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Insight

Satellite and Space Projects News | April 2020

John Worthy
07/04/2020
John Worthy from Fieldfisher's Technology, Outsourcing and Privacy Law gives an update on various satellite and space projects.
 
UK space sector response to pandemic: Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency and Graham Peters, Chair of trade industry body UKspace, met mid-March to discuss the space sector's response to Covid-19. They agreed to maintain information flows between the sector and government during the crisis; establish dedicated teams to direct companies to available government support; identify actions that government and UKspace can take to minimise disruption to the sector; and broaden engagement with space businesses.

Report on impact of Covid-19: According to a report from Quilty Analytics (18 March 2020), capital investment in the satellite and space sector is likely to see a slow-down as a result of the pandemic.  Overall, the satellite sector will be better able to withstand the economic downturn.  Companies with a strong government customer-base are particularly well placed, while those that serve the aviation industry will be harder-hit.

OneWeb files for bankruptcy: In a news release on 27 March, OneWeb announced that it has voluntarily filed for relief under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. The company intends to use the bankruptcy proceedings to pursue a sale of its business to maximize the value of the company. In a statement, the company said that its negotiations with investors for future funding had reached an advanced stage, but were halted as a result of the financial turbulence caused by Covid-19.

Further objections to UK Spaceport: Wildland Ltd, a company owned by Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen and reportedly Scotland's largest private landowner, has formally objected to plans for a UK spaceport on the A'Mhoine Peninsula in Sutherland. In its objection, Wildland questions whether the spaceport will deliver the promised economic benefits to the local community and raises concerns about the project's impact on local precious peat bogs and protected wildlife habitats.

UK GNSS delay: A feasibility study for the UK's version of the EU Galileo satellite navigation system is on hold to allow closer assessment of the UK's requirements and possible alternative solutions, reports the Financial Times.  Cost may also be a factor.  Original estimates put the costs of delivering a UK GNSS at £3-4 billion, but more recently, that has been adjusted to £5 billion.  

FCC C-band spectrum release: The Federal Communications Commission published final rules for the release of C-Band spectrum for 5G services on 3 March 2020. Under the FCC Order, 280 megahertz of spectrum must be transitioned to flexible use by no later than 5 December 2025. Operators who clear their spectrum to a faster timetable will receive accelerated relocation payments from the FCC.  Operators SES and Telesat welcomed the scheme, but there has been opposition on other fronts, including suggestions of a legal challenge to the FCC order from smallsat operator, ABS.

UK Shetland Space Centre: The race between rival planned vertical launch facilities in Scotland has intensified. Lockheed Martin, who so far has been providing strategic support to the proposed site on the A'Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland, is now also supporting the Shetland Space Centre's plans for a vertical satellite launch site and ground station in Unst, the UK’s most northerly island. There are also proposals for a potential third launch site at Scolpaig on the north-west coast of North Uist.

Challenges for GEO, MEO and LEO operators: Via Satellite reports on the challenges faced by incumbent operators in the Geostationary (GEO) and Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) markets and by operators of disruptive LEO mega-constellations. Companies such as SES and Eutelsat have invested heavily in high throughput satellites and now that those technologies are operational, need to see a return on their investment. At the same time, the DTH video market, already challenged by OTT content providers, faces disruption if LEO mega-constellations deliver on their promise of global high-speed broadband connectivity and if 5G becomes ubiquitous. Meanwhile, LEO constellations have to overcome a number of hurdles. Their technical and commercial viability is still to be proven; and business have yet to address issues such as light pollution and the safe decommissioning and deorbiting of satellites.
 
We are all navigating uncharted waters as business and society faces up to the impact of COVID-19.  We very much hope you and your loved ones remain in good health. 

 Please be assured that Fieldfisher is continuing to work with clients to navigate COVID-19 related issues and on business as usual needs.  Do get in touch with us if you would like to chat anything through.

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