Fieldfisher webinar highlights opportunities and challenges in satellite connectivity: Panellists from Intelsat, Space Norway, Methera Global Communications and Stellar Solutions Aerospace debated key issues affecting the future of satellite connectivity. Poll results from delegates across the UK, Europe, the US and round the world also shed light on where the future of satcoms lies.
Astra to go public via SPAC deal: Launch start-up, Astra, is to become a Nasdaq- traded company through a merger with Holicity Inc, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). The transaction, announced on 2 February 2021, is expected to provide Astra with up to US$500 million in cash proceeds. Astra will begin delivering customer payloads in summer 2021 and monthly launches by the end of 2021.
ESA and EU to set new collaboration framework in space: The EU and ESA are close to concluding their negotiations for a new Financial Framework Partnership Agreement governing the relationship between them, according to a report in spacenews.com. In a speech at the 13th European Space Conference on 12 January, Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market confirmed the continued importance of the ESA to the EU's new space program, saying "…the European Space policy will continue to rely on ESA and its unique technical, engineering and science expertise. ESA will continue to be the European Agency for Space matters. So if we are to be successful in our European strategy for space, I will need ESA by my side."
Virgin Orbit's latest launch: Virgin Orbit carried out a second launch demonstration of its LauncherOne rocket from its modified Virgin Atlantic 747-400, Cosmic Girl, on 17 January 2021. LauncherOne successfully reached orbit and deployed 10 CubeSats for NASA's Launch Services Program, paving the way for commercial service for its next mission.
Legal challenge to Sutherland Spaceport: On 1 April 2021, a court will hear a legal challenge against Highland Council's decision to grant planning permission for the Sutherland Spaceport. The challenge has been brought by Wildland Limited, a company owned by Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, and reportedly Scotland's largest private landowner. The company, which has previously raised concerns about the environmental impact of the spaceport, has asked for judicial review of the planning decision, arguing that Highland Council “did not have access to sufficiently detailed or rigorous impact assessments on key aspects of the proposal to approve the application in the way it did.”
Additional consultation on UK Space Industry Act: The UK government has published draft environment objectives and accompanying guidelines for use by UK's spaceflight regulator under the UK's Space Industry Act 2018. Under the Act, the regulator will have to take the objectives and guidelines into account when deciding whether to grant launch operator or spaceport licences. A public consultation on the draft environment objectives is open until 24 March 2021.
Growth in space investment: After an initial lull at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, investment in commercial space activity has gathered pace. Reports suggest that investment levels in 2020 will have at least reached, if not surpassed, 2019 levels, boosted by SpaceX's August 2020 funding round of US$1.9 billion.
Isotropic Systems raises US$40 million: UK company Isotropic Systems has completed a US$40m funding round, led by SES, that will see it through to product development of its ground-breaking multi-beam satellite antennas. Other participants in the funding round included Orbital Ventures, the UK government’s Future Fund, Boeing HorizonX Global Ventures, Space Angels and Firmament Ventures. Isotropic's antenna uses optical lens technology to connect simultaneously to multiple satellites in different orbits. The company expects to roll out its phase one terminal in early 2022.
Lockheed Martin selects launcher for UK spaceport: Lockheed Martin has selected ABL Space Systems to supply a rocket and associated launch services for Lockheed's first UK vertical satellite launch, part of the company's UK Pathfinder Launch Program. The launch, expected to take place in 2022 from the island of Unst in the Shetland Islands, will have on board a small launch orbital manoeuvring vehicle built by Moog, capable of carrying and deploying up to six 6U CubeSats.
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