Satellite and Space Projects News - February 2020 | Fieldfisher
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Satellite and Space Projects News - February 2020

John Worthy


United Kingdom

John Worthy from Fieldfisher's Technology, Outsourcing and Privacy Law gives an update on various satellite and space projects. Virgin Orbit orbital launch demo: Virgin Orbit's has been preparing through January for an orbital launch demo of its Launcher One system. The launch date is still to be confirmed, but Virgin tweeted on 31 January that its modified Boeing 747 Cosmic One, the Launcher One rocket and all support equipment were positioned next to the launch runway. 

SpaceX's latest Starlink launch: SpaceX successfully deployed 120 Starlink satellites in January, bringing the number of Starlink satellites in Low Earth Orbit to around 240. This makes Starlink the world's largest commercial satellite constellation. The satellites were launched on 6 January and 29 January on board a Falcon 9 rocket, and the re-usable first stage successfully landed on SpaceX's floating droneship "Of Course I Still Love You".   

Skylo Technologies raises US$103 million: Skylo Technologies, a spin-out from Stanford Space Systems Development Laboratory, announced 12 January that it has raised US$103 million in Series B funding round led by SoftBank. Other investors include DCM, Innovation Endeavors and Moore Strategic Ventures. Skylo aims to use existing geostationary satellites to offer affordable M2M connectivity.

Sutherland spaceport planning application: The body leading the project for Britain's first vertical launch spaceport has said that it expects to submit the planning application for the project by the middle of February.  Proposals for the spaceport on the A'Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland have been met with local opposition over concerns about the impact on the local environment and landscape. Highlands and Islands Enterprise had originally intended to submit the planning application in December 2019, but this was postponed so that HIE could make changes to the plans in response to feedback from public consultations and local meetings. 

Budgets under review for ESA/EU joint programmes: The European Space Agency is in negotiations with the EU for a new agreement on how the two bodies will share costs on joint EU/ESA space programs, such as Copernicus and Galileo. The negotiations will take place as the EU seeks to finalise its 2021–2027 budget for the EU space program. The European Parliament had asked for a programme budget of €16.9 billion to include €9.7 billion for Galileo and EGNOS; and €6 billion for Copernicus; but on 5 December 2019, the Finnish Presidency of the EU proposed to cut this by 25%, allocating €12.702 billion of which €7.697 billion would be for Galileo and €4.610 billion for Copernicus. 

SES/Eutelsat merger rumours: Advanced Television reports that, according to a Deutsche Bank research note, the chances of a merger between SES and Eutelsat have increased. SES's share price suffered a sharp fall in November last year after the FCC announced plans for a public auction to free up C-band spectrum for 5G, rather than allowing SES and others to sell C-band spectrum direct to operators.

C-Band Alliance flags costs:  The C-Band Alliance has estimated that it will cost US$3.3 billion to clear 300MHz of C-band spectrum for 5G use. The Alliance, whose members are Intelsat, SES and Telesat, had put forward market-based proposals that would have allowed them to sell C-band spectrum privately to operators, but the FCC announced in November 2019 that it plans to pursue a public auction instead. The costs that the Alliance hopes to recover include redesign of SES's and Intelsat's fleet plans and new satellites (US$1.6 billion), procurement and installation of compression and modulation equipment ($500 million), as well as new large antennas at TT&C Gateway sites, real-estate costs and migration of customers.

Near-miss collision: According to data collected by space situational awareness company LeoLabs, a decommission space telescope (IRAS 13777) and an experimental US payload launched in 1967 (GGSE-4) came within feet of colliding on 29 January. In a subsequent blog post, LeoLabs noted that this was not an isolated incident. Near-miss events between non-operational objects that cannot perform avoidance manoeuvres "happen all the time", highlighting the importance of safe removal of end-of life satellites from orbit.

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