Category: Satellite 2019

Cubesat builder AAC Clyde Space reports 9% drop in Q1 revenue, but points to upward trend for the year

Luis Gomes, chief executive, AAC Clyde. Credit: AAC Clyde
UPDATE June 10: AAC Clyde said its rights offering was 39% oversubscribed and that the company had raised 82.5 million Swedish krona ($8.75 million) before costs. “Proceeds from the rights issue will further accelerate ÅAC’s ability… to take a leading position in the emerging New Space market”, Chief Financial Officer Mats Thideman said. Erik Penser Bank AB was AAC’s financial advisor for the transaction.
WASHINGTON — Cubesat manufacturer AAC Clyde Space of Sweden and Scotland reported a 9% drop in revenue for the three months ending March 31 compared to a year earlier and said its U.S. president would be stepping down to better position the company in the world’s biggest smallsat market.
The move comes after AAC Clyde replaced its chief executive, hiring Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. veteran Luis Gomes, effective earlier this month.
AAC Clyde Chairman Rolf Hallencreutz said the change in the United States is intended to better capture opportunities in the United States, which AAC Clyde has made a priority.
“We are now entering a new phase in North America and will require a different management structure to take full advantage of the changes we see in New Space,” Hallencreutz said. AAC Clyde Strategy Director Craig Clark, who is the founder of Clyde Space, will be acting head of AAC Clyde Space’s U.S. operations.
For the first three months of 2019, AAC Clyde reported revenue of 14.9 million Swedish krona, or $1.57 million, down 9% from the same period a year ago. Operating cash flow during the quarter was a negative 5 million krona.The company is raising 82.5 million krona via a share issue.
AAC Clyde shares are traded on the Nasdaq First North Stockholm market. The company has been selling itself as a growth story but has also said quarterly revenue could vary widely depending on the flow of orders for full satellites and satellite components.
Mats Thideman, the company’s acting chief executive and also its chief financial officer, said new orders during the quarter bode well for the financial outlook for the rest of the year.
“Order backlog, order intake and interest from the market [sets] the conditions for a profitable business,” Thideman said in a May 8 statement to shareholders. “Given the breadth of the orders we won at the beginning of the year from all over the world, we are well positioned to drive the development of the emerging New Space market.
“Success has meant that we are in an intensive recruitment period of new skills. The new recruits are a prerequisite for us to reach profitability.”
The standout contract during the quarter was to build two satellites for U.S.-based Orbcomm, an IoT hardware and service provider that has its own constellation of satellites but elected to contract with AAC Clyde for “Space as a Service.”
AAC Clyde will own the two satellites, to be used for Automatic Identification System maritime tracking, but Orbcomm will have exclusive use of the data: The contract is valued at 54 million krona.
York Space Systems’s first S-Class satellite was launched May 5 aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket and is reported healthy in orbit. Credit: York Space Systems
Another development that should be promising for AAC Clyde was the May 5 launch, aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket, of York Space Systems’s first S-Class satellite. The satellite is reported to be healthy and operating as planned in  low Earth orbit.
U.S.-based York licenses multiple AAC Clyde Sirius components.
Above is a comparison of York Space Systems’s X-Class platform, on the left, and the S-Class platform. Credit: York Space Systems
“York’s prompt operation of the S-CLASS showcases their skill in designing and operating cutting-edge commercial spacecraft,” Gomes said in a statement. “We are delighted to partner with them on the S-CLASS and also note that AAC Clyde Space have reached yet another milestone with the successful commissioning of Sirius systems.”
“We believe that the contract model can attract many more customers who work with data from space but not see satellites as their core business,” Thideman said in his statement to shareholders.

Inviting criticism, Iridium CEO Desch says satellite orbital debris/space traffic regulations are needed — now

Credit: Iridium
WASHINGTON — With his second-generation constellation safely in orbit and more than 60 first-generation satellites, Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch thinks it’s a good time get outspoken about orbital debris.
Desch admits right away that he can be accused of being disingenuous. Of his own satellite constellation — 95 satellites launched between 1997 and 2002 — more than 20% failed in orbit and will remain there for a century and now he wants to tighten regulations for debris mitigation?
“It’s a valid criticism,” Desch said. “It’s fair that people would say that. But tell me where I’m wrong in my statements about the problem.”
Iridium several years ago agreed to open its orbital data books to NASA and the U.S. Air Force — on a nondisclosure basis — to give these government agencies data on the Iridium constellation’s orbital data.
The company has one of its employees stationed at the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
In an interview here May 8 during the Satellite 2019 conference, Desch said Iridium receives multiple collision-alert warnings from CSpOC every week. It’s not something he likes to trumpet, he said, because too many people will either conclude the space traffic management issue is not a problem, or draw the opposite conclusion that low Earth orbit is a death trap for satellites.
“The situation is manageable right now,” Desch said. “We’re not talking about a situation like in the movie ‘Gravity.’ But if we want it to remain controllable, we need to act.”
Desch’s main issue is that the reliability forecasts made by constellation operators will prove far too optimistic, leaving multiple dead satellites in orbits at 1,000 kilometers and higher.
“From that altitude, if your satellite becomes basically a rock in orbit, it’s up there for 1,000 years,” he said. “If you have a constellation of 1,000 satellites, and you lose 15% of them, that’s 150 satellites.”
Desch does not pretend to have a detailed regulatory proposal on hand. But he said the industry needs one, and that it should include a requirement that satellite and rocket builders be grounded after an in-orbit failure until they have determined the failure’s cause.
This happens among launch-service providers because customers demand it. But for an operator of a constellation that can sustain the loss of 15% of its fleet and keep the business going, there is no similar pressure. Regulation could change that.
He is also in favor of obliging satellites flying higher than the International Space Station — around 400 kilometers — to carry on-board propulsion.
That is one of the proposals made by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It has not won universal support. The U.S. Defense Department worries that if such a rule is not tightly coupled with a requirement for a secure, encrypted satellite uplink, it could increase the possibility of satellites being hijacked to become weapons.
Desch said he would support such a coupling to require encrypted uplinks along with on-board propulsion.
But these measures would not necessarily reduce the number of “rocks” created when satellites fail in orbit.
Desch concedes the point. For now, there is no definitive answer in the absence of a service that can grab and properly dispose of dead satellites in low Earth orbit.
The OneWeb constellation’s 150-kilogram satellites, to orbit at 1,200 kilometers, include a grapple-friendly fixture in the hope that one day such an in-orbit waste-disposal system might be credible.

Hughes reports 2% increase in satellite consumer broadband subscribers, thanks to Central & South America

Credit: Hughes
WASHINGTON — EchoStar’s Hughes Network Systems reported a nearly 2% in total satellite consumer broadband subscribers in the three months ending March 31, with most of the growth coming from Central and South America, where subscribers totaled more than 150,000.
It was the first time EchoStar reported its non-North American subscriber count, and in this case it was the non-U.S. business that drove the growth. At March 31, the Hughes consumer broadband subscriber base stood at 1.388 million, up 27,000 from where it was Dec. 31.
The company declined to disclose the Central and South American broadband figures in the previous quarter.
Hughes has said its U.S. consumer broadband subscriber growth has been stalled by the lack of capacity on the company’s Jupiter 1 and Jupiter 2 Ka-band broadband satellites.
Jupiter 3, under construction at Maxar Technologies, is scheduled for launch in 2021. Until then, Hughes will be looking to Central and South America for growth while maintaining monthly subscriber revenue and controlling customer churn in the United States.
Its Latin American business does not have that problem. Hughes has leased capacity on Telesat and Eutelsat Ka-band satellites for the Latin American business, which started in Brazil and has since expanded into Colombia, Peru, Equador and Chile.
Hughes reported revenue of $445 million for the first three months of 2019, up 11% from a year earlier on the strength of its consumer broadband and and international enterprise VSAT business. Its U.S. enterprise VSAT operations reported a decline in revenue.
Hughes’s EBITDA was $161 million, for an EBITDA margin of 36%, up from 34% a year earlier.
Hughes President Pradman P. Kaul, in a May 8 conference call with investors, said the company’s recent joint-venture deals with United Arab Emirates satellite fleet operator Yahsat, for Brazilian consumer broadband; and with Bharti Airtel of India for Indian government and commercial VSAT operations are examples of Hughes’s strategy of partnering around the world.
The company has entered a partnership with Facebook to use Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi in Mexico. In Indonesia, it is partnering with satellite operator PSN to deploy 2,000 rural Wi-Fi hotspots.
As of March 31, EchoStar had $3.3 billion in cash.

Viasat on Amazon, SpaceX LEO plays, Inmarsat’s GEO expansion, the Chinasat aero-IFC deal and the regional-HTS landscape

Viasat Chief Executive Mark D.Dankberg. Credit: Euroconsult
WASHINGTON — The number of smart engineers with lots of career options who want to work on LEO-orbit broadband constellations has increased with the news that Amazon is looking at developing its own system.
Amazon has deep pockets and a reputation for sober decision-making. It has started hiring outside Seattle, where a pool of experts formerly working for SpaceX’s Starlink project is available for duty for a company with patience and cash resources.
It is not yet possible to gauge how serious Amazon is about this, but the company’s entry into the LEO broadband world alongside OneWeb, SpaceX, Telesat and others does give pause, even to a confirmed GEO-orbit broadband believer like Viasat Inc.
Viasat Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg and David Ryan, president of Viasat’s space and commercial networks division, outline here the company’s thinking about LEO satellites’ latency and cost metrics, Amazon’s move, Inmarsat’s GX Ka-band competition, China’s in-flight-connectivity market, the status of the terabit-per-second Viasat-3 global broadband system and the Viasat-2 satellite’s antenna anomaly.
But first, Dankerg addressed the possibility that satellite fleet operators SES and Intelsat may find themselves flush with cash in a U.S. government-approved auction of C-band spectrum.
It now looks likely that the Intelsat-SES C-band clearing proposal to the U.S. government on could result in a large, possibly transformative, liquidity event for both those operators. Any implications for Viasat?
This is hard to handicap. Intelsat has a lot of debt so there is the consideration of what their shareholders get out of it and what do they do on the debt side. SES is a different story.
We are competing in an environment where multiple players are putting multiple billions of dollars in essentially the same segment [broadband connectivity]. So this [C-band windfall] will not be an enormous change.
People ask us: How are we going to compete? We are aiming to compete on productivity. We can come up with space systems that have way more useful throughput. That’s still the case. Nobody’s undertaken satellite projects like we have. There are learning curves we are going down that others haven’t started on. We are in a very capital-intensive business and asset productivity has a large effect. That’s what we are investing in.
And if they suddenly have a few billion in cash and need to deploy it?
Anybody who has money to burn can buy lots of assets. But if the assets aren’t productive, you won’t get a good return. Markets have been pretty punishing in the long run when that’s the case.
There’s also the M&A consequence of two operators whose video business is struggling now having cash to purchase others — for example, Avanti of London, with which you have a relationship.
Yes, but all our relationships are based on contracts, and to the extent we have binding contracts with them, that’s pretty much it.
Does Avanti have a role in your future Viasat-3 global network in terms of providing an orbital slot?
No, we have not discussed that with them. We have established a relationship with them that is mutually beneficial, but in the overall scheme of things, they are not [on the critical path]. They are trying to get a return that will work out for their new investors and we’re trying to work out a way to be helpful.
You mentioned the billions being invested in satellite broadband. OneWeb now has enough financing to launch satellites; Telesat’s LEO project is moving, even if financing is TBD; SpaceX will launch a group of Starlink satellites this month; and you saw the Amazon announcement in satellite broadband.
Might there be something to LEO that you missed?
Amazon is a very pragmatic company. The fact that they think there is something there is interesting. They have plenty of ways to make money and grow. They don’t have to do satellites. The fact that they think there’s a business there is something of a validation of the space business itself.
We’ll see how that progresses. The other thing about Amazon is, if you think about transmission as a means to an end, Amazon has the ends which they could put to good use.
Facebook does too.
Yes, Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon — they’ve all have got the wherewithal to do it if they want, and they have got applications.
The fact that Amazon is going to do something may motivate some of the other ones to think about it. But at the end, this issue of whether low Earth orbit is the right way to deliver bandwidth. Nothing Amazon has said changes the fundamental questions about low Earth orbit versus GEO.
You go into a restaurant and leave unsatisfied. A year later, someone with good taste eats there and loves it. Do you not think about trying it again?
It’s the consumers, the users of those systems, that matter. What we have said, and it’s still true even in rural markets, is that we don’t have enough bandwidth. We have the most productive assets and we know we don’t have enough. We have a next generation that is multiples of this, and that still won’t be enough.
Go back to the latency issue. Latency only is a factor if you have enough bandwidth. If your network is congested, latency is irrelevant because the delays from everything else are so long.
Even in emerging markets, the demand for bandwidth is enormous. You go into these rural villages in Mexico and they want to watch video as much as anybody else. So the real issue to us is whether these low-orbit systems are going to be more productive than what we can do at GEO. We don’t see that.
But Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has hired smart people who presumably don’t have skin in the game, and who told him: We can make this work.
We have interactions with Amazon. They are disciplined and smart. My own sense of what happened is that there is a perception that reducing the cost of launch is a big enabler for LEOs. SpaceX has low-cost launch, and [Amazon-owned] Blue Origin does. My understanding is that’s a big part of where they started.
The other thing is that SpaceX let go of the leaders of their Starlink project, and the perception was that Elon [Musk] was in a big rush, and that these people wanted to be more methodical, and actually they were aiming higher.
So if you look at the Starlink capability now, compared to what they were aiming for a year ago, it’s far reduced in order to meet that schedule.
You refer to the modification that reduce the orbit for part of the Starlink constellation?
If you look at the filings, there are quite a few changes that will substantially reduce the capability of the first generation to meet that schedule.
David Ryan, Viasat president, space and commercial networks. Credit: Viasat
David Ryan: Which reinforces what Mark was saying before: The physics starts weighing against you in having a network that doesn’t saturate when it’s over cities and is totally dormant when it’s over oceans or rural areas.
Dankberg: So the Starlink altitude is lower, I think the EIRP is lower, and in order to get the geographic coverage they have increased the look angles they are going to support. It’s not clear they are going to have cross-links.
Surely they’ll include inter-satellite links.
I’m just saying it’s not clear. What happened is, a number of people at Starlink said: We have this visionary system that got cut because of time and expediency.  So they went to Amazon and said: There is this great system we think is possible, SpaceX is not pursuing it, you guys have a longer time horizon and you can make a bigger investment. Amazon says: We’re in this for the long run, we want to do that. Come over here. They have a system that they’ve filed and they’ve done a little bit to try to increase the fraction of time that the satellites are over populations.
So they are looking at it. I don’t know that they are committed to it.
Is it clear what frequency Amazon plans to use?
We think it’s Ka-band.
I know this sounds audacious but one Viasat-3 is comparable to the whole OneWeb first-generation constellation. Starlink was going to be more ambitious and there are estimates of what that was going to be. What we’re aiming for in our next generation would be almost the same — a satellite that has the same throughput as a whole constellation that costs $5 billion to $15 billion.
If we can do that, we’re going to be fine. Our capital costs are going to be so much lower. Our satellites’ lifetimes are going to be a lot longer.
Understood. But how long does the line of smart people have to be before you think: Maybe there is something to this LEO movement.
I’m not saying that what Amazon is doing is dumb. In their context it may make complete sense. In our case, we have a number of applications that are very bandwidth-intensive. Video is a big part of it. Amazon has video but they have e-commerce and other things that are not so bandwidth-intensive.
I don’t know what they’re thinking. All I know is that if you look at what the assessments were of the full-blown Starlink that they are not yet pursuing, that was a pretty capable system, very sophisticated. Still we don’t think it was economically better than what we’re doing.
For the markets we’re going after, we’re going to be fine.
Suppose you’re right: These systems aren’t business successes but do get launched. With the magic of U.S. Chapter 11, they’re purchased for pennies on the dollar. They’re still a factor, like Iridium and Globalstar from 15 years ago.
Iridium fared way better than Globalstar, partly because the satellites lasted far, far longer than they were expected to. They were way over-built — $5-$6 billion for 70-plus satellites.
But if you look at what’s going on now, these satellites are not being overbuilt. They’re built for a five- to seven-year life. That turned out to be a big problem for Globalstar even though their satellites also lasted longer than people expected. The deterioration of that constellation was a big issue.
OneWeb, which is bent-pipe, is going to have issues even if they go through bankruptcy. I don’t think these satellites are going to last 10-12 years.
SpaceX is trying to get something up that’s a first generation and then they’ll reinforce it. You’ll have a pretty short lifetime for those satellites.
But the general issue of what happens if these systems get restructured is a fair question.
Inmarsat is looking at standard satellite buses to which payloads would be added. The idea is a lower cost per delivered megabit for a constellation in GEO orbit to fill in their Global Xpress Ka-band service. What do you make of it?
Let me go back to productivity. The thing you need to sell a lot of bandwidth at a low price is assets that are extremely productive.
They might get that with this new generation of satellites.
I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why. Throughput is dependent on the illuminated bandwidth and the power that it has. Software-defined satellites use a lot of power that do not deliver capacity.
We were the first who did this. We did free bandwidth on JetBlue and Qantas, and we did Netflix. We’ve been the main catalyst for people’s increasing expectations for in-fight connectivity.
More people want to use it, and those that use it want more bandwidth. We have the most productive satellites in the world, and it’s still a struggle. Smaller satellites, with less power, aren’t going to have the structural ability to do some of the things that we’ve done. And you have to do all those things in order to get the productivity.
You’ll see the low end of these systems come up. But our objective, working with the airlines, is to raise their expectations and have them use it more. We are more encouraged that that is the right track when we look at some of the things our airline customers are doing.
Dave Ryan: One of our other strengths is that we’re very vertically integrated. If you’re building the terminal, the network and the satellite and you optimize that as a system, you can be much more efficient in how you deliver higher speeds to more people and more places.
It would be nice to be able to quantify that advantage. Not everyone thinks it’s significant. You saw the Eutelsat announcement with Konnect over Europe and Africa — Thales Alenia Space satellite, seven General Dynamics 9-meter gateways, Hughes ground network.
For Viasat-2 we use gateways that are half that size, and we have way more gateways. You can’t have more user link bandwidth than you have feeder link bandwidth. Having 45 gateways [for the current Viasat-2 network] gets you a lot more bandwidth than having seven gateways.
And [Konnect] is a smaller satellite with much less bandwidth. We’re doing tons of testing on our Viasat-3,  and it’s got around 100x more throughput than where we were 10 years ago. To get there, we’ve have to change almost everything, with hundreds of gateways. We also have things like in-flight-connectivity coverage.
One of the things we put in there, which I still don’t see on any of these other satellites, is this notion of dynamic beam hopping so we don’t have to put a fixed amount of bandwidth in every beam. We can flex wherever the demand is.
We have looked at the filings for [Hughes Network Systems‘s] Jupiter 3 and they say flexibility is over rated, because they know where the demand is.
More regional satellite operators are announcing Ka-band broadband payloads. The most recent is Measat, with an Airbus satellite. Is that an issue, especially in Asia, as you plan the deployment of the Viasat-3 global network?
One of the things we’ve done in going into these countries is play to our strength in being integrated. We can do networking and operations. You see from our work in Brazil and Australia that they don’t need to use our satellite. We’re going to do that in China.
In China, on the aero side, there is the domestic air market but also the international market. On the international side, the Chinese airlines want to be competitive, and the international carriers want to be competitive outside their borders and inside of China. So there is some room there for a deal.
For Measat, we could be a very big consumer of these third-party satellites. one of the really good things about Viasat 3 is the flexibility. Countries can say to us: We have our own national satellite but we like the way you bring things to market. We like the aero, we like the defense things, we want to cooperate.
We have plenty of other places to use that bandwidth, we don’t have to use our satellite capacity in Brazil.
What milestone should we look for in the China Satcom agreement you recently announced on in-flight connectivity?
The most important thing is agreements with airlines. Thats what Chinasat wants. They want to be in the in-flight business and that means airlines. Chinasat has a very good satellite, it covers a lot of air routes.
What we have is a good reputation in the industry, especially at Ka-band. So there’s a potential for a good match.
Who goes to the airlines with this, you or Chinasat?
We both do. What the airlines want to know is: Can we get the JetBlue or American Airlines service? They want to know whether the satellites will support that. I think it’s a good combination. But really, the test is signing up airlines.
In Brazil, Viasat is providing ground segment to connect with Brazil’s Thales Alenia Space-built SGDC-1 satellite to connect some 3,000 rural public schools. Credit: Viasat
What’s the status of your Brazilian business? Are the legal challenges behind you?
The GESAC [government e-learning initiative] is progressing. It is very important to Telebras, and we are supporting them. We are very close to having the last approval from the TCU [Brazil’s Federal Accounting Court] on the contract. They acknowledged that the contract is legal, but they wanted some amendments to it. They need to rule on those final amendments. The Supreme Court has dismissed the other lawsuits about the contract.
The main thing we have been able to do is the GESAC contract. Bringing the rest to market hinges on the TCU.
Now that the insurance claim has been received, can we talk about what caused the Viasat-2 antenna anomaly? Boeing satellite, Harris Ka-band antennas and what you described as a problem in the antennas’ deployment in orbit.
David Ryan: We’re pretty confident that we know what happened, that the problem is stable and we’re not going to lose more capacity on the satellite. And we don’t think it’s going to affect our operations in the future now that we’ve adjusted for it. Here you can go back to our vertical integration. If you understand how it’s all working as a system, then you can adjust the network along with understanding how the satellite’s operating.
Mark Dankberg: Our point is that this happened, we’re still buying satellites from Boeing, and we’re still interested in those types of reflectors. Let’s learn from it. It was a very specific failure mode related to the combination of the spacecraft and the antennas.
It couldn’t repeat on Viasat-3?
No. First of all, it was a specific mechanical failure mode. And even if that antenna effect were to occur due to some other specific combination of events, the architecture of the satellite is robust. Once of the things with Viasat-2, and it’s not super surprising, is that a very minor mechanical dislocations can have a pretty substantial effect.
One of the things that we have wanted to do all along is make it so that we are robust to those types of mechanical issues. We feel confident in it.

For its Starlink satellite constellation, still a mystery, SpaceX to launch “dozens” of test satellites on May 15

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. Credit: Euroconsult
WASHINGTON — The mystery that is SpaceX’s Starlink mega-constellation of broadband satellites deepened on May 7 when SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company would launch “dozens” of Starlink spacecraft on May 15 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, but that the satellites would not be fully operational.
Assuming the launch and the satellites’ early operations go smoothly, she said at least two launches of fully operational Starlink satellites would occur later this year, and perhaps as many as six.
SpaceX has said previously that the upcoming launch would be to 550 kilometers, would have stripped-down features compared to the operational constellation.
“I don’t know if we’ve every released it publicly, but let’s call it dozens, dozens of satellites on that launch,” Shotwell said here May 7 at the Satellite 2019 conference. “This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration for us to see, and start putting our network together. We start launching the satellites for actual service later this year.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we had two to six launches at the end of the year of Starlink… in addition to this one. It depends on how we do with this first batch. think we’ll get at least two more.
Of the satellites themselves, Shotwell said: “They’re capable but there’s no intersatellite links on it. I call them test class satellites. The antennas are pretty hot on these things, they are very capable systems.”
Shotwell did not explain why so many demonstration satellites needed to be launched.
SpaceX’s initial constellation of more than 4,000 satellites was intended to operate from 1,100 to 1,300 kilometers. Those plans had been criticized by startup satellite-broadband constellation operator OneWeb, which complained to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that the OneWeb and SpaceX satellites would be too close together in orbit, risking collisions.
OneWeb Chief Financial Officer Tom Whayne said here May 6 that SpaceX’s decision to apply for a license in a lower orbit could be seen as a response to OneWeb’s concerns.
Other industry officials had different explanations for SpaceX’s change of plans.
Viasat Chief Executive Mark Dankberg, which operates broadband satellites in geostationary orbit, said the latest Starlink design appears much less capable than its predecessor in terms of capacity, but also is one that can be built and launched more quickly.
“If you look at the [regulatory] filings there are quite a few changes that will substantially reduce the capability of the first generation,” Dankberg said of Starlink’s new design. “So they have greatly relaxed that to meet that schedule. The altitude is lower, I think the EIRP is lower, and in order to get the geographic coverage they have increased the look angles they are going to support. It’s not clear they are going to have cross-links.”
SpaceX told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on April 17 that it had raised just $44 million of a planned $400 million, a financing round that industry officials said was devoted to Starlink and its revenue potential.
No one from the Starlink program makes public statements about the constellation, leaving industry observers to read employment notices and regulatory filing to glean what they can about the system’s capacity and its owners’ intentions and financial resources.
Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel, appearing on the the same launch-service panel with Shotwell, tried to spark concern in the industry about the fact that SpaceX, a launch-service company, will be the owner of a large constellation of satellites that will compete with the systems operated by SpaceX launch customers.
It’s an issue he has raised before in an attempt to cause customer disengagement from SpaceX as a launch service. Israel conceded after the session that his effort fell flat.
Aware of what Israel was driving at, Shotwell said: “With Boeing and Lockheed it’s been that way for decades. They build satellites, they launch satellites and operate satellites — some commercial and some, probably mostly, for the Department of Defense.”
With the commercial launch market in a prolonged slump, SpaceX’s having an in-house demand for dozens of launchers of Starlink satellites is seen as a real advantage. But Shotwell said the company is not yet suffering as much as would be expected given the lack of commercial satellite orders industry-wide.
“In 2017 we launched 18 times, in 2018 we launched 21 times,” Shotwell said. “This year, depending on customer readiness, we could launch between 18 and 21 times. Next year, 16-20 launches in the manifest. We’ve signed 22 deals since this show last year. So we’re still still seeing pretty strong uptake of our services and then Starlink would be on top of that.”

OneWeb targets aero, maritime markets first; government a new focus; Florida satellite plant opens this month

OneWeb Chief Executive Adrian Steckel. Credit: CNBC
WASHINGTON — Startup broadband satellite constellation operator OneWeb said maritime and aeronautical applications will be its biggest moneymakers early on, followed by government applications as the company focuses on vertical markets before turning to its headline mission of connecting the world’s poor.
In a recurring theme at OneWeb, Chief Executive Adrian Steckel the company has to assure profitability before taking on the more-noble task of fitting rural schools with broadband access.
“Most of the people [at OneWeb] are here to fulfill that mission of [founder] Greg Wyler, but the argument I have with him and others is that: Yes we will do that but we have to have a business that allows us to expand.
“We’re focused on a diversified set of revenues,” Steckel said May 6 here at the Satellite 2019 conference. “Consumer broadband certainly will play a role in our mission, but we have to dial that back to make sure we can do it.”
OneWeb recently hired Dylan Browne, formerly of Comsat and Airbus Defence and Space, to head its government business unit.
OneWeb has been meeting with U.S. Defense Department officials to try to shift their attention on what a competitor like SpaceX with its Starlink broadband satellite constellation might one day do, to what OneWeb will be able to do in 2021.
OneWeb has raised a total of $3.4 billion including its most recent funding round of $1.25 billion.
An industry official said the latest round, much of it not in cash, includes:
— $505 million from lead investor Softbank.
— $300 million from Grupo Salinas of Mexico.
— $200 million from Airbus, co-prime contractor of the OneWeb satellites.
— $98 million from Qualcomm, providing the wireless air interface and modem.
— $27 million from the government of Rwanda, an early, if anomalous, OneWeb backer.
Steckel declined to say what the latest capex estimate is for the OneWeb system since it reduced its first-generation architecture to 650 satellites. He also did not address debt financing. OneWeb has been seeking export-credit financing from France’s Bpifrance, and industry officials have been saying for months that it’s imminent. But it hasn’t yet been secured.
He reiterated that the latest funding gives the company enough to switch on its Florida production plant at the end of this month, and to be launching satellites on Russian Soyuz rockets on a monthly basis, with each rocket carrying 35 OneWeb satellites, by the end of this year.
“In the overall constellation cost, the launch is costing us a bit more than our satellites,” Steckel said of the 1-billion-euro ($1.12-billion), 21-launch contract with Europe’s Arianespace, which is managing the launches on the Russian rockets, mainly occurring from Russian spaceports. “That cost will come down” with teh general trend toward lower launch costs.
OneWeb will be entering the aeronautical and maritime markets at a time of increasing competition among established satellite operators for these customers. The aeronautical market is highly regulated and commercial airlines are loathe to change technology hardware once they have outfitted their planes.
It is also unclear how OneWeb, whose first generation does not have inter satellite links, will operate over the Pacific Ocean air routes to carry data to and from aircraft.
Steckel said one goal of the second-generation constellation, already in design, is to permit the satellites to communicate with each other to speed the delivery of data to and from Earth stations, and to add steerable beams. OneWeb’s first satellites weigh 150 kilograms each.
He said that once the company completes the goal of having to raise “this crazy mount of money — once you are over that tipping point,  you can deploy capital in a very efficient way that’s less expensive, you’ve got all the distribution channels. Our goal for the next 10 years is we think that we will be worth 10s of billions of dollars.”

Crowded EU house: Spain’s Hisdesat buys two UHF/Ka/X-band satellites from Airbus/Thales Alenia Space

The new-generation Spainsat NG will include UHF capability in addition to X- and military Ka-band. Credit: Spanish Ministry of Defense
WASHINGTON— Spanish military satellite operator Hisdesat has contracted with Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space to build two X-, UHF- and Ka-band military telecommunications satellites as part of a long-term commitment with the Spanish government.
Under the contract, announced May 6, Airbus and Thales Alenia Space have committed to providing substantial work for their Spanish subsidiaries, including the communications payloads for both satellites.
The Spanish subsidiary of Thales Alenia Space will build the UHF and military-X-band payloads. Airbus’s division in Spain will build the X-band payload.
The satellites’ communications modules will be integrated in Spain, while Airbus Defence and Space France will provide the two satellite platforms, both using the new Eurostar Neo bus developed with European and French government support.
Under the terms of its public-private partnership with the Spanish government, Hisdesat will be able to sell capacity that the Spanish military does not need. Credit: Spanish Ministry of Defense
Spain’s investment in the Spainsat NG program was many years in the making and ended up with a commitment of 1.617 billion euros ($1.8 billion) over an initial 15 years that could be extended to 19 years.
Hisdesat Servicios Estratégicos S.A. will take out loans for the program’s development — the two satellites and their launch, and the ground segment — and will be paid 93.17 million euros per year for 15 years by the Spanish Ministry of Defense.
The Spanish government is also financing some of the Spainsat NG work through the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA), whose Govsatcom Space Component program is developing in parallel with the European Union‘s Govsatcom program.
Govsatcom starts with the use of existing space assets owned by individual EU nations and Hisdesat is counting on the European Union as a future customer for the excess Spainsat NG capacity.
The NATO alliance hopes to contract late this year for future satcom capability to succeed the current contract, which covered 2005-2019. The United States and several European nations want a piece of the contract. Credit: NATO Communications and Information Agency
The 29-nation NATO alliance is preparing to solicit bids for a 15-year satcom bandwidth procurement contract to follow on to the contract expiring in 2019.
The United States, Britain, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain are all seeking a piece of the NATO business, which Spain hopes to enter after the initial contracts are signed.  Among these nations, only Luxembourg and Spain were not involved in the NATO Satcom Post-2000 contract that went into effect in 2005.
The two Spainsat NG satellites will be built to NATO standards for anti-jamming, anti-spoofing and hardening to protect against a high-altitude nuclear explosion.
The first of the Spainsat NG satellites is scheduled for launch in 2023, in time to take over from two Hisdesat satellites launched in 2005 and 2006.
Spanish Defense Ministry officials have said the two satellites, Spainsat and Xtar-EUR, are nominally scheduled to be retired between 2021 and 2023, but that they had enough remaining fuel to remain in operations a bit longer.
Credit: Hisdesat
Hisdesat’s existing satellites were built with the assumption of substantial U.S. Defense Department business through Xtar LLC of the United States, which signed a take-or-pay contract with Hisdesat for capacity on the spacecraft. But that business never really materialized and the Hisdesat-Xtar story has not been a successful one.
Credit: Spanish Defense Ministry
What role Xtar will play in Spainsat NG is unclear. But the program’s success as a business will hinge on Hisdesat’s ability to find customers outside of Spain and beyond the EU Govsatcom program.

Yahsat and Hughes drop the other shoe, extend satellite broadband partnership to Brazil

Hughes President Pradman P. Kaul, left, and Yahsat Chief Executive Masood M. Sharif Mahmood. Credit: Hughes
WASHINGTON — Hughes Network Systems and Yahsat extended their consumer-broadband partnership to Brazil, where the two companies offer a combined 65 Gbps of capacity to 95% of the Brazilian population.
The agreement to create a joint venture for Brazilian broadband comes eight months after the two companies created a JV for broadband deployment in Africa and western Asia.
Hughes invested $100 million in cash for a 20% stake in that JV, into which United Arab Emirates-based Yahsat put its Al Yah 2 and Al Yah 3 satellites:
For Brazil, both companies will be contributing orbital assets. The ownership of the JV will be 80% Hughes, 20% Yahsat, the two companies said. There will be no cash consideration in the transaction.
Hughes, which in mid-2018 reported more than 100,000 broadband subscribers in Brazil, has Ka-band payloads on the Eutelsat 65 West A satellite and Telesat Canada’s Telstar 19V, at 63 degrees West. Hughes entered into 15-year leases for capacity on both satellites.
Hughes is scheduled to launch its 500-Gbps Jupiter 3/EchoStar 24 satellite in 24 to add to the capacity available over Brazil.
Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 satellite, launched in January 2018, operates from 20 degrees West. Placed into a bad orbit by the Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket, Al Yah 3 used a large part of its fuel to migrate to its intended position. That cost the satellite an estimated 40% of its service life. Yahsat received a claim of about $108 million.
The Hughes-Yahsat joint venture in Brazil will use Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 and two satellites whose Ka-band capacity Hughes has leased in 15-year contracts: Telesat’s Telstar 19V and Eutelsat’s Eutelsat 65W A, shown here. Credit: Eutelsat
As well-funded players in what is generally viewed as an overcrowded satellite broadband market, Hughes and Yahsat have multiple avenues for cooperation depending on how they see the future, and not just in Ka-band broadband.
Hughes’s parent company, EchoStar, in 2018 attempted to purchase mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat of London, which has an orbital fleet carrying heritage narrowband L-band capacity and both civil and military Ka-band for broadband.
Yahsat owns L-band mobile satellite services provider Thuraya, whose current geostationary-orbit satellites are aging. It remains unclear how Yahsat intends to monetize the asset in the medium-term.
Hughes and Yahsat did not immediately disclose how much each owns of the Brazilian JV, and whether Yahsat is putting in any cash given Hughes’s existing presence in the market and its larger satellite capacity over Brazil.
“Yahsat is the logical partner for Hughes in Brazil as we continue to expand our services and meet growing demand across consumer, enterprise and carrier markets,” Hughes President Pradman P. Kaul said in a May 6 statement. “Brazilians throughout the country will benefit from the capacity, scale and operational synergies of our combined entity as we connect the unconnected and enable businesses and communities to thrive.”
Yahsat Chief Executive Masood M. Sharif Mahmood said: “Our partnership with Hughes supports Yahsat’s mission to enable social and economic development by empowering communities in remote regions with high-performance broadband connectivity,” Yahsat Chief Executive Masood M. Sharif Mahmood said in a May 6 statement. “We now look forward to combining our efforts to unlock the massive potential of the largest and most exciting economy in Latin America.”

Three key satellite procurements expected this year: Airbus wins first, for Inmarsat’s GX Flex

The GX Flex program will fill in coverage and capacity for Inmarsat’s Global Xpress network of four, and soon to be five, satellites. Credit: Inmarsat
UPDATE May 30: Inmarsat confirms its “long-term strategic partnership” with Airbus Defence and Space, announcing an initial order of three Ka-band GX satellites using Airbus’s new Onesat platform. The first satellite is scheduled for delivery in H1 2023.
WASHINGTON — Mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat has selected Airbus Defence and Space to build Inmarsat’s GX Flex fleet with an initial order for two satellites and the promise of more to come, industry officials said.
The contract, which Inmarsat has been working on for a year, is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, officials said. Inmarsat spokesman Jonathan Sinnatt said May 6 that no decision had been made on GX Flex.
GX Flex is one of three satellite procurements — the two others being managed by SES and Intelsat — whose winner-take-all features have the potential to reshape the commercial satellite prime contracting landscape.
SES and Intelsat, as the biggest members of the C-Band Alliance, have said they will together order eight C-band satellites if the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) accepts the alliance’s proposed private auction of 200 MHz of C-band spectrum over the United States.
“A provisional contract is close to final with one manufacturer,” the CBA told the FCC, adding that it has also received proposals from other builders. The requirement to launch the satellites within 36 months of an FCC order may force SES and Intelsat to divide the work despite the likely cost advantages of a single contractor, although these are relatively modest spacecraft.
Separately, SES for months has been working on what it calls its GEO Next program featuring software-defined radio technologies allowing maximum reconfiguration in orbit. A common satellite bus would be ordered form a single prime contractor that would be assured of a series in return for unit-price discounts.
Manufacturers of commercial geostationary-orbit satellites have been struggling for more than three years with an industry slump. Some of them can maintain production lines thanks to government business; others will need to rethink their place in the market.
With Inmarsat having selected Airbus, the three separate procurements will result in awards to at least to manufacturers since SES and Intelsat have promised that their joint eight-satellite order would be only with U.S. companies. That leaves Airbus and Europe’s other satellite prime contractors, Thales Alenia Space and OHB SE; and Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric, out of the bidding.
A scenario in which three of the largest geostationary-satellite fleet operators settle into long-term relationships with two builders, while the rest of the industry remains in a slump, could mean that the decision by Maxar Technologies to pare its SSL division’s geostationary-satellite  business, which is being kept but with a lower cost basis, is the first of several.
Maxar and the other satellite primes are directing their efforts toward smaller satellites, either by modifying their production capacity or investing in new facilities.
Inmarsat Chief Executive Rupert Pearce has described GX Flex in much the same way as SES talks about GEO Next: software-defined, with maximum flexibility to change frequency plans after launch, a lower cost per delivered megabit to customers, a lower capex profile and shorter time between contract and launch.
If that sounds too good to be true, some manufacturers say it is. They are already operating at low profit margins.
Whether SES or Inmarsat will agree to invest in their suppliers’ work, or ease the orbital-incentives provisions embedded in many geostationary-orbit satellite contracts, is unclear.
Inmarsat’s first application for GX Flex is to add capacity to the in-orbit Global Xpress satellites, which carry military and civil Ka-band frequencies to deliver broadband to aeronautical, maritime and land-mobile users.
Inmarsat contracted with Boeing Satellite Systems International for four GX satellites in a deal that includes a take-or-pay provision obliging Boeing sell GX capacity to the U.S. government in certain annual volumes or pay Inmarsat the difference.
A fifth GX satellite is under construction by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. Inmarsat has also ordered two large mainly L-band satellites from Airbus, to be delivered in 2020 and 2021.
SES’s most recent order, also with Boeing, is for seven O3b mPower medium-Earth-orbit Ka-band broadband satellites, to launch starting in 2021. For this deal, Boeing agreed to forego payment by SES until the satellites’ delivery, at which point SES will decide on a purchase or lease of the spacecraft.
Inmarsat’s Pearce told investors May 1 that the GX Flex announcement  was “very imminent. The tender began at the beginning of the year. We are right at the end of the process to go under contract shortly, which means in the next few weeks.
“We believe we remain on track for material step change in capability for next-in our agility and ability in next-generation broadband allow s to follow customers for service coverage, while meaningfully moderating our infrastructure capex, which would be an extraordinary achievement, when you think about it as we move to a new model for global mobile broadband.”
That was in the morning. Later that day, Inmarsat’s board met and decided on Airbus, one industry official said. Airbus will now be tasked with producing a best and final offer for Inmarsat, and detailed negotiations will occur. It is possible, but unlikely, that the choice of Airbus will be derailed during this process.

Has France come around to NewSpace? 10 companies in Washington this week make the case

WASHINGTON — A group of French companies with products targeting the NewSpace smallsat business has formed a group to coordinate their approach to export markets. Next stop: Satellite 2019 May 6-9 in Washington.
These 10 companies are persuaded that French government support for small satellite technologies is about to yield in-orbit results that should enable the NewSpace Factory members to begin an export push into the United States.
The NewSpace Factory includes companies that are not necessarily new; only one is a startup.
But they have technologies they see as well-suited to the smallsat market, which has replaced the geostationary-orbit satellite market as the industry’s growth driver. Some are already part of commercial constellations and appear well-positioned for constellation work in Europe and China.
Most of them have established business lines that should enable them to ride out what they agree may be a period of retrenchment in a NewSpace sector that bears characteristic of a bubble.
Space Intel Report spoke to seven of them. Here’s their pitch:

Anywaves is the NewSpace Factory’s sole startup, created less than two years ago to design and build a single product line: miniaturized, high-performance antennas for cubesats and drones.
The company was founded by Nicolas Cape, a former satellite antenna specialist at the French space agency, CNES.
“We have three off-the-shelf products now — two for nano-satellites, for S- and X-band telemetry, and one for drones,” said Gregory Beddeleem, Anywaves’s commercial director. “We should have two systems in orbit by the end of the year, one on the 3u EyeSat program in France.” He declined to identify the second.
Anywaves is not looking for financing now but may do so later this year. It is forecasting revenue of 1 million euros in 2019.

Agora Industrie President Benoit Moulas’s business includes Microtec, which does satellite cabling and space-qualified electronics cards and converters. Revenue in 2018 was 4 million euros and it’s growing at 10-15% this year.
But Moulas is mainly in Washington to introduce Comat, which builds satellite mechanical subsystems for precise antenna or camera pointing; and both react wheels and satellite plasma-electric propulsion for small satellites.
“We have real know-how in house in micro reaction wheels offering eight years of service life for a 1u cubesat,” Moulas said. “Our 30-watt PJP plasma thruster, for satellites weighing less than 50 kilograms, is being qualified in orbit with [French space agency] CNES for a flight to the International Space Station in 2020 or 2021. We are exploring options for a qualification flight this year. We have been preselected for two constellations — on in Europe and one in China.”
The China deal is awaiting French export approval, which Moulas said is likely. He declined to name the customer. The European constellation he also declined to name, but it’s almost certainly the CNES-backed Kineis 20-satellite low-orbiting program for geolocation and IoT.
“Some U.S. companies want everything done in the United States. Others are more open. At Satellite 2019, I am on a kind of reconnaissance mission during Satellite 2019.”
Comat did about 9 million euros in 2018 revenue and expects that to rise to 11 million this year. The company is hiring. Now at 95 employees, it plans to be at 110 by the end of this year.

CS Communication & Systemes designs software for controlling satellite constellations in orbit. “Controlling 100 satellites is not the same as controlling two or three,” said Nicolas Prouvelle. “Handling the data is more complicated, too.”
CS is part of the team building the French ANGELS satellite, billed as France’s first cubesat, which will test several new technologies and rove a new-generation Argos geolocation payload. It is scheduled for launch late this year.

Prospective smallsat prime contractor Nexeya offered indisputable proof of its belief in the market’s potential in April with the sale of the non-satellite divisions of Nexeya — third-thirds of the company’s revenue — to focus on small satellites:
The remaining company has been renamed Hemeria. it reported revenue of about  36 million euros in 2018, including some defense-related work it is retaining, and a staff of 200.
Hemeria is part of the French ANGELS cubesat demonstrator, to launch this year, and is the putative prime for the 20-satellite Kineis geolocation/IoT constellation, which is still securing financing.
Laurent Javanaud, head of the smallsat business, said that outside of Europe, China is a prime target for Hemeria expertise.
The company has invested some 3 million euros to prepare for what it forecasts will be a market of 40-50 cubesats per year within five years. “We are looking at one or two constellations per year plus satellites built individually or in small numbers,” Javanaud said. “But Kineis is is major for us. It will be an accelerator.”
The company’s current product line supports satellites weighing up to 20-25 kilograms and is being expanded to handle 45-50-kilogram satellites.

Mecano-ID was founded in 1994. It builds structures for satellites and has its own 3,00-square-meter test facility for space hardware. it counts 75 employees and booked 9 million euros in 2018 revenue.
It has provided hardware for the Franco-Chinese SVOM satellite.
Steplhane Galinier, Mecano’s business development manager, said the company is in the United States to scout customers for its carbon composite satellite structures, which provide more stability than aluminum.
In addition, Mecano is looking at the cubesat market for a newly designed satellite deployer for for satellites of up to 12u, or up to 50 kilograms.
“The market needs a structure that can hold the satellite correctly during launch,” Galinier said.
Isn’t there lots of competition for that?
“Absolutely there is,” Galinier said. “But most of them have the Cal Poly approach, which is expanding from a 3u structure to design a 12u deployer. Our design is tailored for the larger cubesats, 12u or larger. they will need a deployer to keep them stable during launch, and to break the spin after separation.”
Mecano in 2018 invested 4 million euros — half its total annual revenue— in specialized robots to permit the compan to perform serial production of satellite structures. Customers can now choose from a catalogue to build their own space-qualified systems.

Syntony GNSS was founded in 2015 and notably built a software-defined receiver for the OneWeb constellation of 150-kilogram satellites, for which it provided 20 units.
Recently it booked a sale in China — “a Chinese enterprise active in the NewSpace area,” said Christian Bec Syntony’s vice president. Syntony has developed an IoT receiver that Bec said consumers 100 times less power than comparable hardware.
Syntony’s constellation simulator has recently found a new market in the Stockholm Metro, to simulate GPS signals underground. Riders use their smartphones to position themselves, and Syntony then synchronizes that signal to get a GPS reference, notably for emergency-response crews. Paris and New York are now interested.

Trad tests smallsat components, often based on off-the-shelf hardware for non-space markets, to determine their resistance to radiation, and then adapts them to be able to operate reliably and over time in orbit.
“As you can see, a large number of cubesats launched today don’t last long,” said Christian Chatry, director of Trad. “We have been doing this for 25 years.”
The company has 50 employees and 2018 revenue of 6 million euros.
“For NewSpace we are modifying what we do a bit to qualify automobile components for space.”
Because of technology export rules, some American companies are restricted in what kind of components they can send to France for testing. But Trad can write the specifications and simulation requirements for the prime contractor that, for whatever reason, want the testing to occur elsewhere.
Chatry said Trad has sold software, however, to the United States and in India and China.
Trad performed component testing for Airbus as part of the OneWeb program. OneWeb has shifted its production focus to Florida after an initial 10 satellites were built at Airbus’s Toulouse, France, facility.
Chatry said rad’s objective is 10 million euros in annual revenue in five years, and 100 employees. The company is now focused on space but wants to diversify. He said Trad sees openings in the nuclear power industry.

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