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16 Apr 20. Magellan Aerospace to Provide Black Brant Sounding Rockets to The German Aerospace Center. Magellan Aerospace Corporation (“Magellan”) announced today that it would provide Black Brant sounding rocket motors to The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. or “DLR”) that is estimated to generate revenue of up to $9.4m over the term of the agreement. The DLR is the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA) is a department of DLR’s Space and Astronaut Training and conducts multiple sounding rocket missions per year for scientific purposes. Under the terms of this agreement, the DLR will purchase Black Brant rocket motors over a three-year period and may exercise options for other various hardware items.
Similar to NASA, Magellan’s largest Black Brant customer, the DLR has a family of sounding rockets that they utilize to meet varying mission requirements. The Black Brant is the most reliable sounding rocket motor in the market today, with a success rate of 99.4% over the last 500 launches. Responding to the DLR’s requirement to expand its inventory of sounding rocket vehicles, Magellan’s Black Brant rocket motor has the flight heritage and on-time production delivery that this customer demands.
Mr. Haydn Martin, Magellan’s Vice President, Business Development, Marketing and Contracts said, “We are excited to welcome DLR as a customer for our Black Brant rocket motor and look forward to the opportunity to support their growing number of new vehicle configurations and missions in the coming years. This competitively won business speaks to the reputation that Magellan has built since the first launch of a Magellan designed and built Black Brant in June 1962.”
Magellan’s Winnipeg division is a pioneer in Canada’s space industry and has been designing and manufacturing Black Brant sounding rockets for more than 55 years. The Black Brant is a solid propellant rocket system available in single or multistage configurations and is one of the most successful sounding rockets ever built. Black Brant rockets carry instrumentation into suborbital flight to take measurements and perform scientific experiments. To date, more than 1,000 Black Brant rockets have been launched from every continent other than Antarctica. (Source: BUSINESS WIRE)
15 Apr 20. Russia Tests Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite Missile. U.S. Space Command is aware and tracking Russia’s direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile test April 15.
“Russia’s DA-ASAT test provides yet another example that the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing,” said Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, USSPACECOM commander and U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations. “The United States is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the Nation, our allies and U.S. interests from hostile acts in space.”
Russia’s missile system is capable of destroying satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) and comes on the heels of Russia’s on-orbit testing the U.S. highlighted in February, namely COSMOS 2542 and COSMOS 2543. These satellites, which behaved similar to previous Russian satellites that exhibited characteristics of a space weapon, conducted maneuvers near a U.S. Government satellite that would be interpreted as irresponsible and potentially threatening in any other domain.
“This test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs,” Raymond said. “Space is critical to all nations and our way of life. The demands on space systems continue in this time of crisis where global logistics, transportation and communication are key to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is a shared interest and responsibility of all spacefaring nations to create safe, stable and operationally sustainable conditions for space activities, including commercial, civil and national security activities,” Raymond concluded. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/US Space Command)
15 Apr 20. Defense leaders in Congress ask Trump to stop Ligado plan. Three leaders from Congressional defense committees increased pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to deny a license that Pentagon leaders fear could harm the Global Positioning System and sent a letter April 15 asking President Donald Trump to prevent the agency from moving forward with the plan.
The letter, signed by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, the committee’s ranking member, and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, follows a recent report by C4ISRNET that the FCC appears poised to approve the application from Ligado Networks after years of delays.
Privately held Ligado Networks, formerly known as LightSquared, hopes to use spectrum in the L-band frequency that is near where GPS satellites operate. More than 10 federal agencies have opposed the application, led by the Pentagon.
“Ligado’s planned usage will likely harm military capabilities, particularly for the U.S. Space Force, and have major impact on the national economy,” the three Congressman wrote. “Further, this plan would cost taxpayers billions of dollars to replace current GPS equipment, which could be rendered useless, and would force American families and businesses to use foreign space-based navigation and timing systems to replace the functions of GPS. This is fundamentally a bad deal for America’s national and economic security, and the timing could not be worse.”
Rep. Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, did not sign the letter.
The correspondence comes five days after the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure teamed up with the chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee to demand answers from Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao about the issue.
“While we share the desire to make America a leader in 5G networks, Ligado’s proposal is not essential to winning the 5G competition with China,” the April 15 letter from the defense leaders reads. “The bands of spectrum Ligado seeks are not the prime bands that the Department of Defense is working hard to share with industry, and there is grave concern across your administration about the harmful impact of this specific plan from the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Interior, Justice, Homeland Security, Energy, and Transportation, as well as NASA, National Science Foundation, U.S. Coast Guard, and FAA.
“These objections are based on strong evidence from years of testing and analysis that shows that the Space Force’s gold-standard service to the American people will suffer terribly if this proposal is approved.”
The congressmen also asked Trump to discuss the issue with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In response, Doug Smith, Ligado’s chief executive, said in a statement that “the FCC is the expert agency charged by Congress with the exclusive authority to resolve Ligado’s proposal. DOD’s last ditch efforts to interfere with the FCC’s rigorous and exhaustive engineering analysis has nothing to do with science, facts or the law. So that only leaves politics.”
The letter to Trump comes amid renewed focus on 5G technology from key White House administration officials, specifically, from the White House National Economic Council. That office is led by Larry Kudlow, who has expressed interest in the economic benefits of expanding the nation’s 5G capabilities.
Ligado owns a license to operate the spectrum near GPS to build what the firm describes as a 5G network that would boost connectivity for the industrial “internet of things” market. The company uses the SkyTerra-1 satellite, which launched in 2010 and is in geostationary orbit, and it has planned to deploy thousands of terminals to provide connectivity in the continental United States.
Late on April 10, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) officially placed a series of memos sent by the Defense Department on this issue to the FCC’s filing system – memos that had been unreleased until C4ISRNET’s story reported on their contents. In addition, the NTIA associate administrator said in a letter to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai that the organization cannot “reasonably reach” the conclusion that the Pentagon’s concerns have been resolved.
That comment led to a new filing by Ligado on April 12, in which the company blasted the NTIA statement, and the attached notes from the Pentagon, as “simply astounding” and “replete with fearmongering.” The company also argued that the DOD’s conclusions that GPS would be impacted are “based on irrelevant and misleading data,” most notably noting that the Air Force test cited in the service’s memo was based on an older plan the company has since abandoned. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
15 Apr 20. Russia conducted anti-satellite missile test, says US Space Command. Russia conducted a direct ascent anti-satellite missile test April 15, according to a statement from U.S. Space Command.
“Russia’s DA-ASAT test provides yet another example that the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing,” said Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the head of U.S. Space Command and chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force. “The United States is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the Nation, our allies, and U.S. interests from hostile acts in space.”
A U.S. Space Command spokesperson said the military is not tracking any additional debris because of the event but did not provide additional details about when the test took place.
The Russian Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation, said the test is likely of the Nudol, a ballistic-missile system capable of taking out satellites in low earth orbit. He warned not to overreact, as the system has been tested several times in recent years. According to the CSIS Aerospace Security Project’s Space Threat Assessment 2020, Russia conducted its seventh test of Nudol in December 2018.
As to why military leaders issued the statement, Weeden said it is “part of the DoD being more public about what’s going on in space, which is good. But it also seems the only thing they’re doing about it is using it to justify more U.S. spending on our own counterspace capabilities.”
Anti-satellite missile tests are rare, with the most recent prominent example taking place in March 2019 when India blew up one it its own satellites in orbit with a missile. That test was criticized by observers for the amount of orbital debris created by the impact. Such debris poses a threat to other satellites. The alleged anti-satellite test comes on the heels of multiple instances of behavior from Russian satellites that U.S. officials have called “irresponsible” and “hugely provocative.”
In Oct. 2017, Russia deployed Cosmos 2519, a space vehicle it described as a “space apparatus inspector.” Once on orbit, observers recorded it deploying a sub-satellite (dubbed Cosmos 2521) capable of maneuvering around other satellites.
“What happened next is the disturbing part,” recounted Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Chris Ford. He was speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event April 6.
“The sub-satellite (…) launched an additional object into space — Cosmos 2523—at the high relative speed of about 250 km per hour,” he explained. “I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but Cosmos 2521 demonstrated the ability to position itself near another satellite and to fire a projectile.”
Russia has continued to conduct provocative actions in space since then, he said. In November and December, Russia launched COSMOS 2542 and COSMOS 2543, which have actively maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite in low earth orbit. And according to U.S. Space Command, both of those Russian satellites have also exhibited characteristics of a space weapon.
“Since the Russian military had already demonstrated its ability to fire a projectile from one satellite in space just over two years before, Russia’s irresponsible recent movements are clearly hugely provocative,” said Ford.
Even without the projectiles, an apparent collision between two Russian inspector satellites in 2019 demonstrates the danger of Russia’s proximity operations, he added.
Raymond said the anti-satellite test undermines Russia’s push for a treaty preventing the placement of weapons in space.
“This test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counterspace weapons programs,” Raymond said. “Space is critical to all nations and our way of life. The demands on space systems continue in this time of crisis where global logistics, transportation and communication are key to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In his recent comments, Ford also expressed skepticism of the effort, known as the Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects.
“(The treaty) purports to help solve the very problems that they are themselves working so hard to create,” said Ford.
Notably, the treaty does not to address terrestrial anti-satellite weapons, ranging from direct-ascent missiles to lasers to electronic interference. Russia has also pushed for the United Nations to adopt a No first Placement of Weapons in Outer Space resolution, a diplomatic effort Ford compared to a snake oil salesman.
“A more accurate term for the Russian initiative might be the No Second Placement Initiative, because the only point of these diplomatic overtures seems to be either propaganda or worse,” said Ford. “This seems to be an effort to persuade other countries not to do what Russia has every sign of already having done itself.”
According to the Secure World Foundation’s annual Global Counterspace Capabilities report, released in March, Russia has rigorously pursued the development of counterspace systems in recent years. In addition to Nudol and the satellite behaviors described above, the report claimed Russia is developing on-orbit jammers powered by a nuclear reaction and a large laser designed to dazzle or damage satellites. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
15 Apr 20. NATO’s new tool shows the impact of GPS jammers. A new tool developed by NATO will help the alliance prepare for GPS jammers, allowing operational commands to see what impact the devices will have on their GPS receivers, the NATO Communications and Information Agency announced April 6.
“NATO’s adversaries have the ability to degrade or deny GPS-enabled capabilities,” Jean-Philippe Saulay, a NATO navigation and identification officer, said in a statement. “NATO must take appropriate measures to ensure Allied forces can operate in a degraded or denied environment.”
The Radar Electromagnetic and Communication Coverage Tool, or REACT, is able to estimate how large an area will be affected by specific GPS jammers. By inputting technical information and location data about known jammers, users can see on a map what areas will be affected by the devices and prepare accordingly.
The software also works for other global navigation satellite systems used by NATO, such as the European Union’s Galileo constellation.
According to the agency, REACT is only being used for testing and experimentation at the moment. It was shown to operators during the Trident Jupiter 2019 exercise for feedback. Developers are now working to ensure the software is interoperable with NATO’s classified networks and available to operational commands.
Sponsored by the NATO Navigation and Identification Programme of Work, REACT is available to NATO members free of charge.
Tools like REACT highlight the alliance’s dependence on global navigation satellite systems for accurate position, navigation and timing data, as well as the investments that China, Russia and Iran, among others, are making to develop and field jamming devices. And it’s more than just a hypothetical issue for NATO: In 2018, Norway officials publicly claimed that Russia had jammed GPS signals during NATO’s Trident Jupiter exercise.
“NATO must maintain superiority in the electromagnetic environment, including but not limited to, positioning, navigation and timing services,” said Enrico Casini, a communications and navigation engineer at the NCI Agency. “The electromagnetic environment has become even more contested in recent years.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. military has been pursuing efforts to overcome the threat posed by GPS jammers. For instance, the U.S. Space Force is working to enable a more secure military signal with GPS III, and just last year the U.S. Army fielded anti-jamming antennas to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Germany. (Source: Defense News)
16 Apr 20. Rocket Lab to launch dedicated mission for Japanese space industry start-up. US and New Zealand-based Rocket Lab has signed a deal with Japanese satellite company Synspective to launch a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite in late 2020. Synspective’s StriX-α satellite will be launched on an Electron launch vehicle as a dedicated mission from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. The satellite will be the first in Synspective’s planned StriX constellation of around 25 SAR satellites designed to provide geospatial solutions. SAR satellites actively observe and acquire Earth surface information by transmitting and receiving reflected microwaves.
Compared with optical satellites, which rely on sunlight reflection, SAR can capture images of the ground surface in all weather conditions and at any time of the day or night. With the StriX constellation, Synspective aims to equip companies, governments, and research organizations with high-quality and user-friendly information data that can be used for urban development planning, construction and infrastructure monitoring, and disaster response.
The StriX-α satellite will be the sole payload on the Electron launch vehicle for this mission, giving Synspective the ability to select the exact orbit, launch site, and launch timing that best suits the company’s needs.
Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck welcomed the collaboration, stating, “We’re delighted to welcome Synspective to Electron, and we’re honoured to be play such a pivotal role in the development of the StriX constellation.
“We understand just how important it is to have control over your orbit and your launch schedule when building out a constellation, so we’re proud to be delivering that capability to Synspective on Electron.”
Synspective founder and CEO Dr Motoyuki Arai reinforced Beck’s comments, saying, “We are very pleased to work with Rocket Lab, a pioneer in rocket ventures. We are also grateful for their flexibility in accepting our requests on the satellite’s orbit and launch period.
“This year, we will launch our first satellite as well as our SAR data solutions. With this launch, we are taking a very important step towards establishing Synspective’s one-stop service.” (Source: Space Connect)
15 Apr 20. Rocket Lab confirms successful mid-air Electron recovery test. Rocket Lab has announced the completion of a successful mid-air recovery test – a manoeuvre that involves snagging an Electron test stage from the sky with a helicopter. The successful test is a major step forward in Rocket Lab’s plans to reuse the first stage of its Electron launch vehicle for multiple missions.
The test took place in early March, before ‘Safer at Home’ orders were issued and before New Zealand entered Alert Level 4 in response to the COVID-19 situation. The test was conducted by dropping an Electron first stage test article from a helicopter over open ocean in New Zealand.
A parachute was then deployed from the stage, before a second helicopter closed in on the descending stage and captured it mid-air at around 5,000 feet, using a specially designed grappling hook to snag the parachute’s drogue line. After capturing the stage on the first attempt, the helicopter safely carried the suspended stage back to land.
The successful test is the latest in a series of milestones for Rocket Lab as the company works towards a reusable first stage. On the company’s two most recent missions, launched in December 2019 and January 2020, Rocket Lab successfully completed guided the re-entries of Electron’s first stage.
Rocket Lab founder and chief executive, Peter Beck, said the successful mid-air recovery test is a major step towards increasing launch frequency by eliminating the need to build a new first stage for every mission.
Both stages on those missions carried new hardware and systems to enable recovery testing, including guidance and navigation hardware, S-band telemetry and onboard flight computer systems, to gather data during the stage’s atmospheric re-entry.
One stage was also equipped with a reaction control system that oriented the first stage 180-degrees for its descent, keeping it dynamically stable for the re-entry.
“Congratulations to the recovery team here at Rocket Lab on a flawless mid-air recovery test,” Beck explained.
The stage slowed from more than 7,000 kilometres per hour to less than 900 kilometres by the time it reached sea-level, maintaining the correct angle of attack for the full descent.
Beck added, “Electron has already unlocked access to space for small satellites, but every step closer to reusability is a step closer to even more frequent launch opportunities for our customers. We’re looking forward to pushing the technology even further this year and bringing a flown stage back to the factory.”
The next phase of recovery testing will see Rocket Lab attempt to recover a full Electron first stage after launch from the ocean downrange of Launch Complex 1 and have it shipped back to Rocket Lab’s Production Complex for refurbishment.
The stage will not be captured mid-air by helicopter for this test, but will be equipped with a parachute to slow its descent before a soft landing in the ocean where it will be collected by a ship. This mission is currently planned for late-2020. (Source: Space Connect)
14 Apr 20. The Pentagon is looking for a quantum space sensor. A GPS receiver just isn’t going to cut it in deep space. While GPS has a host of applications on Earth — from enabling credit card transactions to weather forecasting — it is decidedly less useful off planet. After all, GPS was designed to enable navigation around the Earth, not in deep space. Space vehicles operating beyond the reaches of GPS have to rely on other methods for determining their position, navigation and timing, such as inertial measurements or even star tracking.
Those methods vary in reliability, so the Department of Defense is looking for a more accurate tool — namely, a quantum space sensor.
The Defense Innovation Unit — the organization within the DoD charged with leveraging commercial technologies for military use — is seeking a compact, high-performance sensor that can use quantum technology to provide precise inertial measurements in deep space. The quantum sensor could also be used in non-space environments where GPS signals are degraded and denied.
According to DIU Program Manager George Sondecker, quantum sensors are an emerging technology, and a “primary objective of this effort is to mature the technology readiness of commercial sensors for reliable operations.”
DIU is not developing the quantum sensor for any space vehicle in particular.
“No specific platform has been identified. The sensor is intended to be applicable across a broad range of platforms for operating in environments where GPS may be unavailable or for enhancing operations where GPS is available,” Sondecker wrote in an emailed statement. “DIU is partnered with a number of stakeholders across the DoD to develop the Quantum Space Sensor identified in this solicitation.”
Participants will need to deliver their flight-ready prototypes within 24 months. Specifically, DIU wants sensors with error rates better than 100 meters per hour in deep space or 30 meters per hour for terrestrial applications while being no bigger than 0.1 cubic meters.
DIU is accepting questions through April 16, and responses are due April 19. (Source: Defense News)
14 Apr 20. US Space Force continues to meet mission demands despite COVID-19. Chief of Space Operations, General John Raymond, has moved to reaffirm the commitment of US Space Force to continue with critical space missions even though America’s newest military service is taking “active measures” to protect personnel from COVID-19.
In addition to rigorously following federal guidelines to protect personnel from a virus for which there is no vaccine or immunity, Gen Raymond said more stringent steps such as “sequestering certain crews” are being taken in some locations to ensure the COVID-19 has minimal impact on critical operations.
“In the face of COVID-19 we are continuing to provide the capabilities that are critical our American way of life. I’m very comfortable that we will continue to provide those capabilities without fail,” Gen Raymond explained.
Even so, some aspects of the Space Force are affected.
Like other branches of the military, Gen Raymond has instituted a flexible approach that allows local commanders to adjust protections based on local circumstances.
He added, “There are some things we have scaled back. For example, we have cancelled Space Flag training … We’re going to mitigate the loss of that by doing more local training.”
Gen Raymond also noted that the critical planning to successfully build and sustain the Space Force is progressing and that the actual number of commissioned Space Force personnel is on the verge of growing.
Currently, Gen Raymond and newly installed Space Force Senior Enlisted Advisor, Chief Master Sergeant Roger Towberman, are the only two official members of the Space Force.
That number will grow later this month when 88 graduates from the Air Force Academy will be directly commissioned into the force.
Those Space Professionals are augmented by 16,000 Air Force personnel who are currently assigned to the US Space Force.
Gen Raymond said he is pleased with status of the force and is pressing the planners to innovate.
“We haven’t taken our foot off the accelerator in establishing the Space Force. We’ve been provided a huge opportunity to build the service from the ground up and start with a clean sheet of paper that is not tied to how we’ve done business in the past. We are building a service that is purpose-built for the challenges that we face in the space domain,” Gen Raymond added.
He said work continues on developing an acquisition strategy that must be conveyed to Congress.
Gen Raymond also said work continues on an overarching Space Force doctrine that will help define the priorities, capabilities and culture of the institution. A major element of that doctrine, he said, is ensuring seamless connection with the joint force.
“Our desire is not to get into a conflict that begins or extends into space. We want to deter that from happening. But if deterrence were to fail, we are going to have to fight for space superiority in the future. And to do that will require the full weight of the joint force and so that will require Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and the Space Force to gain that space superiority,” Gen Raymond explained.
In response to a question about the pace of developing and establishing the Space Force, Raymond noted a formal action 31 March by Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett that identified 23 US Air Force organisations whose space-related missions will soon transfer to the Space Force.
Under Secretary Barrett’s action, the goal is to have each of the 23 space missions formally transferred from the Air Force into the Space Force within the next three to six months based on timing and conditions specific to each organisation and mission.
Gen Raymond and Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein have been delegated the authority to actually execute the transfer when they jointly agree the necessary conditions have been met to affect a smooth transfer. (Source: Space Connect)
13 Apr 20. Space Command sticks with LinQuest for support. On April 8, the U.S. Space Force awarded LinQuest Corp. a $14m contract to ensure the company continues to provide support for U.S. Space Command — support it’s provided since before the command was even reestablished.
In April 2019, LinQuest was awarded a one-year contract to help Joint Force Space Component Commander Gen. John “Jay” Raymond stand up the 11th combatant command. Under that $9m sole-source contract, LinQuest provided nonpersonal services to stand up and support U.S. Space Command.
Raymond, who’d already been nominated to serve as the first commander of the reestablished U.S. Space Command at that point, was confirmed by the Senate that summer, and in August the organization was officially established at a Rose Garden ceremony. Later when the U.S. Space Force was established in December, Raymond was appointed to also serve as the new service’s first chief of space operations.
Now with that one-year contract coming to an end, both organizations have been officially established, but both are still under development. The April 8 contract extends LinQuest’s support to the nascent U.S. Space Command through April 21, 2021. Work will be performed in Colorado at Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever Air Force Base.
LinQuest is a longtime U.S. Air Force contractor, supporting the service’s space operations for several years before the establishment of the U.S. Space Force or U.S. Space Command. In July, the Air Force awarded the company a $562m, seven-and-a-half-year contract to continue provide engineering, integration and solution support for satellite systems and architecture. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
13 Apr 20. Space Force picks launch provider for 44 technology demonstration satellites. VOX Space will launch 44 technology demonstrator satellites into orbit for the U.S. Space Force, the Space and Missile Systems Center announced April 10. Under the $35m task order, VOX Space, a wholly owned subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, will provide launch services for Space Test Program-S28 (STP-S28), an effort to put demonstrator satellites on orbit to test and develop new space situational awareness and communications technologies for the military.
VOX Space will launch the 44 small satellites into low earth orbit using three of their LauncherOne rockets. Unlike traditional launches where the rockets start from a vertical position on a pad, the LauncherOne rockets are launched in midair from a Boeing 747 aircraft. The first launch is tentatively slated for October 2021.
While four companies are battling for five years of contracts under the National Security Space Launch effort, which will place the country’s large exquisite satellites on orbit, the U.S. military and the intelligence community have looked to exploit the growing commercial small launch market under new contracting mechanisms.
For instance, the National Reconnaissance Office has begun using its new “rapid acquisition of a small rocket” contract vehicle in 2020, successfully launching its first payload under that program with Rocket Lab in January. A second planned launch with Rocket Lab slated for March was delayed due to the COVID-19 situation.
The VOX Space award is the first task order under Orbital Services Program-4 — an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract awarded to eight companies by the Space and Missile Systems Center in October.
OSP-4 is a follow-on to OSP-3, which expired in November. Like it’s predecessor, OSP-4 is the Defense Department’s effort to leverage the growing commercial small launch market to put government payloads on orbit. The program enables the launch of payloads greater than 400 pounds to any orbit within 12-24 months after a task order is awarded. Last year, the Air Force said it expected to use OSP-4 to launch 20 missions over a nine-year period.
“The competitive award of the STP-S28 task order is a prime example of the flexible and responsive contracting processes the Launch Enterprise is using to deliver resilient and affordable space capabilities to our Nation,” said Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate. “In today’s contested space domain, contracts must be flexible and responsive to meet the challenges facing the warfighter. I’m proud of the work the Small Launch and Targets Division accomplished in awarding the STP-S28 task order in only five months using the OSP-4 contract.” (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
13 Apr 20. NRO Cracks Open Commercial Imagery To More Providers. The plan for multiple contracts represents a sea-change from past Intelligence Community practice in buying commercial satellite imagery. The NRO is making a major shift in its strategy for buying commercial satellite imagery later this year, abandoning the Intelligence Community’s long-standing monogamous relationship with Maxar’s DigitalGlobe to make way for new vendors as it moves beyond its current EnhancedView program.
“This next phase includes the release of a future Request for Proposal (anticipated in the 3rd quarter of FY20), followed by the award of multiple commercial imagery contracts in the 4th quarter of FY20,” NRO spokeswoman Laura Lundin told me in an email.
The question left unanswered is whether planned new contracts will split the some $900m NRO has set aside through 2023 for optioning images from DigitalGlobe, or add more funds to the pot. And, as Lundin reminded me, the spy satellite agency never comments on its budget.
The plan for multiple contracts represents a sea-change from past IC practice in buying commercial satellite imagery — established by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) prior to the 2017 decision to flip acquisition authority to the NRO, under the Commercial Systems Program Office (CSPO) headed by Peter Muend.
For nearly the past decade, DigitalGlobe, now part of Maxar Technologies, has been the sole source of commercial satellite imagery used by the IC under the EnhancedView program series. (NGA signed the original EnhancedView contract in 2010 with DigitalGlobe and GeoEye, and in 2012 GeoEye was forced to merge with DigitalGlobe due to NGA budget cuts.)
NRO in August 2018 took over responsibility from NGA for the latest contract with Maxar, called the EnhancedView Follow-On program, in effect extending the long-running IC relationship with DigitalGlobe as its central provider of commercial electro-optical (EO) imagery. That $300m contract secured one year’s access to the company’s WorldView and Geoeye satellites, and included an option for another year (through August 2020) at the same annual price. NRO granted Maxar a one-year extension of that contract in November 2018, worth another $300m, which included annual options (also each worth $300m) through 2023.
As I reported last year at GEOINT in San Antonio, NRO signaled a change of acquisition strategy when it awarded startups BlackSky and Planet what it called “study contracts” to evaluate their capabilities. Both firms are offering low-cost imagery using large constellations of small satellites that provide the ability to revisit a ground target more often; whereas Maxar has a smaller number of very high-resolution satellites with lower revisit rates.
Maxar currently operates four EO satellites: WorldView 1, GeoEye 1, Worldview 2, and Worldview 3. The latter satellite, the newest of the bunch launched in 2014, can provide full color images with a 31cm resolution.
Drones An “Immediate Threat” – DoD Plans Rapid Acquisition of Counter-UAS Systems
NRO also gave Maxar a study contract, similar to those awarded to Planet and BlackSky, to look at its planned future capabilities. The firm is moving to a larger constellation size with the planned WorldView Legion, which Maxar’s Chief Technology Officer Walter Scott told me in an email will comprise six satellites. WordView Legion will boost re-visit rates over targets at mid-latitudes on Earth to 15 times a day, “more than triple our capacity to collect sub-30 cm resolution imagery.” WorldviewLegion is set to launch in 2021.
“When the NRO awarded commercial electro-optical (EO) imagery study contracts in late May 2019 (BlackSky, Maxar, and Planet), we stated that these study contracts were awarded to companies whose January 2019 Request for Information response, which considered existing and planned commercial EO capabilities, was evaluated as credible in terms of mature and/or planned capabilities or a viable business case,” Lundin explained in her email.
“These studies were designed to help validate performance assertions and demonstrate the capability to satisfy all or some of the commercial-class requirements that the NRO received from the GEOINT Functional Manager (NGA). The study results, along with recent market research and modeling analysis, will inform the next stage of NRO’s commercial EO imagery acquisition strategy.”
In effect, NRO’s current plan to grant new contracts at the end of this year means some of the funds that would have gone to Maxar between November 2020 and November 2023 are now likely go to other providers — unless the NRO has decided to increase its commercial imagery budget. Indeed, a budget increase may be likely — as NRO’s job is to fulfill the demand signal provided to it by NGA, which is responsible for managing the requirements process by amalgamating the needs of various government agencies and military Combatant Commands. And as I reported last week, NGA sees a growing appetite for commercial imagery.
“Our customer’s requirements are changing – they need both high resolution and rapid revisit; they need greater persistence; they need spectral diversity, etc. Commercial imagery can help satisfy these diverse needs,” Lundin emailed me. “NRO’s approach to commercial imagery—and commercial products and services in general—is best characterized as ‘buy what we can, build only what we must,’ and we remain committed to fully embracing commercial capabilities across all NRO mission areas.”
As for Maxar, the company is keeping a stiff upper lip, stressing its long-standing relationship with the IC.
“Maxar has been delivering Earth Intelligence solutions to the U.S. Government for more than 20 years,” Scott said. “Maxar provides assured tasking access to our satellite imaging constellation, which can uniquely deliver the resolution, currency, accuracy, timeliness and spectral diversity required to support a diverse set of national security missions.”
“Maxar aims to continue our trusted partnership with the U.S. Government for many years to come,” he added, “and we are making capital investments to ensure we are best positioned to meet an expanding set of government requirements.”
And while Planet and BlackSky were the only other providers granted study contracts, Lundin stressed that the RFP will be a “fair and open competition.”
NRO does, however, have a policy of contracting with only US firms — or the US subsidiaries of foreign firms that have successfully jumped all the security hoops under the Foreign Control, Ownership or Influence (FOCI) process. So this limits the already small pool.
Planet currently has 150 satellites in orbit operating across two distinct constellations, a spokesperson told me in an email today. The SkySat constellation has 15 high-resolution satellites, with six more ready for launch this year — with Planet working on achieving a 50 centimeter resolution for its imagery products. The second constellation is called “PlanetScope” and comprises 130 Dove satellites, capable of imaging the entire Earth’s landmass on a daily basis at 3-meter resolution. Last year, the firm began launching its next generation birds, called “SuperDoves,” that will sport higher imagery quality, the spokesperson said.
Asked about Planet’s intentions via the upcoming NRO contest, the spokesperson said: “Our commercially available capabilities today, such as our intra-daily rapid revisit of high resolution imagery, will greatly support the NRO’s complex mission. We are increasingly encouraged by the NRO’s engagements to expand their commercial imagery portfolio and we look forward to the opportunity to contribute.”
It also should be noted that Planet, too, has had a relatively long relationship with the IC — working closely with the USG for the past five years, as the spokesperson pointed out. Prior to the May 2019 NRO study contract, Planet had been providing its imagery, as well as analytics, to NGA under an experimental contract arrangement that dated back to 2016.
NGA’s head of commercial business operations, David Gauthier, told me in a recent interview that NGA in October finally had completed the transition of its contractual relationship for Planet’s imagery to NRO.
“We transferred that contract over to the NRO,” he said. “The CSPO has put Planet on contract for that work, and is continuing to deliver [Planet’s imagery] to our users worldwide,” he said. “So, there was no break in service.”
BlackSky, currently has four 1-meter satellites in orbit, the latest one launched this past August. It plans to launch another 20 satellites being developed by LeoStella, a joint venture between BlackSky’s parent company Spaceflight Industries and French firm Thales Alenia Space. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time. (Source: glstrade.com/Breaking Defense.com)
10 Apr 20. Thales Alenia Space to Build Omnispace IoT Satellites. Omnispace has selected Thales Alenia Space to develop the initial component of the company’s satellite-based Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure — this will advance Omnispace’s vision to deliver a global hybrid communications network based on 3GPP standards. Thales Alenia Space will design and build an initial set of two satellites for operation in non-geostationary orbit (NGSO). These initial satellites will support 3GPP-defined (the 3rd Generation Partnership Project telecommunications specifications that unite standard development organizations) Narrow-Band IoT radio interface and will serve to advance the development and implementation of Omnispace’s global hybrid network.
This announcement marks a key milestone as Omnispace initiates the development of its new generation NGSO satellite constellation that will operate in the S-band.
The development of this initial set of satellites will begin immediately and they are scheduled for launch in 2021. Omnispace and Thales Alenia Space, along-side other industry stakeholders, will contribute to the development of the 3GPP NTN friendly standard for global implementation.
Ram Viswanathan, President and CEO of Omnispace LLC, stated that Thales Alenia Space has a successful track record of developing NGSO satellite constellations and is well-qualified to support the company’s vision of delivering the world’s first global 5G non terrestrial network (NTN). This investment in the firm’s next-generation satellite infrastructure allows Omnispace to progress the development of the firm’s technology and demonstrate the company’s unique capabilities as the firm continues to work towards launching the company’s broader vision of a global hybrid network.
Hervé Derrey, CEO of Thales Alenia Space, added that the company is pleased to be working with Omnispace, which is taking a holistic approach to the design, development and deployment of their next-generation, IoT-based satellite network infrastructure. Omnispace’s selection of Thales Alenia Space reinforces the firm’s leadership position as a major industrial partner and the company’s expertise in space-based IoT communications and Thales Alenia Space looks forward to collaborating with Omnispace in delivering this innovative project. (Source: Satnews)
08 Apr 20. LEO Not Doomed by OneWeb Problems. A report from analysts at Quilty Analytics says that despite OneWeb’s much-publicized Chapter 11 problems, all is not lost as far as Low Earth Orbit schemes are concerned.
“OneWeb suffered from a significant first-mover disadvantage, a competitively inferior system (as a result of early design decisions and trade-offs), and inadequate financing (largely due to investor skepticism),” says Quilty. “In short, we don’t think that OneWeb’s demise is indicative of the prospects for LEO Broadband as a whole.”
OneWeb entered its ‘debtor in possession Chapter 11 on March 27 and, says Quilty, “represents the most significant failure of a Space industry start-up since the early 2000s and could represent a potential game-crasher for the current “NewSpace” investment wave that kicked off in the mid-2010s.”
OneWeb has dramatically trimmed its staff levels (from 531 full-time employees to just 74) and retaining only a skeleton crew necessary to safely “fly” the company’s on-orbit satellites and shepherd the bankruptcy process.
Quilty states that — in simple terms — OneWeb has three possible paths forward:
- Raise additional capital,
- Sell the company, or if unsuccessful in the first two options,
- Liquidate the assets.
The analysts reckon that Option 1 is “dead on arrival” adding: “According to OneWeb’s Chapter 11 filing, ‘The Debtors believe that conducting an open and competitive marketing process represents the best strategy to maximize value for their various stakeholders.’ In other words, management is resigned to selling the company (Option #2) or, barring that, liquidating its assets (Option #3).”
Quilty states bluntly that it doubts whether there will be queue of potential buyers. “It seems unlikely that any (well-informed) strategic buyer would be eager to simply step into OneWeb’s shoes and soldier on with the company’s current business plan. Absent a strategic buyer with interest in pursuing OneWeb’s original business plan, the question centers around the attractiveness of OneWeb’s assets, which are shockingly few in light of $3.4bn cumulative investment, offering a cautionary tale for those considering an investment in remaining LEO/NGSO constellations.”
Which brings the choices down to Option 3. Quilty list the company’s assets such as they are, as:
- Launch prepayments
- Landing rights
- OneWeb Satellites (50 per cent stake)
- Patents, technology, designs, partnerships
- Spectrum granted to OneWeb
Quilty states, quite reasonably, that spectrum has a value, but that it is difficult to quantify and the end result could easily be that OneWeb’s allocated spectrum might be worth anything between $10m and $1bn. (Source: Satnews)
08 Apr 20. SATCOM Frequency Converter Orders Captured by Advantech Wireless Technologies. Advantech Wireless Technologies recently received two orders for SATCOM RF Frequency Converters that total more than $1m — these converters are being deployed to a major US carrier to support an increase in demand – and to NATO for a Naval Satcom Modernization program.
Though Advantech Wireless Technologies has been producing Frequency Converters for decades, these new designs possess M&C features and use the latest in conversion technology and that meets or exceeds the requirements of network operators, government and military platforms for spectral purity, phase noise and frequency stability.
Lightweight, rugged and compact, RF Converters from Advantech Wireless Technologies are the ideal solution for fixed and mobile ground station applications. A welded frame replaces the typical ‘bent metal’ chassis to provide greater strength and resilience against shake and vibration when required.
Cristi Damian, VP Business Development, said whether the application is GEO, MEO or LEO, high-quality RF Converters are a key element in a system designed for wideband services, such as 5G. With more than 20 years of experience in the supply of converters for SATCOM, Advantech Wireless Technologies is one of the few state-of-the-art converter manufacturers that can tout the experience and capability that’s needed to support such a broad portfolio. These new orders will help to fulfill the urgent demand resulting from an exponential increase in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will support NATO’s Naval Modernization Program with products designed to provide military-grade performance when operated in less than ideal conditions.
Despite the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and related economic conditions, Advantech Wireless Technologies Inc. continues to be fully operational around the globe. Advantech supplies products to leading Canadian and American global communications companies, as well as governments and the militaries of many NATO countries. Advantech’s sales, support, and engineering teams remain available to support customers as needed. (Source: Satnews)
07 Apr 20. Maxar Wins Contract Dispute. The Advanced Television infosite is reporting that a 2010 contract placed with Maxar Technology’s predecessor company, MDA Corp., to build and launch a geostationary satellite (Lybid-1) for Ukraine’s National Space Agency, and subsequently the subject of a legal dispute between Maxar and the Ukrainian government, has been settled in Maxar’s favor.
The 18-month dispute ended up with a United Nations arbitration tribunal which dismissed Ukraine’s claims “in their entirety” and ruled that Maxar’s costs and expenses be paid. The 2010 satellite order with MacDonald, Dettwiler & Assoc. (MDA) was for a craft to be orbited to 48 degree East, and was valued at $254m.
The original contract called for MDA, as well as building and launching the satellite, to provide two satellite control centres and other associated ground infrastructure. The communications satellite will support direct broadcast television and high-speed Internet access to the country of Ukraine and surrounding areas. MDA and the Ukrainian Space Agency are finalizing specifications and other requirements.
MDA suspended work in 2014 because of the then political uncertainty in the Ukraine and citing force majeure. At the time, MDA said it was working with the client to determine “go-forward scenarios with the goal to minimize the impact.” It said it expected the work to be delayed from four to six months, but the final costs associated with the stoppage were yet to be determined.
Core to Maxar’s argument was summed up by Biggs Porter, Maxar’s CFO in May 2019, who said for those who aren’t familiar with [the situation], Maxar delivered a satellite to Ukraine that the firm was paid to build. MDA delivered it to the appropriate place and then Russia invaded Crimea and the Ukraine hasn’t had access to that satellite. Maxar will explain how the decision impacts its financials during its Q1 earnings statement. (Source: Satnews)
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