Category: Satellite Operators

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

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

European Commission primes Defence Fund pump with cyber, space situational awareness, satcom funding

Credit: European External Action Service
PARIS— The European Commission, in what it hopes will spur approval of its proposed seven-year, 13-billion-euro ($14.9-billion) European Defence Fund, has earmarked spending more than 200 million million euros for work in 2019-2020 on projects including space situational awareness (SSA), positioning, navigation and timing and secure communications.
The funding will be added to the relatively modest amounts already being spent on pooling military satellite telecommunications bandwidth needs and a similarly organized effort in SSA using existing European facilities.
The European Defence Fund has won initial approval from the the organizations that must approve it — the commission, the European Parliament and the council of European heads of state. But there has been no final agreement as negotiations continue both on its size and whether it can fit into the overall seven-year European Union budget.
The work approved March 19 is for co-funded projects that, if all are subscribed, carry a value of up to 525 million euros, the commission said.
Of this figure, 25 million euros has been set aside for a dedicated research effort on “Electromagnetic Spectrum Dominance and Future Disruptive Technologies.” The use of the word “dominance” suggests that language commonly employed in Washington has made its way across the Atlantic.
Commission officials have said that space applications will be knitted into both the defense and civil research areas in the seven-year budget, and that it’s up to Europe’s space sector to insert itself into consortia leading project bids.
The 2019-2020 work includes:
— Cyber and space situational awareness and early warning and maritime surveillance, budgeted at 182 million euros. The space-based SSA and satellite communications piece of this will have a budget of 22.5 million euros.
— Air or space intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and tactical drones, with a budget of 43.7 million euros.
— Positioning, navigation and timing and satcom, budgeted at 44.1 million euros.
The European Defence Agency will begin issuing calls for proposals on the the early research topics, with a deadline of late August for proposals. Grants could be agreed to by the end of 2019. A second series of proposals will be issued in June, with grants awarded by the second half of 2020.
European Parliament elections are scheduled for May 23-26 in the 27 European Union nations, assuming the United Kingdom’s planned exit means it does not take part.
For both the civil and defense budgets, commission officials have said they wanted to get as much support as possible confirmed before the elections in the event that the new parliament and commission are less enthusiastic about defense spending and space technology.

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

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

Canadian government cites LEO constellations as part of 13-year, $1.25-billion broadband proposal

Credit: Kativik Regional Government
PARIS — The Canadian government’s 2019 budget proposal features a nearly Australian-scale commitment to full broadband coverage in Canada’s remotest areas by 2030 and a 13-year program specifically evoking low-Earth-orbit satellite constellations as an enabler.
Announced March 19 by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the plan features a 13-year Universal Broadband Fund with a budget of 1.7 billion Canadian dollars ($1.25 billion).
“The government will look to top-up the Connect to Innovate Fund program and to secure advanced, new low-latency low Earth orbit satellite capacity,” the document says. “This process will be launched in the spring [of this year] and will help bring reliable high-speed internet access to even the most challenging rural and remote homes and communities in Canada.”
While it might seem remarkable that a government trying to secure access to remote Canadian communities should be concerned with low latency, the wording couldn’t be more perfect for satellite fleet operator Telesat, which is designing a global broadband constellation called Telesat LEO.
Telesat Chief Executive Daniel S. Goldberg said in a March 19 statement that Telesat LEO “will revolutionize how Canadians, now matter whether they are located, experience and leverage the internet.”
The budget document said Canada would spend some 5.5 billion Canadian dollars over 10 years to assure broadband access for all Canadians.
Part of the funding would be through cost-sharing efforts such as Connect to Innovate, in which the federal and provisional governments take equal shares in specific projects, such as a 2018 project in Quebec using undersea cable and fiber to connect remote communities, with a total budget of 125 million Canadian dollars. The Kativik Regional Government also contributes to the project financing.
The goal is to have 95% of Canada’s population of 37 million people connected with broadband speeds of 50 Mbps downlink and 10 Mbps uplink by 2026, with the remaining 5% covered by 2030.
Separate efforts by the Canadian Infrastructure Bank to offset capex in rural/remote broadband infrastructure is also foreseen.
The only equivalent program among nations of any size is the government of Australia’s NBNCo., which is managing a government-sponsored infrastructure including fiber, microwave and satellite links, with the satellite connectivity reserved for the remotest addresses. Two large Ka-band satellites are in geostationary orbit for the purpose.
Reaching Canada’s Far North would be a challenge for satellites over the equator, but there are several proposals being made for a network of three or four satellites in highly elliptical orbit, including Space Norway, that would serve the region.
The government of Norway and the U.S. Air Force have agreed to invest in Space Norway. Canada’s armed forces have been in discussions with the project’s sponsors.
The OneWeb LEO constellation, whose first satellites are in orbit, is also focusing on Arctic broadband connectivity.
Telesat LEO is a multibillion-dollar undertaking whose financing has not been secured. The company reported 903 million Canadian dollars in 2018 revenue, with EBITDA equivalent to 83% of revenue.
Telesat’s debt ratio as of Dec. 31 was 4.02 times consolidated EBITDA.
Telesat’s 62.7% shareholder, Loral Space and Communications of New York has been trying for years to monetize its investment through a Telesat stock offering but has been blocked by the minority shareholder — but majority voting rights holder — PSP Investments.
In a March 18 filling with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Loral listed the usual benefits and risks associated with Telesat LEO without estimating the network’s cost. Loral has made no commitment to supporting the project.

Fleet operator APT reports stable 2018 revenue, EBITDA, minimal hit from Apstar-6 solar array failure

The Apstar-5C/Telstar 18V satellite entered service in December and did not materially contribute to APT’s 2018 revenue. Credit: APT Satellite Holdings
PARIS— Satellite fleet operator APT Satellite Holdings Ltd. reported a slight increase in revenue in 2018 despite the mid-year loss of half the capacity on its Apstar-6 satellite following the failure of its south solar array.
Hong Kong-based APT took a non-cash impairment charge of 150 million Hong Kong dollars, or 50% of the satellite’s book value, against its 2018 accounts but said the arrival of the long-planned replacement, Apstar-6C, in July limited the revenue effect of the failure.
APT launched two satellites in 2018 — Apstar 6C and 5C.
The Apstar 6C satellite entered operations in July. Shown here is its Ku-band footprint over China. The satellite took over traffic from the Apstar 6 satellite whose south solar array failed in May. Credit: APT Satellite Holdings
Apstar-6C, a DFH-4 model built by the China Academy of Space Technology, has 26 C-band and 19 Ku-/Ka-band transponders. It entered service in July.
APT said it had filed an insurance claim for the Apstar-6 loss and that “claim procedures are nearly completed.” APT reported an insurance payment of 128.7 million Hong Kong dollars — $16.5 million — with the final amount awaiting confirmation by APT’s insurance underwriters. Apstar-6 is operating in inclined orbit.
The large Apstar-5C, co-owned with Telesat Canada, which calls it Telstar 18 Vantage, was launched in September but did not enter service until December and did not contribute materially to the 2018 results. APT owns 57% of the satellite’s capacity.
Apstar-5C includes a standard-Ku and C-band payload with seven wide beams and a regional high-throughput Ku-band beam over Southeast Asia, meaning it provides substantially more net capacity than the Apstar 5 satellite it is replacing. Apstar-5 is now in inclined orbit.
Fo the 12 months ending Dec. 31, 2018, APT reported revenue of 1.24 billion Hong Kong dollars, or $158 million at year-end exchange rates. That’s a 2.5% increase over 2017. But pretax profit was down 0.3%, to 619.6 million Hong Kong dollars.
EBITDA, at 1.03 billion Hong Kong dollars, was 83.4% of revenue, down from 84.4% a year earlier. Available cash at Dec. 31 was 686.9 million Hong Kong dollars, down 29% from the previous year.
Revenue by region was 47% Southeast Asia, 28.5% greater China, 9.4% Hong Kong and 15% elsewhere.
APT has entered into an agreement with Chinese mainland interest to fund what is intended to be a fleet of geostationary-orbit satellites to provide global aeronautical and maritime mobility services.
But so far, only the first of these spacecraft, Apstar-6D, has been funded and is under construction in China. Construction is scheduled to be completed late this year but no launch date has been announced.
APT Chairman Li Zhongbao drew the by-now-habitual picture of an oversupplied, hyper competitive East Asian satellite market. No revenue uptick from the two new satellites was predicted.

Fearing interference with military broadband satellite, France asks ITU regulators to annul Greek license

HellasSat-4/SaudiGeosat-1 in final production at Lockheed Martin. Launched Feb. 5, it is now expected to be operational by early June. Credit: HellasSat video
PARIS — The French government asked international regulators to cancel a Ka-band satellite reservation that Greece and Saudi Arabia are about to activate for a military payload that will interfere with — and suffer interference from — a Franco-Italian military satellite.
The argument is ostensibly between France and Greece, which for years have been negotiating, unsuccessfully, to resolve the problem of operating a Greek satellite using the same Ka-band frequencies as a Franco-Italian spacecraft separated by only 1 degree in geostationary orbit.
But the HellasSat-4/SaudiGeosat-1 satellite launched on Feb. 5 and now making its way to final orbital position at 38 degrees East is a dual-payload mission whose military Ka-band is for the Saudi government. It is this payload, and not the Ku-band payload to be used by Greece’s HellasSat fleet operator — which is owned by Arabsat of Saudi Arabia — that is the source of the dispute.
The Franco-Italian Athena-Fidus military broadband satellite was launched in February 2014 and operates from 39 degrees East.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the indispensable rampart against orbital-slot and radio-spectrum chaos. But its actions often combine the worst of the United Nations with the habits of a secret society.
Radio frequencies are more coveted than ever, with heated battles between terrestrial-wireless and satellite network operators. Multiple satellite constellations are seeking global licenses for spectrum used by existing services. This makes the ITU’s job of preventing interference and assuring equitable spectrum allocation ever-more complex even as its rulings become crucial to national economies.
Credit: ITU
The ITU’s top decision-making venue is the quadrennial World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), a four-week marathon where spectrum access deals are made well past midnight, in rooms where only a few are paying attention.
“True radio-spectrum expertise is rare, maybe 100 or so experts really know their stuff,” said a European government official. “You don’t hear much about them. But every four years they become among the most valuable people in the world for government and business.”
The next WRC meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28-Nov. 22 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
In the run-up to WRC-19, Space Intel Report will be publishing an occasional series of articles illustrating the challenges confronting the ITU and the specific satellite-related policies on the WRC-19 agenda.
The series will highlight how nations often game the system — changing frequencies without coordination, using a single satellite to “bring into use” multiple orbital slots, declaring as operational a satellite that has never existed, and disguising commercial missions as “military” to avoid ITU scrutiny.
Well before Athena-Fidus was launched, HellasSat, through the Greek government, filed Ka-band reservations for a future satellite at 38 degrees east.
Without a satellite of its own to secure the slot and the frequencies by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deadline, HellasSat leased the Nimiq-2 satellite from Telesat Canada.
Under ITU rules, a satellite operator running late with its own program can satisfy ITU’s “bringing into use” regulation by placing a satellite — any satellite — at the intended orbital slot and broadcasting in the assigned frequencies for three months.
Telesat and other operators have carved out niche businesses by allowing their satellites to be used in this way. So it was that Nimiq-2, launched in December 2002, found itself at 29 degrees East in October 2013. It left in January 2014.
HellasSat subsequently told the ITU that its Ka-band reservation for 38 degrees East had been confirmed.
Nimiq-2 was gone by the time Athena-Fidus began operations at 39 degrees East, but the French National Frequencies Agency (ANFR) was concerned about HellasSat’s future Ka-band intentions.
The Greek government told France that yes, Greece and HellasSat intended to develop Ka-band at 38 degrees East. HellasSat’s ambitions in particular were broadened a year earlier, when Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat purchased the Greek operator for $281 million.
Coordination between satellites separated by 1 degree is difficult in the best of cases. France asked Greece: Could you not move eastward by a few degrees? The Greeks responded that no, their Ku-band broadcasts had no room to operate any further east given Russian and Turkish satellites. How about if France moved Athena-Fidus westward?
Negotiations went nowhere. In 2015, HellasSat and Arabsat jointly purchased, from Lockheed Martin Space Systems, a large Ku-/Ka-band satellite to be used by both operators from 39 degrees east.
The Saudi government would use the Ka-band spot beams for military purposes, while HellasSat would use the Ku-band capacity to expand its current business from the HellasSat-3, launched in February 2017. The joint satellite would be called HellasSat-4/SaudiGeosat-1.
For France, what had been a theoretical problem now became real.
Whether by real need or only to buttress its argument against HellasSat, France in 2016 signaled that it, too, might want to lease Nimiq-2. But first it needed to verify exactly what Ka-band capacity it carried.
Lockheed Martin, which also built Nimiq-2, in November responded with the satellite’s technical details.
Telesat’s Nimiq-2 has had a varied career being used to “bring into use” orbital-slot regulatory filings for numerous operators. It has generated regular revenue for Telesat by doing this. The French government argues that every operator using Nimiq-2 has declared the same Ka-band frequencies to international regulators — except one. Greece’s HellasSat declared that its use of Nimiq-2 in 2013 brought into use a broader range of Ka-band frequencies that it now intends to use from HellasSat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1, launched in February to 39 degrees East. That would interfere with the Franco-Italian Athena-Fidus satellite, one degree away at 38 East. Credit: French ANFR submission to the ITU Radio Regulations Board.
France also dug into the history of Nimiq-2, which has been used by several operators for “bringing into use” purposes.
According to a document that France’s ANFR presented for the ITU’s March 18-22 Radio Regulations Board (RRB) meeting, every other operator using Nimiq-2 listed only a modest Ka-band frequency range, of 19.7-20.2 GHZ on the transmission side and 29.5-30 GHz on the reception side.
HellasSat and the Greek administration was the sole exception, saying the satellite covered the full Ka-band spectrum — 17.7-21.2 GHz and 27.5-31 GHz.
Armed with this information, France asked Greece how it could claim it brought into use such a wide swath of spectrum when there was no record of any satellite being at 38 degrees East in Ka-band but Nimiq-2?
France said Greece never responded to their inquiry.
Concluding that bilateral discussions were going nowhere, France on Feb. 25 made a formal request to the RRB that it move to annul the Greek Ka-band license at 39 degrees.
In its letter, France referred to the “strategic importance of the Athena-Fidus satellite network for French national security and defense policy.” Negotiations on coordinating Ka-band with satellites just one degree from each other “have reached an impasse.”
Greece, which separately had asked the RRB to grant a four-month extension of the revised deadline for its Ka-band reservation, to October 6 — the satellite was late in launching aboard an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket — said it was “absolutely astonished” by the French RRB petition.
“This official challenge by the French administration … seriously questions, if not puts into jeopardy, the good faith demonstrated by Greece … during the past six years for a viable settlement of the problem.”

Britain’s Avanti, Saudi Arabia’s Arabsat head toward in-orbit satellite interference over Ka-band rights

The Arabsat-5A satellite before its June 2010 launch. Any Ka-band there? Credit: CNES-ESA-Arianespace
PARIS — Satellite operators Avanti of Britain and Arabsat of Saudi Arabia are heading for an in-orbit confrontation that will undermine both companies’ business once the Arabsat-6A satellite is placed into service sometime this year.
It is the latest instance in which one satellite operator, and its government, accuses another of making false claims to international regulators about what it has in orbit and covering it up by labeling it “military.”
At issue in this case is whether the Arabsat-5A satellite has been broadcasting in Ka-band for the last decade, as Arabsat claims, or has never done so and in all likelihood doesn’t even have Ka-band capacity, as Avanti alleges.
Arabsat-5A was launched in June 2010 into Arabsat’s 30.5 degrees east orbital slot.
Two years later, in 2012, Avanti launched its Ka-band Hylas-2 into a position just half a degree distant, at 31 degrees east.
Neither company alleges frequency interference from the other, and that’s part of the problem. Avanti says that its satellite would have met with substantial interference if Arabsat-5A were operating in Ka-band at such close proximity.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the indispensable rampart against orbital-slot and radio-spectrum chaos. But its actions often combine the worst of the United Nations with the habits of a secret society.
Radio frequencies are more coveted than ever, with heated battles between terrestrial-wireless and satellite network operators. Multiple satellite constellations are seeking global licenses for spectrum used by existing services. This makes the ITU’s job of preventing interference and assuring equitable spectrum allocation ever-more complex even as its rulings become crucial to national economies.
Credit: ITU
The ITU’s top decision-making venue is the quadrennial World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), a four-week marathon where spectrum access deals are made well past midnight, in rooms where only a few are paying attention.
“True radio-spectrum expertise is rare, maybe 100 or so experts really know their stuff,” said a European government official. “You don’t hear much about them. But every four years they become among the most valuable people in the world for government and business.”
The next WRC meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28-Nov. 22 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
In the run-up to WRC-19, Space Intel Report will be publishing an occasional  series of articles illustrating the challenges confronting the ITU and the specific satellite-related policies on the WRC-19 agenda.
The series will highlight how nations often game the system — changing frequencies without coordination, using a single satellite to “bring into use” multiple orbital slots, declaring as operational a satellite that has never existed, and disguising commercial missions as “military” to avoid ITU scrutiny.
The lack of interference between Arabsat-5A and Hylas-2 “can only mean that Arabsat-5A has not been transmitting in the receiving bands of interest for at least three years,” Britain’s Ofcom telecommunications regulator told the ITU in a March 4 submission.
In the pecking order of satellite fleet operators, Arabsat is a large regional player; Avanti is a smaller one. The London-based company might have declared “no harm, no foul” with respect to Arabsat-5A but for the fact that Arabsat is using its alleged Ka-band heritage on Arabsat-5A to launch the Arabsat-6A this year.
The launch, aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, has been delayed several times and is now set to occur sometime between April and June, the Saudi government regulator said in a March 18 statement to the ITU.
Ofcom told the ITU that Avanti had sought meetings with Arabsat to find a coordinated commercial approach that would permit Hylas-2 and the coming Arabsat-6A to operate without interference, only to be rebuffed.
Avanti’s interest in finding a solution is all the more important because its much-delayed Hylas-3, also carrying a Ka-band payload, is scheduled for launch this year, also into the 31 degrees east orbital slot.
Ofcom and Avanti said they have combed the professional literature and hired satellite broadcast frequency specialists to confirm whether any Ka-band emissions have been coming from Arabsat’s 30.5 degrees location. They found none.
In its March 18 submission to the ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, Arabsat said that’s only to be expected: The frequencies were always reserved for military use and thus kept secret.
The U.K. administration “could not find any real information regarding Arabsat-5A operations because this is a governmental network,” the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission said in its March 18 ITU submission. “We emphasize that no really information is available in the public domain. The coverage available in the public domain is for illustration only.”
During its construction and launch, Arabsat always described Arabsat-5A as designed to operate from either of two orbital slots, with 24 Ku-band and 28 C-band transponders.
Here is Arabsat’s map of the Arabsat-5A satellite’s Ka-band steerable beam coverage. Britain’s Ofcom says any coverage like this would have caused considerable interference to Hylas-2, in orbit since 2012. No interference was recorded. Credit: Arabsat
Ofcom’s statement to the ITU is dated March 4, two weeks before the Saudi submission. Ofcom makes no reference to an alleged military mission for Arabsat-5A, which suggests that Arabsat had not made this point until now.
Ofcom says that even if Arabsat had placed a Ka-band payload on the satellite and then had stopped using it, ITU regulations require operators to inform the ITU of that fact, and must bring back into use the service within three years.
Failing to do so means the ITU cancels the registration.
“Since it is clear that these assignments have been left unused for more than three years — January 2016-January 2019 — they should be suppressed,” Ofcom said.
The Saudi filing, arriving the day the Radiocommunication Bureau began its quarterly session — March 18-22 — seeks to close down discussion by invoking  Article 48 of the ITU Convention. Invoking Article 48 — claiming a network is military in nature — means the ITU cannot challenge it.
“Due to the nature of the service and the application of Artile 48, the administration of Saudi Arabia is not in a position to provide further information,” The Saudi statement concludes. It suggests that Ofcom and Avanti re-initiate coordination talks.
Letter of reference from Sudan
The Saudi statement includes a letter from the Sudanese Telecommunications & Post Regulatory Authority vouching for the military Ka-band on Arabsat-5A.
“The administration of Sudan confirms the quality of service availability of Ka-band governmental services over the territory of Sudan fro the orbital location of 30.5E,” the Sudanese regulator said. “These services have been provided occasionally on the steerable beam, based on demand.”

Israeli broadcaster plans gradual migration from satellite operator Spacecom to an all-OTT service

The Boeing-built Amos-17 satellite, to be launched this year, carries a C-, Ku- and Ka-band payload. Above is the Ku-band coverage over EMEA. Credit: Spacecom
PARIS — A major customer for Israel’s Spacecom satellite fleet operator has begun a multi-year move away from satellite television to OTT, raising a fresh challenge for the already struggling fleet owner.
The announcement by Bezeq The Israel Telecommunication Corp. is not definitive. The company, which owns D.B.S. Satellite Services, known as “yes,” said it will continue to assess market trends and its customers’ preferences before making the move.
But the decision of the company’s board of directors approving the move from satellite to OTT is nonetheless ominous for Spacecom.
D.B.S./yes said the decision “was taken in light of trends in the TV content market that include lower barriers to entry, emergence of new players, establishment of OTT broadcasting technologies, changes in the value chain and the change in consumer habits.
“All these trends, together with the differences between the technology of the older satellite broadcasts and the technology of OTT broadcasts with all its inherent advantages, required an examination of the need for OTT-based products by yes.”
The broadcaster in 2017 signed a long-term agreement with Spacecom on existing satellites and the future Amos 8, which was abandoned when the Israeli government decided — after the Amos-8 contract was signed with manufacturer Maxar Technologies/SSL — to scrap the transaction in favor of a satellite built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
But IAI is still waiting for the government to finance sustainable program that would enable IAI to stay in the telecommunications manufacturing business, and no Amos-8 is in production.
The D.B.S./yes contract with Spacecom, valued at $21.9 million a year for 12 years, was scrapped by the broadcaster in December after it became clear that Amos 8 was not going to be built and that Spacecom would not have the contract-specified capacity in place by the contracted deadline.
Spacecom has contracted with Boeing Satellite Systems International for a mixed C-, Ku-, Ka-band satellite, called Amos-17, to be launched this year and remains at least outwardly hopeful that its customer could annul or slow its migration to OTT by using the new satellite.
In a statement issued just after the Bezeq/D.B.S./yes announcement, Spacecom stressed that the OTT decision was “gradual and conditional.”
“Additionally, this type of process is predicated on receiving various regulatory approvals… [and] there is no assurance that they will be received.
“We are continuing to work to implement the business plan and meet our targets,” Spacecom said. “These include… the upcoming launch of our innovative Amos-17, [which] will service Africa, Europe and the Middle East. We are also continuing with other plans, including the construction of a new satellite to be placd in our 4 degrees West orbital position hotspot.”

Mystery satellite constellation customer plot thickens at lasercom terminal builder Mynaric new investment

Credit: Mynaric AG
PARIS — Startup laser communications terminal builder Mynaric AG said it has received a commitment for an investment of 11 million euros ($12.6 million) from a lead investor in a satellite constellation likely to use Mynaric products.
Neither the investor nor the constellation were identified, but Munich-based Mynaric confirmed they are part of the same project for which Mynaric signed an MoU in October for around 1,000 laser terminals.
That MoU, for a constellation of around 300 satellites, was expected to transfer to full-contract status by January, but apparently has not yet done so. Mynaric, whose equity trades on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, would be obliged to announce the deal as a material event.
The company had said that the 1,000-terminal order would occur after an initial demonstration mission.
Mynaric said it will receive 11 million euros in cash from the unnamed investor, which will then own about 6.9% of Mynaric’s equity.
At 55 euros per share, the new investment values Mynaric at 160 million euros, which is 38% above where it was trading on March 15.
Following the transaction, Mynaric will issue a share-capital increase of 200,000 shares, to be offered to a single institutional investor.
The new investment comes less than a week after Mynaric announced that Bulent Altan, a former SpaceX executive and veteran of SpaceX’s 4,000-satellite Starlink constellation, joined Mynaric as co-chief executive:
Nothing in Mynaric’s statements about the constellation suggest that SpaceX is the future customer. OneWeb, a startup constellation operator whose first-generation spacecraft are not equipped with inter-satellite links, is a possible future Mynaric customer, as is LeoSat, planning a constellation of high-speed broadband satellites for corporate and government communications.
On the same day Mynaric announced its new investor, OneWeb said it had raised an additional $1.25 billion from several of its original investors:
Mynaric board member Wolfram Peschko said the new funds will be used “to accelerate serial production of Mynaric’s product portfolio and for continued development. The company started serial production of optical ground stations in H2 2018 and expects to do the same with its product for airborne applications in H2 2019. Currently, Mynaric is the only supplier globally with a full product portfolio supporting laser communication applications on the ground, in the air and in space. The company floated on the Scale segment of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in Fall 2017 and has raised a total of EUR 50m growth capital to date.”

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

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