Satellite and Space Projects Newsletter May 2024 | Fieldfisher
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Satellite and Space Projects Newsletter May 2024

John Worthy


United Kingdom

Fieldfisher leads debate on international space power regulation: At the International Conference on Energy from Space in London, 17-19 April, Fieldfisher partner John Worthy chaired the Regulation stream, debating the key features of the regulatory landscape for space based solar power (SBSP). This vital new clean energy source can revolutionise the fight against climate change, deliver reliable baseload energy to the developed world and emerging economies and offer energy security.

Sponsored by ESA, the UK Space Agency, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the Royal Aeronautical Society, the event attracted over 200 delegates from round the world. Building on regulatory debates over recent years, and in addition to John's analysis of the overarching regulation issues, this stream included insights from Ian Llewellyn (DESNZ), James Morrow (UK Space Agency), Kobina Hughes (Space Solar), plus international perspectives from Tanja Masson-Zwaan (University of Leiden, Netherlands) and Mihoko Shintani (TMI Associates, Japan).

Among other themes, speakers flagged the value of developing a broad international consensus on regulatory approaches across space, energy and related sectors. Taking a multi-disciplinary approach will be a key factor in driving success, alongside working with shared roadmaps to address the critical regulation issues, especially those with long lead times.

SES to acquire Intelsat in $3.1 billion deal: after long months of merger discussions, SES has announced its deal to buy Intelsat for $3.1 billion in cash plus certain additional rights. The parties' announcement emphasised the significant synergies expected to result from the acquisition, alongside the expansion of multi-orbit capabilities and the joint spectrum portfolio. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close in the second half of 2025. The combined operations will include over 100 satellites, plus the MEO constellation O3b from SES. 

WEF predicts $1.8 trillion global space economy by 2035: The global space economy is forecast to be worth $1.8 trillion within little more than 10 years, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), in partnership with McKinsey & Company. In 2023, the space economy was valued at $630 billion, with an average annual growth rate of 9%, approximately twice the rate of global GDP. Key drivers of growth include communications, position, navigation and timing and Earth observation services. Significantly, the impact of the space economy will move beyond the space sector to enable other services using satellite services, such as ride hailing apps.

The report estimates that by 2035, the global space economy will be focused on connecting people and goods, focussed particularly on five key sectors: supply chain and transport; food and beverage; state-sponsored defence; retail; consumer goods and lifestyle; and digital communications. More widely, the return on investment in the sector will go beyond financial gain as space plays an increasing role in mitigating world challenges, such as disaster warning and climate monitoring.

NASA's new sustainability strategy to combat orbital debris: NASA has unveiled the first phase of its Space Sustainability Strategy that aims to urgently combat orbital debris. This first phase will analyse the debris problem, which has led to an increasingly crowded and unsafe orbital environment, alongside identifying and mitigating the debris challenge.

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy emphasised the complexity of the issue and argued that a complicated problem would need a complex framework to combat it. Further stages will identify the uncertainties that affect space safety, support investments in space sustainability technology, update NASA's internal policies for debris mitigation and update NASA's support for active debris removal.

UK and Canada space agencies strengthen cooperation: The UK Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency have signed an enhanced Memorandum of Understanding providing a detailed framework to encourage collaborative space activities between the two countries. Such activities include sharing ideas, technology and personnel together with information regarding space policy, standards and regulations. The combination of the countries' academic and technology capabilities aims to support future exploration and advance understanding of the wider universe. Funding initiatives such as the International Bilateral Fund are already supporting joint projects covering areas such as health and wellness for astronauts and technology to support human habitation on the Moon. 

EU space law and IRIS² contract delayed: The European Commission announced that the proposal for an EU space law and award of a contract to develop a satellite constellation are to be delayed, likely until after the June parliamentary elections. The draft space law had been expected in April. Although little information has been provided about what the legislation will contain, it is expected to create an EU space "single market" by harmonising national space law and to cover pressing issues such as cybersecurity and sustainability.

The delayed contract is to develop Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite (IRIS²) constellation for a rumoured cost of €6 billion. This constellation will provide secure broadband connectivity. However, the contract is still being finalised and there is currently no estimated completion date. Concerns have been raised about both the uncertainty caused by the delay to the legislation and the effectiveness and viability of IRIS².

Iceye raises $93 million to expand SAR reach: Iceye, the Finnish satellite company, announced that they have raised $93 million in growth funding, reaching a total of $438 million of funds raised. The round was led by Finnish sovereign wealth fund Solidium, while other investors include Move Capital Fund I, Blackwells Capital and Christo Georgiev. Solidium has also gained a seat on the company's board.

Iceye's satellites collect synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data which can be used to monitor Earth during reduced visibility, such as at night and through clouds. Iceye then offer data and subscription products such as insights into floods and wildfires The new funding will enable Iceye to increase its SAR satellite constellation and expand its range of products. 

Orbex raises $21 million to fund low-carbon launches: UK launcher business Orbex has raised $21 million funding as part of its Series C round. Investors included the Scottish National Investment Bank as well as venture capital firms Octopus Ventures, BGF, Heartcore, the Export & Investment Fund of Denmark together with angel and corporate investors. Orbex is developing a low carbon, high-performance micro launch vehicle and will use this funding to further develop Prime, a two-stage rocket powered by renewable biofuel that is designed to transport small satellites into Low-Earth Orbit. Orbex has now raised more than £100 million and is expected to kick off a Series D funding round soon. 

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