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Satellite and Space Project News - August 2019

08/08/2019

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United Kingdom

Our recent digest of recent news in the satellite and space projects sector.

New UK Prime Minister supports space sector: In his first speech to Parliament on 24 July after taking office as the UK's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson highlighted the government's support for the space sector. Among other key initiatives, the Prime Minister flagged the aim of developing the UK's own position, navigation and timing satellites and earth observation systems. This follows the government's announcement in August 2018 that it would spend £92 million on a design phase for an independent satellite navigation system, following the UK's decision to cease involvement in the EU Galileo programme.

Fieldfisher partner quoted in the Times on space debris laws: In a feature article in the Times on 24 July, Fieldfisher partner, John Worthy, commented on the need for more effective regulation of space debris, for the benefit of all space-faring nations and businesses. "John Worthy agrees that the UN [Outer Space] treaty, which pre-dated the moon landing by two years, [and the Space Liability Convention] need to be modernised. "There is little definitive legislation around how debris should be dealt with," he says. "We need a concerted international movement that recognises there is a huge value in keeping space useable." "

AsiaSat goes private: Hong Kong Stock Exchange listed AsiaSat is to move into private ownership. Bowenvale, a 50/50 joint venture between CITIC Group and The Carlyle Group and 74.4% majority shareholder in AsiaSat, plans to acquire the remaining AsiaSat shares at 10.22 Hong Kong dollars per share. The price represents a 70%+ premium on AsiaSat's average share price over the last year.

SpaceX – Starlink losses: SpaceX has lost communication with three of its Starlink satellites. The satellites were among 60 communications satellites launched on 23 May 2019, the first batch in SpaceX's proposed 12,000-strong mega-constellation. SpaceX anticipates that the satellites will deorbit passively as gravity pulls them back into the Earth's atmosphere. They should then disintegrate on re-entry.

FCC proposes new smallsat licensing rules: The US Federal Communications Commission has proposed streamlined licensing rules for small satellites, with lower fees and faster processing. To qualify for the new regime, a satellite system must have 10 or fewer satellites under a single authorisation. Each satellite must have a total in-orbit life of six years or less and a maximum wet mass per satellite of 180kg. Each satellite would have to be deployed below 600km or be equipped with a propulsion system to de-orbit the satellite at the end of its life.

Virgin Orbit and Cornwall spaceport: During a visit to Newquay Airport, Virgin Orbit CEO, Dan Hart, said that the company's small satellite launch service could be operating from Cornwall by the end of 2020/mid-2021. This follows a recent significant milestone in Virgin Orbit's launch programme. On 10 July 2019, the company completed a successful "drop test" of its LauncherOne vehicle from a modified 747 carrier aircraft. The test confirmed that the rocket and aircraft would separate cleanly and allowed Virgin Orbit to observe how the rocket freefalls through the air immediately after release.    

Royal Air Force selects Virgin Orbit: The UK's Royal Air Force has selected Virgin Orbit to provide responsive launch capabilities for a smallsat constellation Operational Capability Demonstrator. The demonstrator sits under the umbrella of the RAF's ARTEMIS project. The aim of ARTEMIS is to demonstrate how smallsats and rapid response launches could provide timely information to the RAF and allied personnel.

Lockheed Martin takes stake in ABL: California-based launch vehicle developer, ABL Space Systems Company, has secured strategic investment from Lockheed Martin. ABL is developing a small satellite launch vehicle called RS1 that will be able to deploy loads of up to 1200kg to low Earth orbit at a price of $12m per launch. ABL plans to apply the Lockheed Martin finance to advance its development and test program. The first launch of RS1 is due to take place in 2020.

OneWeb Satellites ready for production: OneWeb Satellites - the joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus - announced that its new, high-speed, manufacturing facility in Merritt Island, Florida, is ready for mass production. The facility formally opened on 22 July 2019. It has two production lines and is capable of producing up to 15 satellites per week.

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