Satellite and Space Projects Briefing December 2022 | Fieldfisher
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Satellite and Space Projects Briefing January 2023

John Worthy


United Kingdom

ESA proposes 'zero debris' policy: ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher hopes to have a 'zero debris' policy for European spacecraft in place in the next few years, which would have the potential to be expanded globally.

Aschbacher has been in discussions with the agency's member states about a policy that would require satellites to be deorbited immediately after the end of their missions. The proposed 'zero debris' policy would mean that an operator who brings a spacecraft into orbit, would have to remove it.

ClearSpace raises $29 million ahead of first debris removal mission: ClearSpace has raised approximately $29 million in order to support its first space debris removal mission in 2026. With the government-backed Luxembourg Future Fund participating in the latest round, ClearSpace has now raised about $140 million, which will enable it to further develop its capabilities. ClearSpace, Astroscale and others see growing demand for services that can reduce the debris threatening operations in increasingly congested near-Earth orbits.

SES secures €300 million loan from European Investment Bank: Global operator SES has closed a 300 million euro loan from the EIB to finance three satellites that will deliver broadcast and broadband services across Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This represents the largest amount ever provided by the EIB to a Luxembourg-based company. The financing will support three satellites that are due to launch in 2024.

Virgin Orbit launch failure: Virgin Orbit's first LauncherOne mission from the UK failed to reach orbit on 9th January due to an anomaly that caused a premature shutdown of the rocket's upper stage. A statement on 12th January commented on the failed mission, which attempted to place nine satellites into orbit. According to Virgin, the first stages of the launch went as planned, but later in the mission (at approximately 180km) the upper stage experienced an anomaly. Virgin did not disclose additional details about the anomaly.

Satellite industry to face more consolidation: Rajeev Suri, CEO of Inmarsat, believes that a fragmented satellite industry is facing more consolidation as new, well-funded players make plans to saturate space with new satellites. Fifty-five companies have laid out their plans to launch 100,000 new satellites into orbit by the end of the decade, including Elon Musk's Starlink and Chinese competitors. Mr Suri considered that this overcapacity in the sector means that consolidation is inevitable.

UK and Saudi Arabia governments discuss space solar power collaboration: the UK and Saudi Arabian governments have announced their discussions about collaboration and innovation in space, which include the potential to invest in the development of space based solar power (SBSP). The programmes could offer commercial opportunities for British businesses. This collaboration could see each nation committing significant investment into developing SBSP in the coming years. One major advantage of SBSP is the ability to deliver clean energy, day and night, throughout the year and in any weather conditions.

UK Space Agency £50 million boost for satcom innovation: UKSA is promoting a new generation of satellite communications systems and technologies via a grant funding programme under ESA's ARTES umbrella. Projects may cover space segment, ground segment or end-to-end systems, and may support the expanding global reach of UK business, help to deliver the convergence of satellite and terrestrial communications services, and improve access to space for new entrants. Expression of Interest applications can be submitted to ESA until 1 March 2023.

GapSat acquires QBX: Interim satellite solutions business GapSat announced on 16 January that they are acquiring QBX Limited, an Isle of Man based satellite solutions and consulting services company. QBX has a portfolio of satellite radio frequency spectrum for a GEO constellation and intellectual property rights. The acquisition includes a patent for new techniques to improve in-flight safety and Geostationary aero-mobility services.

Space Capital report sees positives despite 2022 decline: Overall investment in space business dropped 58% from its $47.4 billion peak in 2021 to $20.1 billion in 2022, leading to a total of 277 early-stage space investment rounds closing in 2022. The number of early-stage rounds for space infrastructure also fell 16%. However, Space Capital's review of Q4 2022 noted that early-stage start-ups fared better than later-stage and growth companies (with the exception of SpaceX, which raised $2 billion in 2022).