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02 Jul 20. UK Wins Bid For OneWeb. The FT reported today that Britain is set to go head to head with Elon Musk’s Starlink in the race to beam high-speed internet connections from space after the UK government’s joint $1bn bid with India’s Bharti Enterprises won an auction for satellite broadband operator OneWeb. If the bid is approved by a US judge next week, the British government is expected to take a stake of about 45 per cent in OneWeb, a lossmaking company that runs a low earth orbit satellite broadband network.

The government’s stake could still fall as discussions are continuing with other potential investors. Bharti Global, a subsidiary of the parent, will also hold 45 per cent of OneWeb and the rest will be held by existing creditors, including SoftBank, its biggest investor, with loans outstanding of $913m, according to bankruptcy documents filed in the US. The UK will also have a golden share, which gives it a say over any sale and over who has access to the OneWeb network.

OneWeb collapsed in March after SoftBank walked away from talks on a new $2bn financing round. The move underlines the government’s ambition to drive investment in the UK’s commercial space sector and to snare 10 per cent of the global market by 2030. The sector has been hard-hit by the UK’s departure from the EU, after being barred from contracts on many of the bloc’s space programmes such as Galileo. Business secretary Alok Sharma said the OneWeb investment would help the UK to exploit novel satellite technologies. “Our access to a global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect millions of people worldwide to broadband, many for the first time, and the deal presents the opportunity to further develop our strong advanced manufacturing base right here in the UK.” The investment comes as the government backs away from a plan launched two years ago to develop its own medium earth orbit satellite navigation system akin to GPS of the US or the EU’s Galileo.

Costs have spiralled to £5bn, from an initial estimate of £3bn-£4bn. However, officials and industry executives believe there are opportunities to develop new navigation technologies arising out of the communication service. The US Department of Defense has indicated its support for a programme that would help to offset the vulnerabilities of its GPS satellite navigation service. These traditional navigation platforms are easily jammed and low earth orbit systems are seen as a way to provide resilience. A person close to the subject said the US could be a joint investor in a OneWeb communication/navigation project in a “second phase”. Dominic Cummings, prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, has been instrumental in pushing the case for the UK government to invest in OneWeb in the face of fierce opposition from supporters of the original satellite navigation project. But Mr Johnson was determined to keep OneWeb, a London-based company with operations on both sides of the Atlantic, in the UK.

As part of the deal the group has agreed to bring manufacturing of its satellites — currently made in Florida — back to the UK. The support for OneWeb underlines the UK government’s readiness to invest in “high risk, high pay-off” science projects.

David Morris, chair of the all-party parliamentary committee on space, welcomed news of the deal and the partnership with Bharti. The committee had been an early supporter of OneWeb as a means to boost Britain’s commercial space ambitions. “We . . . look forward to the innovation, opportunity and growth that space capability brings to a modern, globally-facing UK,” he added.  OneWeb has 74 satellites in orbit, and had planned to launch 550 more by end of next year. The group has the second largest low earth orbit satellite broadband network after Starlink, which has more than 500 in operation and plans at least 50 more this month. Consultancy McKinsey predicts that 50,000 low earth orbit satellites will be operating within 10 years. (Source: FT.com)

03 Jul 20. Australian space capabilities a major winner in Defence Strategy Update. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ latest Defence Strategy Update and Force Structure Plan has revealed $270bn in extra funding for Australia’s defence capabilities, with the space domain a major beneficiary.

Australia, like every other nation is increasingly dependent upon the space domain for communications, navigation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and scientific endeavours, however this position is being contested as the era of ‘great power’ competition is upon us.

In response, as part of the long awaited 2020 Defence Strategy Update and the Force Structure Plan, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds have earmarked a record level of funding to ensure that Australia establishes and maintains a sovereign space capability well into the future.

The Prime Minister said, “The government will significantly increase investment in defence space capabilities, a whole new theatre, including a network of satellites so we have an independent communications network and we’re going to invest some $7bn in those space capabilities over the coming decade.

“Working closely with industry and other government agencies, including the Australian Space Agency, headquartered in Adelaide, where I was there to open that agency not that long ago.”

The Force Structure Plan articulates the growing role of collaboration between key partners, like the US, stating: “Defence is working closely with the United States and other Combined Space Operations Initiative partners, the Australian Space Agency and industry to transform the way the ADF operates in space, including in relation to satellite communications, space domain awareness, precision navigation and timing, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”

This is reinforced by the Prime Minister, who added, “Working with key partners and allies, we will take advantage of Australia’s unique geographical position to better contribute to collective space domain awareness and we will look to enhance the ADF’s ability to counter emerging threats in the space domain and ensure our continued access to space-based intelligence and reconnaissance..”

The Commonwealth’s 2020 Defence Strategy Update and the Force Structure Plans identify a number of key focuses for the future development of Australia’s space capabilities, including:

  • Space services – namely satellite communications, positioning, navigation and timing data: “The government’s plans include a rolling upgrade program to assure position, navigation and timing information in a contested environment.”
  • Space control –  maximising Australia’s geographic position to provide space situational awareness: “Defence currently hosts a United States C-Band Radar and Space Surveillance Telescope and will continue to build our space domain awareness capabilities with the United States and other key partners into the future. To ensure that we can take full advantage of the large volumes of information that will be developed, the government is also investing in growing the intelligence and supporting workforce.”

The Prime Minister’s statements were echoed by Minister Reynolds, who added, “Space is increasingly critical to the ADF’s warfighting effectiveness. Particularly for real-time communications, situational awareness and rapid information delivery.

“Defence is working closely with the United States, the Australian Space Agency and industry to advance its space capabilities. The government will invest $7bn on space capabilities over the next decade.

“To increase our self-reliance and resilience, we will put new satellites into orbit as part of a sovereign controlled network. And we will develop Defence’s satellite imagery, data processing and analysis capabilities while expanding our geospatial intelligence workforce.

“To counter rapidly emerging space threats, we will invest in the Australian Defence Force’s space control capabilities – such as space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.” (Source: Space Connect)

02 Jul 20. Space Force walks back stimulus contracts for small launch providers. Less than two weeks after the U.S. Space Force invoked the Defense Production Act to prop up six small launch providers, those awards have been withdrawn.

On June 16, the Space and Missile Systems Center announced in a beta.SAM.gov post that it was awarding rideshare contracts to six companies approved by the Industrial Base Council: Aevum, Astra, X-BOW, Rocket Lab USA, Space Vector and VOX Space. Each company was to be awarded two rideshare missions to be conducted over the next 24 months. The value of those contracts was not revealed.

But as first reported by SpaceNews, SMC has withdrawn those awards.

A new statement on beta.SAM.gov notes that the government “is re-evaluating its strategy on how best to proceed with this action” after receiving several responses to its decision. As a result, the contracts will not be awarded at this time. A Justification and Approval document was supposed to be made public within 14 days of contract award, but the withdrawal of the awards occurred before that deadline.

While Space Force officials haven’t spoken publicly about the Defense Production Act awards since they were announced online, the Pentagon was vocal in expressing concern about COVID-19 impacts on the small launch market in the months leading up to the announcement.

On April 20, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord stated that the small launch market was one of three sectors she was most worried about. The Space and Missile Systems Center elaborated on her remarks in a statement to C4ISRNET.

“There is concern that the current financial and market constraints resulting from the COVID-19 have reduced funding sources necessary to continue development and operations for the nascent small launch industry,” said Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of SMC’s launch enterprise directorate. “Much of the industry have limited flight capability or are in the critical transition from development to flight and this funding restriction may prevent or delay these systems. The Space and Missile Systems Center is evaluating the impacts to the small launch industrial base to consider actions to enable a robust U.S. launch industrial base.”

Shortly thereafter, the Space Force Acquisition Council held an emergency meeting to discuss how they could support industry partners negatively impacted by COVID-19. The council ultimately sent out a survey to members of the Space Enterprise Consortium to see what industry needed from the Department of Defense.

Finally on June 16, the same day the announcement went live, SMC Commander Lt. Gen. John “JT” Thompson suggested that the Space Force would use Defense Production Act awards to support the small launch market.

“In the small launch environment, Secretary Lord and [U.S. Space Force Service Acquisition Executive Will] Roper have both commented about how important small launch is to our enterprise, and I can’t give you the details right now but I would anticipate here very shortly some very critical Defense Production Act awards to our small launch providers to keep that industry going,” Thompson said. (Source: Defense News)

02 Jul 20. UK gamble on OneWeb signals more interventionist space policy.  Controversial bid for failed satellite provider exposes rifts over direction of new navigation system. The UK government has put up £500m as part of a consortium bidding in the auction for OneWeb. There are always tense moments when a satellite is launched — will the rocket escape the earth’s atmosphere or come crashing back down? In the next few hours, Britain will learn whether it is on course to launch a bold new space policy with a controversial bid for failed satellite internet provider OneWeb. This afternoon the auction concludes for the company, which went into US bankruptcy protection in March after failing to secure $2bn from its biggest shareholder, SoftBank. The UK government has put up £500m as part of a consortium led by India’s Bharti Enterprises, whose bid for the London-based company is thought to be best-placed to win. However, it will not be until July 10 that the victor will be formally declared after a US judge rules whether the company, with operations on both sides of the Atlantic, and its employees are best served by the winning bid. Whatever the final outcome, the UK government’s decision to bid for a bankrupt company signals a radically different, even interventionist, approach to industrial policy, and the space sector in particular. Instead of pursuing plans to develop a traditional satellite navigation system akin to the EU’s Galileo — from which the UK was barred after Brexit — the government has taken a high-risk gamble.

It wants to use OneWeb as a platform to develop a combined communication and positioning service at lower cost than £5bn estimated for its navigation project and with features of greater interest to its allies. The decision has been driven as much by departmental squabbling over who would finance a Galileo alternative as by recognition that there is little demand for a fifth traditional satellite platform in mid-earth orbit. But as the world prepares for an age of autonomous cars, ships and aircraft, there is a need for a different type of service to bolster the resilience of traditional navigation systems that are increasingly easy to jam and which struggle to deliver signals in certain areas, said Chris Quilty, space analyst at Florida-based Quilty Analytics.  Satellites flying in a different orbit, transmitting on a different frequency and broadcasting stronger signals offer a valuable safety net for the global positioning systems on which the world relies. “There is a glaring need for GPS assurance,” he said. But the government’s decision — against the advice of its own space agency — has unleashed a fierce backlash from officials and in certain parts of industry. Many of the most ardent critics accuse ministers of succumbing to pressure from Airbus, one of the UK’s most important space companies and a sizeable investor in OneWeb. These critics are in turn accused by OneWeb supporters of pushing the Galileo alternative in order to position themselves for an even bigger prize — the UK’s next generation military satellite communications network.

“The real end game here is SkyNet,” said one industry executive, referring to the military grade constellation that for 17 years has been operated by Airbus, and whose contract is soon coming to an end. OneWeb’s detractors include Team Athena, a consortium formed by Lockheed Martin, the US defence and space group, satellite operator Inmarsat, support services company Serco, and critical software supplier CGI, to target the opportunities offered by Britain’s navigation project and other space programmes. Executives from these companies have questioned whether repurposing OneWeb’s low earth orbit mega-constellation would be cheaper than developing a traditional system or deliver the required accuracy.

Moreover, their more limited coverage would require a more extensive ground infrastructure, the critics argue, while the level of accuracy from low earth orbit navigation is not yet certain.  It would be like trying to build a hybrid of a Formula 1 racing car and a dump truck, said one industry executive. “Where somebody takes two different car designs — one designed for speed and another for industrial purposes — and figures they can do something for both by pushing them together. There is no market efficiency in trying to build an F1 tip lorry.” But Paul Febvre, chief technology officer of the Satellite Applications Catapult, a space technology and innovation hub, rejected the criticism. “By combining characteristics of a high performance communication system such as OneWeb with techniques used to enhance GPS and Galileo, a highly accurate and resilient positioning service can be delivered,” he said. “This hasn’t been done before because we have not had mega-constellations.” The opportunity is where both communications and navigation services are required, such as in connected autonomous vehicles, industry and precision agriculture, he said. Challenges remain, such as meeting the military requirements for truly global communications and positioning services. But Mr Febvre said even this was not insurmountable. Mobile infrastructure could be developed to allow a secure positioning service to be available wherever needed. “The UK has the industrial capability to deliver this groundbreaking positioning service and it has export potential,” he said.

Even the most ardent OneWeb critics do not argue that traditional navigation systems offer a complete solution because they are not accurate enough for autonomous vehicles. Nor do they insist that navigation from low earth orbit is impossible. Satelles a company offering a navigation service using Iridium’s low earth constellation. Xona Space Systems, a US based start-up is also moving into this space. “Most people don’t know that the first ever sat nav system was in Leo. The predecessor to GPS was Transit, a Leo system that became operational in 1964,” said Brian Manning, Xona’s co-founder and chief executive.

Martin Barstow, professor of astrophysics and space science at Leicester university, said the OneWeb proposals were “interesting but will require work” to address the technology gaps. Yet like Mr Febvre he believed they were surmountable. Sash Tusa, aerospace analyst at research house Agency Partners, said the trend towards Leo positioning was inevitable. “There is no way, given how space technology has developed in the two decades since Galileo started, that you would do it now with big satellites,” he said. “The fact that OneWeb turned up bankrupt but with an orbital system in place is unbelievably fortuitous for the UK.” (Source: FT.com)

01 Jul 20. Airbus innovative payload to launch on Faraday-1 satellite. Airbus developed next generation retaskable software defined radio payload to be proven in space. Airbus’ newspace initiative Prometheus will see rapid in-orbit proving of disruptive technology.

An Airbus developed next generation retaskable software defined radio payload, Prometheus 1, will be launched on the Faraday-1 cubesat from New Zealand on 3 July. The Faraday-1 mission is part of In Space Missions Ltd’s in-orbit demonstration programme.

Prometheus 1 is a software defined radio, connected to a 400 MHz UHF antenna that can be reprogrammed in orbit. It will be able to survey radio spectrum usage across the world from orbit, detect radar tracking of the Faraday-1 satellite, and identify and locate search and rescue beacons. Airbus is working with the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) to foster greater partnerships between SMEs, government and Airbus on space.

Airbus Defence and Space in the UK created the self funded Prometheus programme to enable the rapid development of agile and innovative payloads using disruptive technology to offer significant capability to customers. Building on Airbus’ proven track record of working with SMEs to create novel capability and prove concepts, the Prometheus programme developed the payload for Faraday-1 in under three months.

Richard Franklin, Managing Director of Airbus Defence and Space UK said: “By working with SMEs we are able to take advantage of their specialist capabilities and agility to develop new technologies and services for customers. Once Prometheus 1 is proven in orbit we will use it to de-risk future services and in life support solutions, working hand in hand with our SME partners. Future UK Government defence needs can be best served by the partnership approach we have pioneered at Airbus on Skynet 5, actively engaging with SMEs and developing new technologies and service solutions to prove concepts before delivering them to customers.”

Prometheus 1 will prove passive radio frequency sensing in orbit, enabling the technology to be incorporated on future missions where hostile tracking of sovereign spacecraft is likely or possible. The Airbus newspace team is championing the Prometheus programme and a second mission is already in development, which will be cubesats with RF and optical sensors, and features inter satellite links. Prometheus 2 is due for launch in the second half of 2021.

Airbus is working with In Space Missions to offer ‘Space as a Service’ access to capability for DSTL to get involved in experiments with assets in orbit.

01 Jul 20. US-UK spaceport agreement heralds new era in launch operations. 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.

UK ambassador Dame Karen Pierce and US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford signed the US-UK Technology Safeguards Agreement, which will enable US companies to participate in space launches from the UK, on Tuesday, 16 June 2020.

The agreement means US space and technology companies throughout the supply chain can contribute to and benefit from the commercial opportunities offered by the UK space sector, which already employs 42,000 people and generates an income of £14.8bn each year.

UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway explained, “This deal with the US takes us one step closer to seeing the first ever launch into space from British soil. 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.”

The UK government has already awarded grants totalling nearly £40m to establish commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launch from UK spaceports and put in place the necessary regulation to enable the first launches to take place in the early 2020s.

Karen Pierce, UK ambassador to the US, added, “This agreement marks an exciting new area for UK-US space collaboration and represents a significant step towards US companies launching from UK spaceports.”

The UK government’s Spaceflight Program aims to establish commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launch from UK spaceports. Bringing launch to the UK will be a catalyst for growth in the wider space industry, and the government is also developing a comprehensive national space strategy to bring long-term strategic and commercial benefits for the UK.

“The commercial space sector already represents hundreds of millions of dollars in trade between our two countries each year, as well as thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. This new agreement will generate further growth and prosperity for both our countries,” Pierce added. (Source: Space Connect)

30 Jun 20. Here’s how the Space Force will be organized. Many of the U.S. Air Force’s space acquisition organizations will be moved into a brand-new “Space Systems Command” to be created under the fledgling Space Force, but it still remains nebulous whether space procurement arms from the Army, Navy and Pentagon will also fall under the command’s purview.

On June 29, the Space Force announced that it will be comprised of three field commands: Space Operations Command, Space Training and Readiness Command, and the aforementioned Space Systems Command.

Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of Space Force headquarters, spoke with a handful of reporters about the field-structure decision, which comes about a half year after the Space Force was signed into law and formally established on Dec. 20, 2019.

“We took a clean-sheet approach to this,” he said, adding that the goal was to create a Space Force design “focused on mission effectiveness and agility.”

Space Operations Command will be based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado and will oversee the operations of military satellites, including GPS, missile warning constellations and satellite communication systems in use today. Its foundation, Thompson said, will be the now-defunct Air Force Space Command. A three-star general will be tapped to lead the new organization.

Space Systems Command, or SSC — also led by a three-star general — will be the Space Force’s center for developing, acquiring and sustaining space weapon systems.

Currently, Space and Missile Systems Center is the service’s primary space procurement organization, and Thompson said it would transfer into Space Systems Command, as would organizations like the Defense Department’s commercial satellite communications office and certain technology development functions from the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Finally, Space Training and Readiness Command, or STARCOM, will be responsible for all the education and training that occurs in the earliest stages of a member of the Space Force’s career, from the time the individual is recruited until that person moves to an operations job.

While much about Space Operations Command is largely set in stone, not all details regarding SSC and STARCOM have been hammered out, including headquarters locations or comprehensive information about standing up those entities.

Much of SSC’s structure has yet to be finalized, including whether Defense Department space organizations — like the Space Development Agency — or service-specific organizations — like the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command — will eventually funnel into it, or what that transfer will entail, Thompson said.

“We still working with the Department of Defense and with the Army and Navy on final decisions on the final organizations and functions and units from those others that are going to transfer in,” Thompson said. He added that the plan is to solidify that list over the following “weeks and months,” and that basing decisions regarding SSC’s eventual headquarters will also have to be made with input from the Army and Navy.

A major priority will be ensuring that as different agencies are realigned under SSC, each still retains their unique strengths and competencies, whether they are geared toward large-scale procurement efforts, rapid development or working with commercial startup companies.

“Space and Missile Systems Center for years has been the world leader in cutting-edge, military space capabilities. They do it better than anybody else in the world, and they’re going to be part of Space Systems Command and continue to do that,” he said. “The future Space Development Agency, as you know, one of its early jobs is to be quick to leverage the commercial capability. It’s doing that as part of its initial set of activities today, and it’s going to be realized in Space Force. And no doubt that our intent is to ensure that it continues to provide that perspective, that set of advantages and that approach to acquisition.”

And although a two-star general will eventually command STARCOM, it will take time for it to become fully operational, Thompson said. In its early days, it will be a smaller organization called a “delta” — what the Space Force plans to call units commanded by colonels, which will replace what were known as “wings” and “groups” in the Air Force, Thompson said.

“One of the first actions we’re going to take after this analysis is the establishment of the Space Training and Readiness Delta. It is going to stand up provisionally at Peterson Air Force Base as well. It will be built out over time,” he said.

Eventually, the Space Force will go through the basing process to determine the final location for STARCOM, but the new delta will allow the service to receive incoming units transferring over from the Air Force.

Thompson said the Space Force decided to name one of its units of command “deltas” to reflect iconography that has long been associated with military space operations in the United States.

“As you look at any number of our organizational patches in the past, it is a clear feature design element and something that connects us,” he said. “It’s a cultural item and a feature and a symbol that we connect with closely today — and, we want to believe, one signature element of our culture and identity in the future.” (Source: Defense News)

30 Jun 20. Major Space Force Units to Be Called Deltas, Officials Announce. The U.S. Space Force has determined how it will be organized, right down to the squadron level. The newest military branch on Tuesday announced that it will operate with three primary field commands, responsible for training space professionals; acquiring space systems from industry; and supporting combatant commanders with space force personnel and capabilities.

The three primary field commands expected to be activated later this summer are: Space Operations Command (SpOC), Space Systems Command (SSC), and Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM), according to a release.

In the Air Force, subordinate to its headquarters is the major command, which is then composed of a numbered air force, wing, group, squadron and flight. The Space Force by comparison will only have three echelons of command: the field commands, deltas and squadrons, officials said.

“This is the most significant restructuring of space units undertaken by the United States since the establishment of Air Force Space Command in 1982,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said in a statement. “Innovation and efficiency are driving our mission as we position the Space Force to respond with agility to protect our nation’s space capabilities and the American way of life.”

STARCOM will be responsible for educating and training space professionals, according to the Space Force announcement. A two-star general will oversee this field command; officials estimate STARCOM will be active by 2021.

Meanwhile, a Space Force officer in the rank of O-6 will lead a provisional Space Training and Readiness Delta, to be established at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado next month.

“This unit will serve as the parent organization for a number of education, training, and operational test and evaluation units transferring to the Space Force in summer 2020,” officials said.

The service said deltas will be led by O-6 officers, a rank equivalent to Navy captains or colonels in the other services, and will be organized to support a specific function, such as operations, training and installation support. Squadrons manage the “specific tactics” needed to execute the Space Force mission, according to the announcement.

Meanwhile, the SpOC will be the provider of forces for the combatant commands, coalition partners and the joint force.

In December, the Air Force announced it had renamed one of its numbered Air Forces, 14th Air Force of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as SpOC. Now it will be renamed once again following the organization of SpOC as a field command, anticipated at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. An estimated activation date was not provided.

Unlike STARCOM, SpOC and Space Systems Command will be led by three-star generals, officials said.

The last element of the triad, Space Systems Command (SSC), will oversee space acquisition and launch. Its other authorities include developing and fielding “lethal and resilient space capabilities for warfighters” and “developmental testing, on-orbit checkout, sustainment and maintenance of [Space Force] space systems, as well as oversight of [Space Force] science and technology activities.”

The Space Force will draw from current organizations, such as the Space and Missile Systems Center and the Commercial Satellite Communications Office, to create the foundation for SSC, the release said.

When the command structure is fully achieved for all three commands, leadership will eliminate “one general officer echelon and one O-6 echelon of command” in order to streamline operations.

The sixth military service, which was signed into existence by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2019, is currently operating with the aid of 16,000 airmen, detailed temporarily from what was formerly known as Air Force Space Command.

Officials have said that about 6,000 of those temporary personnel will be offered the opportunity to formally transfer into the Space Force by year’s end. Earlier this month, the service said that more than 8,500 active-duty airmen had volunteered to transfer into the branch.

“This is an historic opportunity to launch the Space Force on the right trajectory to deliver the capabilities needed to ensure freedom of movement and deter aggression in, from and to space,” Gen. Jay Raymond, Space Force chief of space operations, said Tuesday. “How we organize the Space Force will have lasting impact on our ability to respond with speed and agility to emerging threats in support of the National Defense Strategy and Space Strategy.”

Other pending Space Force decisions include base renaming, uniform updates, insignia and a logo design. Officials are also still deciding what to call Space Force members. (Source: Military.com)

30 Jun 20. Third Lockheed Martin-Built GPS III Satellite Now Climbing To Orbit On Its Own Power. GPS III SV03 increases number of secure Military Code (M-Code) enabled satellites in GPS Constellation to 22 total.

After a successful launch this afternoon, the third Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT)-built GPS III satellite is now headed to orbit under its own propulsion. The satellite has separated from its rocket and is using onboard power to climb to its operational orbit, approximately 12,550 miles above the Earth.

GPS III Space Vehicle 03 (GPS III SV03) is responding to commands from U.S. Space Force and Lockheed Martin engineers in the Launch & Checkout Center at the company’s Denver facility. There, they declared rocket booster separation and satellite control about 90 minutes after the satellite’s 4:10 p.m. EST launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

“In the coming days, GPS III SV03’s onboard liquid apogee engines will continue to propel the satellite towards its operational orbit,” said Tonya Ladwig, Lockheed Martin’s Acting Vice President for Navigation Systems. “Once it arrives, we’ll send the satellite commands to deploy its solar arrays and antennas, and prepare the satellite for handover to Space Operations Command.”

After on-orbit testing, GPS III SV03 is expected to join the GPS constellation – including GPS III SV01 and SV02, which were declared operational in January and April – in providing positioning, navigation and timing signals for more than four billion military, civil and commercial users.Lockheed Martin designed GPS III to help the Space Force modernize the GPS constellation with new technology and capabilities. The new GPS IIIs provide three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities over any previous GPS satellite. They also offer a new L1C civil signal, which is compatible with other international global navigation satellite systems, like Europe’s Galileo, to improve civilian user connectivity.

GPS III also continues the Space Force’s plan to field M-Code, a more-secure, harder-to-jam and spoof GPS signal for our military forces. GPS III SV03 brings the number of M-Code enabled satellites to 22 in the 31-satellite GPS constellation.

“As a nation, we use GPS signals every day — they time-stamp all our financial transactions, they make aviation safe, they make precision farming possible, and so much more. GPS has become a critical part of our national infrastructure. In fact, the U.S. economic benefit of GPS is estimated to be over $300bn per year and $1.4trn since its inception,” added Ladwig. “Continued investment in modernizing GPS – updating technology, improving its capabilities – is well worth it.”

Lockheed Martin is proud to be a part of the GPS III team led by the Space Production Corps Medium Earth Orbit Division, at the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base. The GPS Operational Control Segment sustainment is managed by the Enterprise Corps, GPS Sustainment Division at Peterson Air Force Base. The 2nd Space Operations Squadron, at Schriever Air Force Base, manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civil and military users.

29 Jun 20. Northrop Grumman to continue supporting legacy missile warning satellites. The Space and Missile Systems Center has issued a $222.5m contract to continue supporting the Defense Program Support constellation, a legacy system that helps detect ballistic missile launches, nuclear detonations and space launches.

Since the first payload was launched in 1970, DSP satellites have contributed to America’s missile warning architecture by using infrared sensors in geosynchronous orbit to detect ballistic missile launches all around the world. The final DSP payload was launched in 2007. Northrop Grumman was the prime contractor for all DSP satellites.

While the constellation has been superseded by the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS), DSP satellites continue to operate on orbit. According to Northrop Grumman’s website, the satellites have exceeded their design lives by 125 percent.

And this new $222.5m contract will help extend the constellation’s lifetime even further.

Under the decade-long contract, Northrop Grumman will provide “on-orbit satellite and anomaly resolution support, root cause analysis, mission threat analysis, mission test bed and space awareness and global exploitation,” which will help extend the lifetime of the constellation. Work is expected to be completed March 31, 2030. (Source: Defense News)

28 Jun 20. It is rocket science: EU to speed up space ambitions, Breton says. The European Union will plough more money into rocket launches, satellite communication and space exploration to preserve its often unsung successes in space and keep up with US and Chinese ambitions, its space chief said on Sunday.

Over the past decades, Europe has sought to build independent access to space from U.S. and Russian pioneers to help its industry, with successes such as Ariane rockets or GPS-rival satnav Galileo.

But the recent emergence of U.S. competitor SpaceX and its reusable rockets as well as China’s rapid advances, including the first ever landing on the far side of the Moon last year, is giving new urgency to Europe’s ambitions.

“Space is one of Europe’s strong points, and we’re giving ourselves the means to speed up,” European Commissioner Thierry Breton, whose brief include the space sector, told Reuters in an interview.

Breton, the former French head of IT company Atos, said that for the first time, the EU budget will be used to support new technology to launch rockets, including reusable ones.

The EU will for the first time sign a 1bn euro agreement with Arianespace with guaranteed orders to give it more visibility, in exchange for more innovation.

“SpaceX has redefined the standards for launchers, so Ariane 6 is a necessary step, but not the ultimate aim: we must start thinking now about Ariane 7,” Breton said.

Breton, who hopes the European Commission will provide 16bn euros for space in its next budget, said he would propose a 1bn euro European Space Fund to boost startups. He also wants to launch a competition to give free access to satellites and launchers to startups, to spur innovation.

For the Galileo satnav system, Breton said he would bring forward to the end of 2024 instead of 2027 the rollout of a new generation of satellites, “the most modern in the world”, that can interact with each other and provide a more precise signal.

He wants to launch a new satellite system that can give high-speed Internet access to all Europeans, and begin work on a Space Traffic Management system to avoid collisions, made more likely with the rapid increase in the number of satellites. (Source: Reuters)

29 Jun 20. The European Commission picked the PEONEER proposal (Persistent Earth Observation for actioNable intElligence survEillance and Reconnaissance) as one of the winning projects of the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP).

Terma’s role in the consortium behind the project will be quite significant. Terma will be involved in all stages, from studies to prototyping.

PEONEER addresses feasibility studies, design, prototype and testing of a software platform. This platform will implement the Activity Based Intelligence (ABI) concept to complement geo-spatial activities by integrating data from multiple sources to discover relevant patterns, determine and identify changes, and characterize those patterns to drive collection and create decision advantage.

The motivation for the PEONEER project is that the number of earth observation satellites monitoring our planet is increasing rapidly, at the same time, humanity is generating enormous quantities of data online.

“When combining data from both space and cyberspace you can provide armed forces within EU with unique intelligence insights,” says Claus German Christensen, Terma Vice President, Mission Solutions.

“The challenge is to cope with the large quantities of data in a timely manner. To do that the PEONEER project will develop artificial intelligence techniques to automatically analyze huge amount of data for patterns that may be of military interest”

Terma especially appreciates the efforts of the Danish Acquisition and Logistics Agency (DALO) in supporting the successful participation of Danish companies in this EU-funded defense R&D program.

The consortium led by e-GEOS comprises a number of leading European defense and space companies which bring together vast knowledge in both domains, particularly in Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning for Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) purposes.

The EDIDP is a two-year EU-funded Defense R&D program specifically to support cooperative, cross-European capability development. Member States are expected to support and be actively involved in the projects in order to establish a clear link with national procurement.

29 Jun 20. Gilmour Space demonstrates hybrid rocket engine test fire. Queensland-based Gilmour Space has marked a major milestone in the development of the company’s hybrid rocket system, as it continues to surge towards launching satellites from Australia by 2022.

Rocket engineers at Gilmour Space Technologies in Queensland, Australia, have completed the first in a series of major technology demonstrations this year: a successful 45-second ‘hot fire’ of their upper-stage hybrid rocket engine.

“This was our longest and most efficient test fire to date,” said Gilmour Space CEO and co-founder, Adam Gilmour.

“It’s a key demonstration of our ability to produce repeatable, stable, and high-performance combustion over a long duration burn; and a significant achievement in hybrid rocket development.”

Unlike most commercial launch vehicles fuelled by solid- or liquid-propulsion engines, Gilmour Space is developing new cost-effective, safe and green hybrid-propulsion technologies.

“This engine will have the capability to power the upper stage of our Eris orbital launch vehicle, and deliver our customer payloads to required orbits,” he explained.

“Our next test will be a full duration mission duty cycle firing of this engine.”

As with most companies in Australia, Gilmour Space has been impacted by the severe bushfires and global COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had to delay some of our development efforts and transition half our team to remote work at one stage,” said Gilmour.

Despite the challenges, however, the company is tracking to complete a number of significant tests this year, including a series of low-altitude flight tests of their guidance, navigation and control systems, a thrust vector control system test, and a more powerful static fire of their first-stage rocket engine.

“With each test, we get closer to 2022 our goal of launching Australia and our customers to space,” said Gilmour.

Now with 50 employees in its Gold Coast rocket facility, Gilmour Space is pushing the frontiers of Australian manufacturing and growth across the commercial, civil and defence space.

In December last year, the company signed a strategic statement of intent with the Australian Space Agency to demonstrate its commitment to delivering ‘Access to Space’ as a civil priority area. In May, it signed a collaboration agreement with Australia’s Defence Science Technology Group to work on technologies that will enable sovereign launch capabilities in Australia.

“Clearly, the momentum for launch is building here. With the right focus, investment and hopefully a ready launch site by 2022, we believe that space could be a significant future industry for Australia – one that builds on our advanced manufacturing capabilities, and offers real opportunities for jobs, recovery and growth.” (Source: Space Connect)

28 Jun 20. Maxar’s $23m Multi-Domain Analytics System for U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Maxar Technologies (NYSE:MAXR) (TSX:MAXR) was selected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop an analytics system for characterizing and tracking the behavior of vehicles in multiple domains at scale and in near-real-time. The contract was awarded and is administered through the U.S. Department of the Interior and is valued at $23m with a five-year period of performance.

With thousands of vehicles moving in and around the U.S. on a daily basis, geospatial operators are challenged with sifting through massive amounts of data to characterize behavior and make important decisions. Maxar’s analytics system will augment operator decision-making by delivering data insights and automating time-consuming tasks, enabling operators to spend more time on mission-critical work.

“As a leader in Earth Intelligence, Maxar applies the power of machine learning for a range of applications in space and on the ground, enabling game-changing results,” said Tony Frazier, Maxar’s Executive Vice President of Global Field Operations. “Maxar is honored to continue demonstrating the art of the possible by applying AI/ML techniques to multi-source, multi-domain data to satisfy unique DHS mission needs.”

A key component of Maxar’s solution is the use of advanced cloud development technologies and methodologies, which will enable DHS to secure and rapidly scale the analytics system to support many geospatial operators and seamlessly connect with a variety of applications. (Source: Satnews)

21 Jun 20. One Step Closer To Space—DARPA’s Blackjack. Raytheon Intelligence & Space will build two prototype sensor payloads for DARPA’s Blackjack program, under a $37m contract.

Blackjack is a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation program that aims to develop and demonstrate the critical elements for persistent global coverage against a range of advanced threats. It seeks to track multiple threats simultaneously for faster and earlier warning for national security.

RI&S is reducing integration timelines for rapid deployment, having completed Blackjack’s preliminary design review in October 2019. During preliminary design review, RI&S engaged with major subcontractors to confirm costs and ensure the team would be ready to go to production. The company is leveraging its advanced manufacturing capabilities, fast-production and commercial space programs to deliver the two sensors.

RI&S’ Blackjack production will support the team for the constellation’s autonomous mission management system, Pit Boss. Pit Boss interconnects all of the data from the Blackjack satellite constellation, acting as the collection and processing hub to deliver data to the right person at the right time.

The RI&S contract goes through critical design review and support to the systems integrator for integration with Pit Boss and the space vehicle. It also includes launch campaign support and the on-orbit demonstration. Following CDR in November 2020, DARPA has the option to order an additional eight or 18 sensor payloads.

“Constellations offer built-in resiliency – strength in numbers,” said Wallis Laughrey, Space & C2 Systems lead for Raytheon Intelligence & Space. “The entire network of satellites can continue to operate uninterrupted, even if one drops off. Blackjack is innovative in its simplicity. We’ve incorporated mature tech like advanced algorithms and optics that allow us to go fast, but from day one, our primary design driver was manufacturing for cost.” (Source: Satnews)

22 Jun 20. LeoStella Delivers Their First BlackSky Smallsats. LeoStella, a specialized satellite constellation design and manufacturer, has delivered their first, two, fully manufactured satellites from the firm’s state-of-the-art production line.

The satellites are the fifth and sixth of an ongoing Earth Observation (EO) constellation program for the global monitoring company, BlackSky.

LeoStella’s intelligent manufacturing facility opened in 2019 and is the first of its kind. The satellites were delivered to the launch facility on June 1, 2020, and have been prepared for an upcoming SpaceX launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. LeoStella’s ability to minimize costs and reduce development and manufacturing time helps meet the increasing demand for satellite constellations in a time sensitive ecosystem.

LeoStella’s new production facility was developed to change the way satellites and constellations are produced to better meet the needs of agile space customers. The factory is a fully digital and networked environment that includes intelligent workstations, connected tools, automated test equipment, statistical process control, embedded product assurance, and a custom Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) backbone that manages and tracks all activities. Coupled with the manufacturing process is a robust supply chain of industry leaders with a focus on advanced technologies that help LeoStella offer an exceptional value proposition for its customers.

The satellites weigh approximately 50-kilograms and are designed to be operated in a variety of LEO orbit altitudes and inclinations. They are compatible with a wide range of rideshare and dedicated launch vehicles. The satellites are based on a product optimized for imaging missions with high resolution, agility and stability and can be configured for alternate missions and payloads.

Based in Tukwila, Washington, LeoStella is a joint venture between Thales Alenia Space and Spaceflight Industries.

“Successful delivery of these two BlackSky satellites marks another major milestone in LeoStella’s promise of rapid, low-cost, high-performance satellite constellations,” said Mike Hettich, CEO of LeoStella. “In a short time, we have created the designs, infrastructure, tools, and processes that enable constellation production at scale. Delivery of these satellites provides an important validation of our approach. It’s exciting to see the team bring our vision to reality.”

“LeoStella is a key partner in extending our global monitoring constellation,” said Brian O’Toole, CEO of BlackSky. “Their intelligent design and inventive manufacturing have established LeoStella as a leader in new space economics. Consequently, we’re able to deliver valuable first-to-know insights at a cost that makes it accessible for both business and government customers.” (Source: Satnews)

22 Jun 20. ThinKom’s IFC Antennas Achieve LEO, MEO + GEO Satellite Interoperability. ThinKom Solutions, Inc., has announced their Ku3030 aero satellite antennas have been installed on more than 1,550 commercial aircraft of 16 major airlines.

The antennas have accrued more than 17 million flight hours and have achieved in excess of 100,000 hours mean-time-before-failure (MTBF) while supporting industry-leading 98 percent end-to-end system availability.

The Ku3030, underpinned by ThinKom’s patented VICTS flat-panel phased array technology, is the core antenna subsystem employed by Gogo in its 2Ku in-flight connectivity (IFC) systems.

ThinKom also reported the Ku3030 antennas recently completed successful OEM line-fit qualification testing by major airframe manufacturers.

ThinKom’s Ka-band IFC antennas, using the same VICTS technology, are now in production. The Ka2517 antennas are fully operational on a fleet of U.S. government aircraft and are nearing introduction on several commercial airline fleets. Multiple supplemental type certificates (STCs) are in process and are expected to be awarded this year.

ThinKom has worked closely with Gogo to develop an economical and efficient process to convert 2Ku systems to Ka-band for airlines seeking to transition to a Ka IFC solution. This offering is a very cost-effective procedure which can be completed during an overnight service.

In recent months, ThinKom’s Ku- and Ka-band IFC antennas completed multiple ground and in-flight tests demonstrating seamless interoperability across low-Earth orbit (LEO), medium-Earth orbit (MEO) and high-throughput geostationary (GEO) satellite constellations. The live on-air testbeds included OneWeb LEO, Telesat LEO 1 and SES’ GEO and O3b MEO satellites.

In all cases, the ThinKom antennas met or exceeded all test parameters, including spectral efficiency, data throughput rates, beam agility, switching speeds, ASI interference, low-angle tracking and inter-constellation roaming.

The company has also confirmed that its antennas comply with the latest international regulatory requirements, including ITU Article 22, which restricts NGSO terminal emissions to GEO satellites, and the new WRC-19 ESIM rules to protect terrestrial 5G networks operating in the Ka-band from interference emitted by airborne satellite terminals.

“While we’re proud of our impressive record of best-in-class performance and reliability metrics for our patented VICTS antenna technology to date, we’re not resting on our laurels. We continue making operational software enhancements to further improve reliability and the network efficiency of our systems,” said Bill Milroy, CTO of ThinKom Solutions, who added that the software updates can easily be uploaded to existing aircraft installations. We’re looking to a future that will be characterized by multiple frequency bands and satellite constellations, and we’re actively working to ensure our IFC solutions provide the required rapid switching speeds and agility to track and switch seamlessly and reliably between beams, satellites and constellations. The ability of ThinKom’s VICTS antennas to effectively operate between satellite networks is the key enabler for IFC systems being able to operate globally and benefit from the lowest latency available.” (Source: Satnews)

22 Jun 20. Intelsat + SES File Their Spectrum Transition Plans. Both Intelsat and SES have filed their C-band accelerated spectrum transition plans with the FCC on June 19th as is indicated in a story by journalist Chris Forrester at the Advanced Television infosite. The schemes outline how their clients will be moved in order to free up spectrum for the FCC’s 5G adoption.

The plans show how some 3,500 cable head-ends and 13,500 Earth stations will have 60,000 blocking filters changed to limit interference and how client receive dishes will be re-pointed.

Intelsat and SES also detail where their new satellites will be launched and positioned and the timelines involved. Intelsat will need a total of seven satellites, while SES will build six new satellites.

Intelsat says its costs will be around $1.6 – $1.7bn. SES stated their cost will be similar at about $1.67bn.

The implications of the moves are considerable. SES says that it has to repurpose 114 services on its US domestic satellites (SES-1, SES-2, SES-3, SES-11, AMC-11, AMC-3) and 82 services on its international satellites (SES-4, SES-6, SES-14, NSS-9, NSS-10).

SES, for example, explains how for some clients it will switch from today’s MPEG-2 compression to MPEG-4 “which will support same or better service in much less bandwidth. With technology upgrades, [this particular] customer’s post-transition needs are reduced to only 7½ transponders.”

SES will start installation of filters in August this year.

Both Intelsat and SES will now start making quarterly reports to the FCC on their progress. (Source: Satnews)

21 Jun 20. Ultra-Low Profile Satellite Broadband Terminal Debuts From ALCAN. Smart antenna start-up, ALCAN Systems, has developed, according to the firm, the market’s lowest cost flat-panel ground terminal for LEO and MEO satellite constellations delivering satellite broadband on high capacity Ka-Band frequencies.

The electronically steerable flat-panel antennas use ALCAN’s patented liquid crystal-based technology to enable beam-steering. This optimizes performance and allows broadband speeds of 400Mbps via LEO and MEO satellites. This innovation, originally developed at the Technical University of Darmstadt, allows ALCAN to build a liquid crystal based phased array antenna that achieves the lowest unit cost and power performance in the industry. Additionally, the nature of liquid crystal allows for an ultra-low-profile form factor to minimize the visual impact of equipment.

Technical details:

  • The full terminal will be priced at €2,500, offering the lowest Total Cost of Ownership of any product on the market.
  • It has a modular design and will allow multiple antennas to be combined to achieve higher gain/throughput based on the needs of the customers.
  • The antenna size will be compact at 55cm x 99cm x9cm and have a weight less than 20kg.
  • The power consumption of the antenna (including LNB and BUC) will be less than 100W, five times lower than typical semi-conductor based phased array antennas
  • It will have 2D beam steering and will operate across a wide scan angle of +/-55 degrees from boresight.
  • The antenna will be full-duplex and have slew times less than 30ms, enabling 99.5% max. signal throughput

ALCAN is partnering to build a mass-production supply chain and assembly capability for the antenna and will deliver first customer orders in Q4 2021.

Onur Karabey, CEO at ALCAN Systems, said, “The realization of the R&D innovations at ALCAN into a commercial product is hugely exciting, not only for us as a company, but for the potential this solution has to impact the satellite broadband market. Reducing ownership and running costs of Satellite Broadband equipment will not only open up new markets for LEO and MEO satellite operators and service providers, but will revolutionize connectivity for the enterprise customers and high-end consumers that will benefit from a cost effective way to access Satellite Broadband.” (Source: Satnews)


At Viasat, we’re driven to connect every warfighter, platform, and node on the battlefield.  As a global communications company, we power millions of fast, resilient connections for military forces around the world – connections that have the capacity to revolutionize the mission – in the air, on the ground, and at sea.  Our customers depend on us for connectivity that brings greater operational capabilities, whether we’re securing the U.S. Government’s networks, delivering satellite and wireless communications to the remote edges of the battlefield, or providing senior leaders with the ability to perform mission-critical communications while in flight.  We’re a team of fearless innovators, driven to redefine what’s possible.  And we’re not done – we’re just beginning.


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