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Satellite and Space Projects News - October 2019

John Worthy
15/10/2019

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United Kingdom

John Worthy from Fieldfisher's Technology, Outsourcing and Privacy Law gives an update on various satellite and space projects.

ChinaSat 18 loss: The loss of China's telecoms ChinaSat 18 satellite is likely to result in a $250m insurance claim. ChinaSat 18 launched on 19 August 2019 on board a Long March 3B rocket, but on 20 August, the Chinese State News Agency reported abnormalities, and although the satellite was placed into Geostationary Transfer Orbit, it did not reach its intended orbit. The loss of ChinaSat 18 is the second substantial satellite loss in a matter of months and there are reports that insurance premiums for satellite operators are already increasing as a result. In July this year, the Falcon Eye 1 remote sensing satellite was destroyed on a failed Vega rocket launch with a cost to insurers of $411.21 million.

Reaction Engines rocket testing: UK rocket company, Reaction Engines (RE), is running high-temperature tests on a pre-cooler heat exchanger at purpose-built test facilities at Colorado Air and Space Port, USA. The hot tests, which began in March this year, are an important phase in the development of RE's Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE). The tests will submit the pre-cooler to similar temperature and pressure conditions to those that the rocket engine will experience in flight.

C-Band Alliance: Eutelsat has announced that it has withdrawn from the C-Band Alliance (CBA). The CBA are a group of US satellite operators who have put forward to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) market-based proposals to clear portions of the C-band for 5G use. Eutelsat's statement did not set out the company's reasons for leaving, but in a subsequent filing with the FCC, the company indicated that its concerns relate to the structure and management of the CBA, and that if these issues are addressed, Eutelsat is willing to reconsider its decision.  

Orbital collision avoided: The European Space Agency (ESA) took action on 2 September to avoid a potential collision between its Aeolus satellite and a SpaceX Starlink satellite. ESA's SpaceDebris team assessed the risk of a collision between Aeolus and the Starlink satellite and decided the safest course was to increase the altitude of Aeolus. ESA used a manual system to execute the manoeuvre in this case, but ESA anticipates that manual systems may not be able to cope with the vast numbers of small satellites that will make up future mega-constellations. ESA is therefore working on automated AI-based solutions.

UK Spaceport: A recent report by Audit Scotland raises concerns about the costs of the planned vertical space launch centre on the A'Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland. According to the report, "recent indications are that the costs of the project are increasing, and it is not yet clear how these will be funded". Initial funding for the project has been set at £17.3m, of which £9.8m will come from Highland and Island Enterprises, £2.5m from the UK Space Agency. The remaining £5m is being sought from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. In parallel with securing funding, HIE has begun the process that will lead to a formal planning application for the launch centre.

Iridium & OneWeb: Iridium Communications Inc. and OneWeb announced on 17 September that they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The two companies intend to collaborate on a combined Low Earth Orbit service that will bundle Iridium's Certus L-band services and OneWeb's Ku-band service. L-band spectrum and Ku-band spectrum have different but complementary properties. OneWeb's network will deliver high-speed broadband connectivity that transfers large amounts of data, while Iridium's L-band services have lower throughput but are highly weather resistant.

Spaceport Cornwall: Cornwall Council cabinet members have recommended that the Council invest up to £12m in developing a horizontal space launch facility at Newquay Airport. Further funding will be provided by the UK Space Agency (£7.85m), Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (£0.5m) and Virgin Orbit (£2.5 million). A final decision by the Council is expected in November.

Thales Alenia Space: Thales Alenia Space announced a new, smaller mid-sized satellite product line – Space Inspire - offering a fully digital payload and in-orbit reconfiguration. The company expects to receive orders for the new satellite by the end of the year.

UK space funding: UK Science Minister, Chris Skidmore, has announced a package of funding for the space sector. The government is to invest £20m towards space weather research and improvements to the Met Office's space weather systems. Proposed horizontal spaceports in Wales, Scotland and England will share £1.3m to help further develop their spaceport plans.

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