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Interview: Chris Larmour, CEO, British launch-service startup Orbex

FARNBOROUGH, England — Vertical launch-vehicle startup Orbex has been in “No Comment” mode for three years and on July 16 lifted the veil on a fully made-in-UK rocket — no ITAR issues here — using propane fuel and 30 million pounds ($40 million) in investment from UK and European government agencies and two large venture-capital companies, among others. The company also announced a new investor,...

‘Minimally crazy:’ European VC explains investment in launch-service startup PLD Space

  PARIS — Angel and venture-capital enthusiasm for the space sector has rippled outward from the United States and is now taking effect in Europe and Asia. Whether it’s herd mentality or a prescient view of successful business models, most of these investors have steered clear of hardware to focus on services. And most of the hardware investors are sticking as close as possible to the service...

Satellite operator challenges launch-service providers on price cuts, risk-sharing options

PARIS — A successful commercial satellite-fleet operator asked five launch-service providers — Arianespace, Blue Origin, International Launch Services (ILS), SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA)  — two direct questions: — What are you doing to reduce launch costs? — Are you willing to share financial risk with us, just as we are now asked to share risk with our broadcast and other customers?...

SpaceX’s satellite broadband intentions are weaponized by competitors but still uncertain

PARIS — Three months after receiving U.S. FCC approval, which triggered a regulatory countdown, SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband constellation remains as much of a black box as ever. There has been no verifiable major development that would indicate the passage of milestones needed for a constellation of 4,425 400-kilogram satellites costing billions of dollars to field, beyond the February...

Hispasat tells suppliers the pricing downturn means it’s not replacing all its retiring satellites

PARIS — Two years ago, satellite fleet operator Hispasat struggled to close the business case for a new satellite network. Today, it’s having trouble justifying the the replacement of an aging in-orbit satellite that is mainly full. Such is the position of many fixed satellite services (FSS) fleet operators. Business expansion, once taken for granted, has become hazardous and even hanging on to...

ILS: Roscosmos comments notwithstanding, Proton has years left before successor is ready

SINGAPORE— Commercial launch service provider International Launch Services (ILS) sought to put into perspective recent comments from the new chief of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency to the effect that the venerable Proton rocket would soon be retired. Reston, Virginia-based ILS’s position is that the new Khrunichev-built Angara rocket was always intended to replace Proton, but that the Proton —...

ESA director-general’s job at risk as 2 member nations question his soloist tendency & ESA-EU relations

BAVENO, Italy — European government and industry officials meeting here to celebrate the success Copernicus environment-monitoring network 20 years after it was proposed did their best to minimize the friction between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission. But while latent, the tension remains high enough to threaten the renewal of the four-year contract of ESA...

European governments approve $410 million for Ariane 6 rocket, including industry incentive scheme

PARIS — European governments freed up promised funding for the heavy-lift Ariane 6 rocket and offered its manufacturers incentives to earn back some of their investment in the project. But a contract guaranteeing orders between 2021 and 2023 has not be concluded. The funding package of 350 million euros ($410 million) was approved by the European Space Agency (ESA) at a June 13-14 meeting of its...

Interview: Raul Torres, CEO of smallsat launcher startup PLD Space

PARIS — Startup small-satellite launch service provider PLD Space’s recent financing round of 9 million euros ($10.5 million) brings the company’s Series A to 17 million euros to finance two suborbital missions in 2019 before developing its orbital vehicle. PLD wants its Arion 2 orbital rocket — yes, they plan to change the name — to be ready for an inaugural flight in 2020 — not much time to...

ESA council overrides UK to approve Galileo procurement; OKs spending on Ariane 5-6 transition

PARIS — The European Space Agency’s ruling council overrode British objection to approve the procurement of at least four Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites, for which industrial bids are due June 20. Meeting June 13-14 at ESA’s headquarters here, the council also approved a combined risk mitigation/incentive package that will fund up to 240 million euros ($282.5 million) to...

EU Commission to ESA, Avio, ArianeGroup, Arianespace: We know smallsat market better than you do

PARIS — The European Commission on June 12 opened a three-year competition that will award 10 million euros ($12 million) to the company that best proves its ability to develop a low-cost, commercially viable small-satellite launch vehicle. The European Innovation Council Horizon Prize, first announced in January, follows the commission’s assessment that Europe’s current small-satellite launch...

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