITAR technology-transfer regulations.
The UK government has been encouraging, with a limited amount of funds, development of a domestic space-launch capability. Several companies, including Orbex, Lockheed Martin and Skyrora, are designing launch services to operate from British soil. Whether they will be part of the RAF’s Artemis program, which includes Canada and Australia in addition to the United States, is unclear.
Virgin Orbit said the first Artemis launch could come as early as 2020 and that the program requires the company to arrange launches with “as little as a week’s notice prior to the desired takeoff.” The company said it expects to be launching other Artemis member nations’ satellites as well.
“It’s not sufficient to launch to just any orbit; we need to place the satellite into the orbit where it’s needed,” Air Vice-Marshal “Rocky” Rochelle, the RAF’s chief of staff, said in a July 19 statement.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne vehicle is currently scheduled to make its inaugural orbital flight this year.
PARIS — The British Defence Ministry will be the first U.S. ally to join U.S. Strategic Command’s Operation Olympic Defender space-policy cooperative and, in a separate decision, will invest 30 million British pounds ($37.3 million) into a British-American constellation of small military satellites to launch within a year.
The announcements, made on July 18 by UK Defence Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt, were coupled with a decision to transform the Defence Ministry’s Joint Forces Command into a Strategic Command to encourage the defense sector to think more broadly about defense issues. She said the ministry would be working to send a Royal Air Force test pilot to join Virgin Orbit, a commercial company using a converted jet aircraft to carry a small rocket into low Earth orbit to launch satellites. The idea, she said, is to show that “if you join our RAF, you join a service where you can become an aviator or an astronaut.”
Mordaunt’s address came just days after French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he endorsed the recommendations of his defense minister, Florence Parly, to put France’s military space effort on a more active footing in the face of threats to French military space assets:
She echoed some of the themes that Parly has used to justify investment in space situational awareness and defense of orbiting satellites.
“China has tested hit-to-kill interceptor missiles, increasing deadly debris and threatening every sovereign space enterprise,” Mordaunt said in a speech to the Air and Space Power Conference 2019. “Russia is conducting sophisticated on-orbit activities, developing missile interceptors to threaten satellites and electronic warfare systems to jam satellite signals. And non-state actors and cyber hackers have the potential to scramble satellite data and manipulate earth observation data to gain advantage.”
Mordaunt said the UK’s participation in Operation Olympic Defender will be part of “an international coalition to strengthen deterrence against hostile actors in space and prevent the spread of space debris in orbit.”
She said that by early 2021 the UK will send eight people to the U.S. Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The smallsat constellation will be developed by a U.S.-UK team of defense officials as part of “research into the wider military uses of small satellites,” Mordaunt said. She did not disclose the constellation’s specific mission, to be managed by an organization founded by the Royal Air Force and named Team Artemis.
“Given the vastness of the challenge, this might seem a relatively small-scale initiative. But effectively we’re planting the acorns from which the future oaks will grow. Critically, British industry is already a world leader in these innovative technologies.”
The British private sector was a pioneer in the development of small satellite technologies for both government and commercial use.
In 2018, the UK government invested 4.5 million pounds into the 100-kilogram Carbonite 2 optical and video imaging satellite, built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) and launched in 2018.
Mordaunt said one Surrey-based company is making 40% of the world’s small satellites, an assertion that may be exaggerated but does suggest the Defence Ministry’s realization that it has a domestic capacity and should set about using it more often.
“All our military personnel fight with weapon systems, but also the civilian structures, organizations and infrastructure we give them,” Mordaunt said.
“All of this — all of it — is the product of a previous generation’s political thinking. So it’s not just helpful if the thinking is clear, joined up and farsighted. Young lives are depending on it, so the thinking meter be more than good. It better be bloody brilliant.”

Galileo agency chief says system will emerge from 7-day outage as stronger system; still no word on root cause

Carlo des Dorides, executive director, GSA. Credit: GSA
UPDATE July 19: The executive director of the GSA, the agency managing the European Commission-owned Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network, on July 19 issued his first statement on the seven-day global outage the ended July 18.
GSA Executive Director Carlo des Dorides promised to deliver a detailed explanation of what happened once GSA collects “all the technical elements and [implements] all necessary actions.” An independent board of inquiry is being formed.
Here are excerpts from his statement:
“The technical incident originated in the Galileo ground infrastructure equipment, affecting 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.
“A team composed of GSA experts, industry, ESA and the Commission worked together 24/7 to address the incident, and Galileo Initial Services have now been restored. In particular, the dedication and work of our industrial partners has helped to achieve this result.
“Commercial users can already see signs of recovery of the Galileo navigation and timing services, although some fluctuations may be experienced until further notice.
“The team is monitoring the quality of Galileo services to restore the Galileo timing and navigation services to their nominal levels. As soon as we gather all the technical elements and implement all necessary actions, we will provide more detailed information through our NAGU (Notice Advisory to Galileo Users) notifications to users.
“The Galileo system has grown stronger as a result of this experience, and we will continue to deliver Initial Services until full operational capability is declared. These challenging days have shown us how much you, the GNSS user community and stakeholders, rely on Galileo and how much you trust the Galileo system to deliver the services to support growth, business and sustainability. Europe and the world need a strong civil global satellite navigation system today more than ever.”
UPDATE July 18: Service from Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation network have been restored, GSA announced July 18, although it warned users to expect “some fluctuations until further notice.”
The agency said the outage, which began July 11 and affected Galileo services worldwide except for the Search-and-Rescue function, was caused by “an equipment malfunction in the Galileo control centers that calculate time and orbit predictions, and which are used to compute the navigation message. The malfunction affected different elements on both centers.”
An independent board of inquiry will be established to invested the root causes of what GSA conceded was a “major incident.”
PARIS — A general outage of Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network has been out of service, except for search-and-rescue functions, since late July 11 due to an undefined ground-infrastructure issue continued into midday July 15 with no indication of when it will return to service.
The problem was first notified to Galileo users in a NAGU — Note of Advisory to Galileo Users — late on July 11, with updates on July 13 and 14h.
The Prague-based GSA, which manages the system on behalf of the 28-nation European Union, said an Anomaly Review Board had been created with experts from GSA, The 22-nation European Space Agency, the European Commission and industry, had been created to assess the problem and restore service “as soon as possible,” GSA said in a July 15 statement.
Galileo ground segment. Credit: ESA
GSA sought to minimize the import of the shutdown, saying the Galileo network remains in its “Initial Services” phase, which began December 2016 and is scheduled to lead to full operational service in 2020.
“During this initial ‘pilot’ phase preceding the ‘Full Operational Services’ phase, Galileo signals are used in combination with other satellite navigation systems, which allows for the detection of technical issues before the system becomes fully operational,” GSA said. “It is precisely to cater for such initial technical incidents that the EU is rolling out Galileo progressively.”
The GSA said that part of the transition from Initial Services to full operations in 2020 is the reinforcement of redundancy. Galileo currently has two main control centers, in Germany and Italy, each of which can act solo in the event of a problem with the other.
The GSA did not say whether a specific system component, which currently has no backup, was responsible for the current outage. It did say the problem will have “no cost impact, as maintenance contracts of the Galileo system currently cover such events.”
The Galileo constellation now counts 26 satellites in orbit, with additional spacecraft to launch in 2020. With full operational status reached then, Galileo should be able to be used independently of GPS, China’s Beidou or Russia’s Glonass constellations.

Maxar starts work on Ovzon-3, a novel, 500-kg GEO design for a new satellite operator

Ovzon has ordered an SSL-500 satellite platform, designed to carry up to 250 kilograms of payload for communications missions for a 500-kilogram launch mass.
PARIS — Commercial geostationary-orbit satellite orders are rare enough these days, and startup Swedish satellite operator Ovzon AB’s order with Maxar Technologies is even rarer — a 500-kilogram spacecraft for mobile, mainly government, communications to mobile terminals.
Maxar is using its Legion satellite frame, designed for Maxar’s next-generation optical imaging satellites in low Earth orbit, and borrowing elements from its venerable 1300 geostationary satellite design for the Ovzon-3 satellite.
Maxar announced July 12 that work on the satellite had begun following the latest financial raise by Ovzon. The satellite is scheduled for launch in 2021 aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. It will include an Ovzon-designed digital signal processor.
The use of a Falcon Heavy to launch a single 500-kilogram satellite sounds like overkill. But Ovzon has said the choice made to assure direct injection into the geostationary arc rather than at a more-common drop-off point in geostationary-transfer orbit.
Ovzon has said it has already had bookings totaling $65 million for Ovzon-3, including a three-year contract with Intelsat valued at $56 million. Ovzon is leasing capacity Intelsat’s IS-39 satellite, scheduled for launch this summer aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket.
The Ovzon financing that set in motion the Maxar contract — which was signed in December 2018 — includes a loan from Proventus Capital Partners. Ovzon completed a rights offering in January for 750 million Swedish krona ($79 million)  and a senior secured six-year loan for $60 million and a subordinated loan of 200 million krona.
The Ovzon order was a vote of confidence in Maxar, which had openly speculated whether to close or sell its telecommunications satellite business given the decline in that market. Maxar has since decided to reorganize the business.
How much of a market there is for small geostationary satellites is unclear. Several companies have expressed interest in building or buying such spacecraft to fill in capacity at a given orbital slot without having to commit $200 million or more for a standard-size geostationary satellite.
“We chose Maxar to build Ovzon 3 because they have a strong reputation of delivering world-class, reliable products backed by industry leading customer service and manufacturing agility,” Ovzon Chief Executive Magnus Rene said in a July 12 statement. “Ovzon 3 is an important first step towards fulfilling our strategy to further revolutionize mobile broadband by satellite, offering the highest bandwidth with the smallest terminals.”

Indonesia, unable to find gapfiller Ku-band HTS satellite, seeks extension of regulatory deadline

Indonesia’s PT Palapa Satelit Nusa Sejahtara and China Great Wall Industry Corp. signed the $220-million Palapan-N1 in-orbit delivery contract in May 2017, but it did not enter into force until October of that year. Credit: CCTV
PARIS — Indonesia’s May 2017 contract signing ceremony with China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) for the Palapa-N1 Ku-band high-throughput satellite was always going to be a close call with respect to the satellite’s regulatory in-service deadline of August 2019.
Given the five-month delay between the ceremony and the $220-million contract’s effective start date on Oct. 20, 2017, that became mission impossible.  The contract calls for CGWIC to deliver Palapa-N1 into orbit by early June 2020.
Indonesia’s PT Palapa Satelit Nusa Sejahtera, the company signing the contract, knew it needed to find an in-orbit satellite using the same Ku-band HTS frequencies as those reserved for the Palapa-N1 to keep the reservation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
A gapfiller satellite was necessary because even though Indonesia’s Palapa D now occupies the 113 degrees east orbital location planned for Palapa N1, it does not cover all the Ku-band capacity reserved for the new satellite and its HTS capacity.
Indonesia estimated that there are the equivalent of seven transponders of capacity that would be abandoned if it could not find a temporary replacement to add to Palapa D at the 113-degree slot.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Informatics had reserved the Palapa-N1 slot with the ITU in August 2012 under the name Palapa-C1-B. Under the standard ITU rules, that meant the frequencies reserved had to be put into use within seven years, or August 2019.
The remaining frequencies in the reservation would be secured by Palapa-D, whose anticipated retirement date is July 2020.
Indonesia in recent years has become one of the world’s most active nations in terms of satellite use and the dynamism of its domestic satellite market. With a population of 250 million spread over 17,500 islands, it is a satellite service provider’s dream come true. Multiple fleet operators are active in the country.
But finding a suitable in-orbit satellite proved difficult. “Given that only a few satellites are equipped with the frequency band of interest, it has not been possible to identify a suitable satellite,” the Indonesian ministry said in a statement to the ITU.
With the deadline fast approaching, the ministry is now asking the ITU for a deadline extension, to July 2020.
Indonesian authorities have not sought to hide behind smokescreens such as “force majeure” or alleging military use for Palapa-N1 to explain why the country will miss its deadline by nearly a year. The reason was simply “the difficulty [in finding] financing,” the ministry said.
The CGWIC contract includes an offer of financing in addition to the satellite’s construction and launch and a portion of the ground segment.
In defense of its request, the ministry is asking the ITU to take account of Indonesia’s status as a developing country.
This stands every chance of obtaining the extension. The ITU’s Resolution 80, which is now being reviewed for possible modification, deals with applying due diligence to the ITU’s Convention and says:
“[C]onditions could be specified under which extensions might be granted on an exceptional basis to developing countries when they are not able to complete the regulatory date requirements, so that sufficient time for design, construction and launch of satellite systems is made available….
“[The conditions created under the previous paragraph should be included in the Radio Regulations as provisions that would allow the Radiocommunication Bureau to grant the extension.”

FCC proposes order to streamline, cut cost of smallsat licenses; requires propulsion above 600 km

Credit: AGI
PARIS — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relaxed its proposed rules relating to on-board propulsion for small satellites and the minimum satellite size eligible for a lower-cost regulatory procedure in response to industry requests.
The agency has also extended, to six years, the license duration for the streamlined procedure.
The FCC expects to vote on its new regulation, “Streamlining Licensing Procedures for Small Satellites,” on Aug. 1.
A proposed order on the new regulations, more than a year in the making, was published July 11:
In most respects, it confirms the FCC’s earlier definition of what satellites will be eligible for the streamlined procedures, where the license fee for a constellation of a maximum of 10 satellites will be $30,000 instead of $471,575 now, plus annual regulatory fees of $122,775 for fiscal-year 2018:
Eligible applications for the streamlined regime:
— Constellations of 10 satellites or fewer.
— Satellites with a launch mass of 180 kilograms or less.
— Satellite systems that have provided certified orbital debris risk mitigation procedures.
— Operators must agree to operate on a non-interference basis with satellites already in service, and to accommodate future users in their spectrum.
But there are three major changes in the proposed order compared to the original notice issued in April 2018.
The six-year license
The first modification will extend the license duration from five years to six years, including the mandatory deorbit phase, to give smallsat operators more time. In another concession to the smallsat sector, the FCC said the six-year time clock starts only when the satellites are in their intended orbit and have begun functioning.
The agency said operators had been concerned that the FCC’s earlier proposal would mean a satellite dropped into its operational orbit but unable to function would seem the six-year countdown.
For streamlined licensing, only not-too-smallsats
The second modification relates to the size of the satellites eligible for the streamlined licensing process. The FCC had earlier wanted to set a limit at a 1U cubesat — 10cm x 10cm x 10cm.
The proposed order modifies that, so that only spacecraft measuring more than at least 10cm at their smallest dimension will be eligible for the expedited licensing regime.
Satellites would also be required to carry a telemetry marker so that ground teams are able to distinguish it from other satellites.
The FCC says the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18 SPCS), which handles satellite tracking, can track 1U cubesats and that this is the reference the agency used to set a limit on minimum satellite size.
Some smallsat operator groups had argued that the agency would set rules on traceability without specifying a given satellite size.
The agency responded that very small satellites and spacecraft that in other ways do not qualify for the streamlined licensing procedure can always use the standard Part 25 licensing regime.
Allowing PocketQubes and other very small satellite designs would require more FCC review, which would defeat the point of the streamlined procedure, the FCC said.
The agency said it will deal with the question of whether all satellites should carry markers to enable them to be identified as part of the agency’s ongoing orbital debris regulatory update.
Credit: ESA
A propulsion requirement above 600 km, not the 400-km ISS orbit
The third modification to its earlier proposal has to do with which satellites should be forced to carry on-board propulsion to avoid collisions with other satellites or with debris, and to assure non-interference with astronaut-carrying vessels including the International Space Station and the vehicles serving it.
The ISS operates at 400 kilometers, which is where the FCC set its earlier propulsion requirement.
The proposed order raises that ceiling to 600 km to provide flexibility for operators. The FCC said a satellite can be expected to re-enter the atmosphere passively, by the force of atmospheric drag, within six years.
Some companies had argued that the advance of non-propulsive technologies enables satellites to be deorbited just as reliably without propulsion. Here too, the FCC acknowledged the point but said those technologies would be subject to the usual Part 25 regulations to enable the agency to study them in detail.
Applicants in any event must describe, in detail, their collision-avoidance strategy as a condition of getting a license.
Satellite operators SpaceX, Iridium and SES/O3b voiced concerns that too many small satellites would be transiting through the 400-kilometer orbit, on the way up and down, and that the orbital-debris risk would be high.
The agency did not disagree, but said that this is another concern that is best addressed by the orbital debris regulation it is preparing.

Australian S-band IoT startup Sirion Global, 0 for 2 in satellite launches, asks regulators for more time

Credit: Sirion Global
PARIS — The Australian government, acting on behalf of S-band satellite-IoT startup Sirion Global Pty Ltd., is asking international regulators to give Sirion nearly two years more time to start its service despite the fact that the regulatory deadline lapsed in April.
The Australia Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) wants International Telecommunication Union (ITU) regulators to view Sirion’s multiple mishaps — a launch failure in 2017 and satellite in-orbit hiccups since December — as a “force majeure” issue that usually receives deadline extensions.
The ITU has by now become accustomed to imaginative interpretations of what “force majeure” covers. Its Radio Regulations Board (RRB) will take up the Sirion Global/ACMA request at its July 15-19 meeting.
The Sirion Global story goes back many years and includes an attempt by the company to purchase and make us of an otherwise unused medium-Earth-orbit satellite called ICO F2, which is among the several S-band satellite-terrestrial mobile communications projects that was abandoned.
Iin April 2012, Sirion and ACMA filed their reservation for a constellation of satellites using the 2-GHz slice of spectrum with the ITU. That set in motion the usual seven-year ITU countdown to the bringing-into-use deadline of April 2019.
Sirion’s remote terminal units are targeting livestock tracking as an early market. Here is a diagram of a proposed ear tag. Credit: Sirion
The Sirion Pathfinder 1 satellite was launched in November 2017 aboard a Russian Soyuz 2.1B rocket as part of a ride-share mission with a Russian meteorological satellite as the main passenger.
The rocket failed and all the payloads were lost and Sirion ultimately received a $1 million insurance payout.
As a precaution, Sirion had asked U.S. smallsat builder Astro Digital U.S. Inc. to build a Sirion Pathfinder 2 cubesat. This one faced multiple launch delays and ultimately settled on the Spaceflight Inc. SSO-A ride-share mission aboard a SpaceX Faclon rocket.
This launch was successful, but Sirion Pathfinder 2 has encountered so many  on-board issues that, six months later, it has not been able to raise its orbit to the operating altitude or broadcast sufficiently — 90 days is the rule — to satisfy the ITU “bringing into use” requirements.
“As a result, there have been major delays in various post-commissioning activities, including switching on the payload,” ACMA said in a statement to the ITU. “The anomalies… include excessive momentum buildup on all axes, software anomalies in the main bus computer operating system, I2C (a communication standard currently under study for utilization on board spacecraft), communications bus latch ups and smart solar panel lock ups.”
The I2C latch ups are caused by timing errors on the I2C communications bus that control the satellite’s magnetometers and sun sensors, resulting in the loss of attitude control.
Software patches and hardware-anomaly workarounds so far have not produced the desired results and “it remains unclear whether it will be possible to use the satellites to complete bringing into use,” ACMA said.
ACMA provided a letter from Astro Digital Chief Executive Chris Biddy detailing the various issues. Biddy said that while efforts continue to correct the problems and to raise the satellite’s orbit to its operational altitude of 650 kilometers — it’s now at about 585 kilometers with a 97-degree inclination — “it is unknown if and when that will happen.”
ACMA and Sirion are asking for a two-year extension, to April 2021, to build and launch a replacement satellite.
One of Sirion’s sponsors is Australia’s International Livestock Resource and Information Center (ILRIC), which is interested in Sirion’s remote terminal units, designed to be small and autonomous enough to be used as animal tags.

Noosphere Ventures: Firefly’s launch vehicle, then data analytics, then satellite production, then …

Max Polyakov. Credit: Noosphere Ventures
PARIS — Noosphere Ventures has invested more than $100 million in startup small-satellite launch vehicle Firefly Aerospace and lesser amounts in Earth observation data analytics platform EOS DA and Space Electric Thruster Systems (SETS).
Based in Silicon Valley with roots in Ukraine, Noosphere also has a satellite production company and, in Dnipro, Ukraine, an R&D facility equipped with 3D printers to test satellite components. But the company has been reluctant to say what satellites the facility is designing.
Where is all this going? Noosphere Managing Partner Max Polyakov says he has an integrated vision for a space company that builds satellites, launches them and provides downstream services. Noosphere is now looking at a half-dozen distressed assets for possible investment.
What is happening at your R&D center in Dnipro? What missions will use the satellite and rocket hardware being made there?
For our rockets, flight components are produced in the US.  Almost 100% of the rocket is built in the U.S.
The Ukrainian activity is mainly R&D. The facility designs turbo pumps and valves and so on to make use of some of the experience from the Soviet Union, but with new materials and new technologies. None of them are Russian now, they are European and American design techniques for 3D printing.
Then they stress test the components and the designs are moved to the U.S. and the U.S. team does the full production, either in house or outsourcing to other companies. Then it all comes together in Texas. So there is no production at the R&D center.
What we are trying is a third way of acting between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. U.S. dollars paid for a lot of work being done in Russia since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Whatever we produce in Ukraine becomes American IP.
Who’s IP is behind Firefly — it is Firefly’s?
Yes. I run an American corporate venture fund, which invested into Firefly, and then Firefly U.S. has a subsidiary, called Firefly Ukraine, 100% US owned. It is registered in the Ukraine but there is a security perimeter around the two.
What is the R&D center doing with satellite components?
Noosphere, the name of the venture fund, invests in around 10 companies. I have a kind of integrated vision with launchers, spaceports and satellites in addition to our data-analytics company.
But we also want to provide imagery in addition to our own analytics on top of that.
So we’ll have two classes of satellites, optical and radar, and a third will be high resolution. Some components for these designs are built by Firefly’s sister company to produce stuff for our satellite company, which is fully owned by Noosphere.
What satellite company is this? What’s its name?
We’re not talking much about it as this company is still in stealth mode. But we are at an advanced stage.
Ukraine has a new president. Do you see any changes in how you do business?
As a U.S. company we will be fine, we see no issues. Our revenue from Ukraine is very small. We are a valuable asset for the Ukrainian government, and cooperation with the U.S. is good for Ukraine — I feel very strongly about that. I am hopeful the new government will want to start more international projects.
Back to Firefly. It’s behind its announced schedule, as startup launch providers usually are. Are you happy with your investment, two years after you made it?
First of all, we are pushing hard to launch in December this year. Our fund put in a bit more than $100 million into the company. It’s our largest investment so far.
In my career I have done public placements, exits to Oracle, to Blackstone and private equity. I think I know how to invest. Yes, I am definitely happy. We already have a couple of strategic partners. We have sold launch services. Firefly is becoming a real player. And I have a personal interest to the extent that my father was in rocket avionics at [Russian space hardware contractor] Energia.
Also, for the U.S. government, our rocket is ideal. The first Firefly is light class, the second is medium class.
When we bought Firefly we undertook a series of design changes to the vehicle and now we have Firefly Alpha, 1,000 kilograms to LEO. It’s a simple design, low-cost and easy to mass produce.
We cannot get government customers lined up yet but I believe the government will get more interested in LEO. A vehicle that can deliver our class of launches will be a good choice.
So the fact that launch vehicles aren’t known for making money is not a worry for you?
We don’t look at it like that. Firefly is part of an integrated vision we have. Launch vehicles are critical to the growth of the global space industry. We have seen how Elon Musk and his development of SpaceX has occurred, and then his more recent communications constellation.
Credit: Noosphere Ventures
Some companies have horizontal integration as their vision. My vision is vertical integration. If I am correct, 30% of Firefly sales ultimately will be internal, to sister companies. Another 30-40% will be government and the rest will be commercial because we are inexpensive. So we’ll have three legs.
How is your data analytics company, EOS DA, doing?
It is doing well. Our model is not to become experts in oil and gas, transportation and other verticals. We sell data to the experts in these fields — insurance companies, hedge funds, chemical companies. We give them access to our platform and then they use it as part of their existing product line.
What is your relationship with Skyrora, the UK-based launch startup?
I know them well. Scotland is a good point to launch and British space is going in interesting directions.
Did you go through a CFIUS [the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] review to purchase Firefly?
We bought it out of bankruptcy, so technically we did not go through CFIUS. But we did going through a regulatory review.
You mean like a Blue Lantern review at the U.S. State Department?
Yes, and we became U.S. export controls compliant through this procedure and the receipt of a U.S. State Department authorization.
In a year or two, the half-dozen or so US launch startups will be battling for US government business and one of your competitors is going to paint Firefly as Ukrainian. How do you defend against that?
Well, Elon Musk is from South Africa, OK? Second, I have lived for years in the U.S. and I have a green card and will get a passport. Find other people willing to invest $100 million in a US launch startup. Over the past 18 years, with some multi-hundred-million-dollar exits we have done, you do get people who will dislike you. So we are ready for this.
What are you looking at in future space investments? There are companies in the US, Canada and Europe that might have interesting products, but are likely not going to survive. Do any of them interest you?
There is a consolidation coming. It is similar to early internet companies. In the space industry, we have already checked about 20 companies that are in stressed positions, and we are speaking with five or so.
But we don’t want to do small transactions. There are two classes of distressed companies. One is a class of companies that have been around for years in satellites, in data analytics. They may be the most interesting to us because they have good customer relations.
Then there is the new wave companies, which have been created in the last five years with the space bubble. They are less interesting because I don’t see much there.
Are there any sectors of particular interest to you?
We are not in human space flight. But communications, observation, AIS, there are multiple possibilities. Space companies take time and we are ready to be patient with our investment.
So you don’t have the usual five- to seven-year exit horizon in our fund?
Absolutely not.

Space Norway orders 2 Northrop Grumman satellites with USAF & Inmarsat as customers; SpaceX launch in 2022

Two Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems Geostar-3 satellites, just 2,000 kg at launch and with 6 kW of power, will be launched for Space Norway on a single SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2022. Credit: Space Norway
PARIS — Space Norway has concluded contracts with the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, the U.S. Air Force and commercial mobile satellite communications provider Inmarsat to fly three payloads on each of two satellites to be launched into highly elliptical orbit on a single SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2022.
The partners include Northrop Grumman, which is under U.S. Air Force contract to build two modified Advanced-EHF payloads and, under a separate contract, will provide the satellite platforms.
Each satellite, a Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems GeoStar-3, is expected to weigh some 2,000 kilograms at launch and to provide 6 kW of power for 15 years’ in-orbit life to provide Arctic communications.
Space Norway will be selling capacity from its X-band payload to other NATO governments and has said it’s in talks with Britain, Canada, France and Germany.
The U.S. Air Force will integrate its Space Norway EHF payloads into the AEHF satellite constellation in geostationary orbit. This is apparently the first time that an operational U.S. military payload will fly on a commercial satellite.
London-based Inmarsat will lease the Ka-band payload — both military and commercial Ka-band — to add to its Global Xpress constellation in geostationary orbit to provide Arctic coverage for maritime and aeronautical users, including commercial aircraft at the edge of the Arctic, to provide them with a higher elevation angle than is possible from geostationary-orbit spacecraft.
The government of Norway has agreed to invest some $101 million into the project now that Space Norway has confirmed, with the U.S. military and Inmarsat commitments, the financial viability of the project, which will be managed by a subsidiary, called Space Norway Heosat AS.
Kjell-Ove Orderud Skare, the program’s manager at Space Norway, said the three customers’ payloads fill up the available space on the GEOStar-3, “which is key to making this a cost-effective solution.”
“We look forward to providing the world’s first and only mobile broadband service in the Arctic region, something which has long been an important objective for the Norwegian authorities.”
The satellites’ highly ellipitcal orbit means they spend little time at the South Pole but linger for 12-plus hours each over the North Pole. Credit: Space Norway
And not just Norwegian. The U.S. and Canadian militaries for years have tried to structure a system that would serve the relatively modest, but strategically important, bandwidth requirements in the Arctic but have come up short.
It took Space Norway Heosat, created in 2018, to close the business case by assembling Norwegian and U.S. military demand, plus Inmarsat’s commercial ambition.
Even with the U.S. Air Force as a customer, the Norwegian government had withheld its promised financial support until the business case was firmly closed. That happened with the arrival of Inmarsat.
The confirmation of the Space Norway Heosat program could remove one sales argument used by backers of proposed constellations of low-orbiting broadband satellites, almost all of which view government business as a key customer set.
Inmarsat designed the Ka-band payload on the Space Norway satellites using some of the same specifications used for the next-generation Inmarsat 7,8 and 9 Global Xpress spacecraft recently contracted from Airbus Defence and Space.
But the contracting of the Ka-band payload, also to be built by Northrop Grumman, was left to Space Norway. Inmarsat will be leasing all the Ka-band capacity over the satellites’ 15-year operational lives.
The payloads in the highly elliptical orbit, which allows them to linger over the Arctic, will have some of the same software-defined flexibility as the Airbus-built satellites.
Inmarsat Chief Technology Officer Peter Hadinger said each Space Norway Ka-band payload will have substantially less capacity than the three Airbus satellites. What matters, he said, is to provide coverage whose importance to governments and to some commercial airlines and maritime fleet operators goes well beyond the modest bandwidth requirements of the region.
“It’s hard for any one entity to cover the business case on its own,” Hadinger said of the need for Space Norway to assemble all three of its customers.
“But once somebody’s done it, the market for somebody to do another one is pretty small,” Hadinger said. “I expect that you will see countries that had been contemplating how to do this start to cut their own deals with each of the three parties for some amount of the capacity.”
Hadinger said the several years it took Space Norway to close its business case is a lesson that the LEO broadband constellations would do well to learn.
“Going into the mobility market, there is a take-up rate that is not instantaneous. This has been true of every generation of mobile equipment we’ve deployed. It takes a long time,” Hadinger said.
“Especially for a government user it takes a long time. They say: ‘OK, once you’ve deployed, come and take do us. Then we’ll test it. After we’ve done our op/eval testing, we’ll put in a budget request.’ Then that goes to Congress, and a few years later you get the money. They they have to put it out for a bid, and select a contractor. Then you go through the process of getting it installed, which may take a couple of years.
“We have designed this not for Singapore, unlike a LEO constellation whose satellites need to be designed for peak demand. We’ve designed it specifically for Arctic coverage. That’s what it’s sized for and what the gateways are for.”

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