Satellite and Space Projects Newsletter - June 2020 | Fieldfisher
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Satellite and Space Projects Newsletter - June 2020

John Worthy


United Kingdom

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

Skynet 6 bid teams gear up : Four consortia led by Airbus Defence & Space, Babcock Integrated Technology, BT and Serco, have been down-selected for the Skynet 6 Service Delivery Wrap (SDW) programme to manage the UK's strategic defence communications services and will now be gearing up for the bid process to the MoD’s Defence Digital unit. An invitation to tender document was issued to these teams on June 12. While Serco has announced its team comprising satellite operator Inmarsat, IT specialist CGI UK and Lockheed Martin, the full make up of other bid teams has not been published. The SDW deal will run for five years, after a transition phase, plus two possible single-year extension options. A deal for preliminary design work and long-lead time manufacture was signed by Airbus and the MoD in March. The SDW deal will act as a prelude to the Enduring Capability programme, covering the full next generation services.

New UK-US agreement paves the way for UK launches – As part of the UK's plans to promote launch activities from British soil, the UK and the US entered into US-UK Technology Safeguards Agreement on 16 June, which will enable U.S. companies to participate in these launches. Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: "This deal with the US takes us one step closer to seeing the first ever launch into space from British soil. The UK and US governments have signed a new agreement paving the way for US companies to operate from UK spaceports and export space launch technology. This is a key moment for our commercial space industry, and I look forward to seeing companies from Scotland to Newquay benefiting, and the creation of highly skilled jobs on both sides of the Atlantic."

ViaSat considers LEO: ViaSat announced 26 May 2020 that it is considering building a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation, subject to subsidy under the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The RDOF will direct US$20.4 billion over ten years to superfast broadband networks in unserved rural areas. At the time of ViaSat's announcement, it seemed that LEO constellations would not be eligible under Phase 1 of the RDOF, but might be eligible under Phase 2. The FCC has since announced that LEO operators will be able to apply for subsidy under Phase 1.

Intelsat Chapter 11 and debt reduction: Samar Halawi, CCO of Intelat, told that the company hopes its Chapter 11 bankruptcy will allow it to reduce by half its US$15 billion debt load. Once the bankruptcy process is complete - in between six and twelve months' time – the debt reduction will allow Intelsat to invest in innovation, with analysts noting that Chapter 11 can be an opportunity for a business to emerge stronger. 

OneWeb bid for 48,000 satellite constellation:  OneWeb has asked the FCC to modify OneWeb's existing licence to increase the number of satellites in its constellation to 48,000.  In a press release on 27 May 2020, the company said that a larger constellation "will allow for greater flexibility to meet soaring global connectivity demands".   OneWeb is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and FCC approval could improve the value of OneWeb's assets. 

EU space policy and sustainability: The European Council has formally acknowledged the role space activities might play in addressing sustainability issues such as climate change, ecosystem degradation, health crises, food security and migration.  In its "Conclusions on space for a sustain able Europe", the Council noted that European space data, services and technologies could contribute to the European Green Deal, enabling Europe to become a global leader in the transition to a sustainable world.

SES plans for LEO and MEO: SES has submitted a filing to the Federal Communications Commission for market access for a Low Earth Orbit constellation. The company has also filed to expand its Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) fleet.  SES currently combines Geostationary High Throughput satellites with its MEO fleet to create multi-orbit, multi-band services.   

Virgin Orbit ground operations at Spaceport Cornwall: Virgin Orbit will issue an RFP for a transportable ground operations system (TGOS) at Newquay airport in July this year. The TGOS, which will support Virgin's LauncherOne rocket programme, will be manufactured in the UK, and Virgin Orbit expects to select a prime contractor by late September 2020.  Details of the RFP process were discussed on a webinar hosted by Virgin Orbit, Spaceport Cornwall and the UK Space Agency on 3 June. The UK Space Agency said that it is continuing to work with government departments on legislation needed to facilitate horizontal launches in the UK, but progress has been slow as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit preparations.

A phased return to work is taking place in different sectors.  Fieldfisher is committed to supporting you through the transition and beyond.  We continue to be available to our clients either remotely or in person, with your business as usual matters, as well as for C-19 support.    Please review our Covid-19 hub for updates and get in touch if you require further information.

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