Satellite and Space Projects Newsletter - May 2020 | Fieldfisher
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Satellite and Space Projects Newsletter - May 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. 

The future of LEO after OneWeb:  OneWeb's Chapter 11 filing is not an indication of the prospects for the LEO broadband sector, reports Quilty Analytics.  The research, strategy, and investment banking services provider points out that OneWeb faced a number of obstacles that will not necessarily be faced by other businesses, including significant first-mover disadvantage, a competitively inferior system (as a result of early design decisions and trade-offs), and inadequate financing.

OneWeb plans after Chapter 11 filing:  Following OneWeb's filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in March, the company's creditors, led by SoftBank, propose to lend the company an initial US$75m to allow the company time to sell its spectrum assets. OneWeb is also seeking permission from the court for a further option for SoftBank and other creditors to lend OneWeb an additional US$225m.  The Telegraph also reported that OneWeb has approached the UK government for rescue financing, offering to move its entire operations to the UK. A number of news sites report that Amazon, Eutelsat, Cerberus Capital Management and two un-named parties from China have registered interest in bidding in the forthcoming auction of OneWeb's assets.  Elon Musk has denied reports of SpaceX interest.

Intelsat 901 life extension:  A project to extend the life of Intelsat's geo-stationary satellite 901 has achieved success with the transfer of some 30 customers to the satellite.  In February this year, Northrop Grumman's Mission Extension Vehicle-1 MEV-1 successfully docked to Intelsat 901 and is now providing the satellite with fuel supply and propulsionIntelsat plans to use MEV-1 to keep Intelsat 901 in service until February 2025. 
Guiana Space Centre to reopen:  The Guiana Space Centre is due to re-open and begin launch preparations towards the end of May, following the March 16 suspension of launch campaigns in response to Covid-19.  Arianespace confirmed that it is aiming for its first “rideshare” Vega launch, carrying approximately 50 small satellites, in mid-June; and a dual-payload Ariane 5 mission for two customers, Intelsat and B-SAT, at the end of July. 

Telesat results and LEO plans: Satellite operator Telesat announced its Q1 2020 results on 30 April and confirmed the company's plans to proceed with the build and launch of a LEO constellation of around 300 satellites.  The company expects to select a manufacturer in mid-2020 and to begin LEO services in 2022 using 78 satellites in polar orbits.  Telesat's global LEO services are scheduled to start in 2023.

Intelsat in Chapter 11:  Intelsat announced on 13 May that the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to allow the company to participate in the accelerated clearing of C-band spectrum for 5G services.  Operators who clear their spectrum to an accelerated timetable set by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will receive accelerated relocation payments from the FCC, in Intelsat's case, $4.87 billion.  In order to meet the accelerated timetable, Intelsat needs to start clearing activity immediately.  The company has secured $1 billion of debtor-in-possession financing and, if approved by the court, this will provide liquidity to support ongoing operations and fund upfront clearing costs.

LeoLabs Collision Avoidance solution:  LeoLabs has unveiled the company's new Collision Avoidance solution, a cloud-based automated service to address the threat of space debris.  Collision Avoidance is underpinned by LeoLabs' global network of radars. Users can access real-time alerts on close approach events and on-demand risk analyses via a tailored web-dashboard.  Features include on-demand ephemeris screening with results returned instantaneously, automated radar prioritization and high-fidelity data products on all secondary objects in conjunction events, integration of external data sources, and robust web analytics tools for conjunction risk assessment.

UK satellite navigation programme guidance:  The Daily Telegraph reported 9 May 2020 that officials in the Cabinet Office and Department for Business are advising the government not to proceed with plans for a UK alternative to the EU Galileo satellite navigation programme, as the programme does not represent value for money.  This follows reports in the Financial Terms earlier this year that the cost of a UK programme would reach £5bn, rather than the £3-4bn initially projected. 

UK Spaceport planning delay:  Progress in the planning application for a vertical launch facility on the A'Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland has been delayed.  Lockdown measures, in force to address the Covid-19 pandemic, mean that it is taking longer for the Highland Council to process planning applications. 

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