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22 Dec 20. Viasat Enters Definitive Agreement To Acquire RigNet. Viasat Inc. (NASDAQ: VSAT) has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire RigNet, Inc. (NASDAQ: RNET) in an all-stock transaction that values RigNet at an enterprise value of approximately $222m, based on Viasat’s share price as of the date of the agreement and RigNet’s net debt at September 30, 2020.
The acquisition will help to further accelerate Viasat’s strategy to provide high-quality, ubiquitous, affordable broadband connectivity and communications to the hardest-to-reach locations around the globe. RigNet provides premier, global end-to-end, secure managed communications service and installation capabilities, along with digital transformation solutions, which will enable Viasat to quickly expand into new adjacent industries, including: energy, shipping, maritime, mining and additional enterprises.
Acquiring RigNet will give Viasat direct access to more than 650 customers and expand and diversify Viasat’s commercial connectivity portfolio, providing Viasat an opportunity to more quickly enter adjacent industries. For example, by combining the strong gains in bandwidth efficiencies expected from the impending ViaSat-3 constellation and RigNet’s portfolio of services, Viasat will become a leading, vertically-integrated, energy communications provider with deep domain and customer expertise.
Additionally, RigNet will give Viasat access to complementary core technology and services, including RigNet’s digital transformation toolset, which includes its end-to-end managed communications and connectivity service capabilities, such as SD-WAN; the Cyphre™ cybersecurity product-line; its large-scale applications and IIoT offering; and the Intelie Live™ real-time machine learning and AI analytics platform. Viasat expects to leverage and combine RigNet’s digital transformation solutions, global enterprise experience, support infrastructure and back office systems to expand into new global services.
With more than 650 employees, RigNet has a strong global support infrastructure and operations foundation with more than 50% of its employees overseas. RigNet’s international presence aligns with Viasat’s expanding global operations, enabling Viasat to find additional value and business complements for its ViaSat-3 globalization efforts.
Viasat intends to incorporate RigNet into its Global Enterprise and Mobility business unit, led by President Jimmy Dodd, which will provide further complementary capabilities and support synergies to Viasat’s existing mobility businesses. The RigNet team operates from its headquarters in Houston, Texas; management is expected to stay on to provide leadership, in-depth industry knowledge and customer relationship support.
Rick Baldridge, Viasat’s President and CEO, commented, “With the acquisition of RigNet, we are accelerating the diversification of our connectivity portfolio and establishing a global foundation for expansion of our remote enterprise service offerings. RigNet’s successful track record, global footprint, deep customer relationships and emerging technology expertise in areas like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) make this transaction an ideal fit as we launch our integrated global broadband platform. The transaction is accretive to cashflow, and is expected to improve our leverage position as well as offer multiple opportunities for expansion and performance upside beyond RigNet’s robust energy services business. We’re looking forward to welcoming the RigNet team to the Viasat family post-closing.”
“There is a powerful alignment between RigNet and Viasat given our shared mission to provide fast, reliable coverage, anywhere customers require it,” said Steven Pickett, President and CEO, RigNet. “We have broad experience integrating broadband connectivity and networking capabilities in the most challenging environments—gained from our global deployment of more than 1,200 onshore and offshore sites and 11,000 Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sites. This combination also represents an outstanding opportunity for us to accelerate both the investment in and the adoption of our digital transformation solutions more rapidly outside of our core oil & gas vertical. Our customers are demanding more enhanced communications solutions, and joining forces with Viasat—a recognized leader in satellite broadband connectivity—will enable us to serve them better.” details
Under the terms of the agreement, RigNet stockholders will receive 0.1845 shares of Viasat common stock for each share of RigNet common stock, which represents a 17.9% premium based on the 20-day volume-weighted average prices of Viasat and RigNet. The transaction represents an enterprise value for RigNet of approximately $222m, consisting of approximately $130m in RigNet equity value, based on the closing price of Viasat common stock as of the date of the agreement and the assumption of approximately $92m in RigNet debt, net of cash, at September 30, 2020. The transaction is expected to close by mid-calendar year 2021, subject to the satisfaction of regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.
Viasat has also entered into a support agreement with certain stockholders of RigNet, under which such stockholders have agreed to vote all of their RigNet shares in favor of the transaction at the special meeting of RigNet stockholders to be held in connection with the transaction, subject to certain terms and conditions. The RigNet shares subject to the agreement represent approximately 25% of the current outstanding voting power of the RigNet common stock. (Source: Satnews)
30 Dec 20. Isro to launch first satellite developed entirely by Brazil’s space agency. The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is set to launch Amazonia-1, the first satellite to have been developed completely in Brazil by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the Latin American nation’s apex space research body.
Emirates SkyCargo, the freight division of Emirates airline, has executed a cargo charter to transport Amazonia-1 from Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil to Chennai. This is the first time that Emirates SkyCargo has transported a space satellite from South America.
The earth Observation has been designed, assembled and tested in Brazil and took eight years to be developed. Once launched into space, it will help monitor the ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical rainforest. The satellite is due to be sent to space in February 2021 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the East coast of India.
The Amazonia series satellites are composed of two independent modules: a Service Module, which is the Multi-Mission Platform (MMP), and a Payload Module, which houses image cameras and equipment for recording and transmitting image data. (Source: Google/https://www.defenceaviationpost.com/)
30 Dec 20. Arianespace ready for lift off with OneWeb satellite mission. Thirty-six OneWeb constellation satellites for the initial commercial mission of Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate at Vostochny Cosmodrome have been encapsulated in the payload fairing, taking preparations one step closer to 18 December’s medium-lift Soyuz launch from this location in the Russian far east.
Designated Flight ST29 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering system, will be the fourth for OneWeb. A total of 74 satellites were delivered by Arianespace into low Earth orbit for the connectivity constellation on two missions earlier this year and one in 2019.
OneWeb’s goal is to bring connectivity to everywhere where fiber cannot reach, delivering high-speed, low-latency connectivity services to a wide range of customer sectors – including aviation, maritime, backhaul services, and for governments, emergency response services and more.
The dispenser system for Flight ST29 is filled to capacity with the cluster of 36 OneWeb spacecraft. RUAG Space AB of Linköping, Sweden is the prime contractor for this dedicated dispenser’s development and production, with the capacity sized to enable Arianespace’s delivery of OneWeb’s initial constellation spacecraft in a timely manner.
For the Arianespace/Starsem mission on 18 December, the Russian-built Soyuz will release its satellite passengers in nine deployment sequences during a mission lasting just under 3 hours, 52 minutes. Total payload lift performance for Soyuz is set at 5,810 kilograms, which includes the spacecraft, their dispenser and integration hardware.
The Soyuz 2-1b launcher version utilised for Flight ST29 is the result of a joint European/Russian upgrade program, adding a more powerful third stage engine that significantly increases the launcher’s overall performance.
As a member of the modernised Soyuz-2 series, it features a digital control system that provides additional mission flexibility and also enables control of the launch vehicle fitted with the enlarged 4.1-metre-diameter ST payload fairing.
This mission’s Soyuz is equipped with a re-ignitable Fregat upper stage, which is routinely used on Arianespace missions to extend the launcher’s capability. For the upcoming OneWeb deployment, the Fregat stage will perform multiple reignitions/propulsion burns while delivering the OneWeb satellites into a near polar orbit at an altitude of 450 kilometres. After completion, the upper stage is to make a final burn for deorbiting.
The spacecraft prime contractor for OneWeb’s constellation is OneWeb Satellites – a joint venture founded by OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space.
A facility in Florida, USA built the passengers for Flight ST29, with the capacity to complete two spacecraft a day on a series production line dedicated to the assembly, integration, and testing of OneWeb satellites.
Flight ST29 underscores Arianespace’s position as a leading provider of launch services for constellation satellites. Since the late 1990s, it has launched a total of 205 such spacecraft.
In addition to the OneWeb satellites, this involved: 56 for Globalstar; 30 for Planet; 20 for O3b; 12 for Swarm Technologies; eight for Spire; along with one each for Orbcomm, Satellogic, Kepler Communications, Orbital Solutions/GeoOptics and GHGSat.
Additionally, 26 institutional satellites were launched for the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission as part of the Galileo constellation project. (Source: Space Connect)
29 Dec 20. Airbus-built CSO-2 French military Earth observation satellite launched successfully. Second of three next generation very high resolution optical observation satellites. Airbus-built CSO-2 (Composante spatiale optique) Earth observation satellites for the French Armed Forces, has been successfully launched on a Soyuz launcher from the Kourou European Spaceport in French Guyana.
CSO-2 is the second of the three-satellite CSO constellation, which will provide extremely high resolution geo information intelligence to the French Armed Forces and to its partners in the frame of the MUSIS cooperation programme (Multinational Space-based Imaging System for surveillance, reconnaissance and observation). The CSO satellites are equipped with a very agile pointing system and are controlled via a secure ground control operations centre. The constellation will offer 3D and very high resolution imaging capability, in visible and infrared bandwidths, enabling acquisition during night and day and maximize the operational use.
The CSO-2 satellite, identical to CSO-1, will however be placed on a lower polar orbit at 480 km altitude, to fulfil the identification mission of the programme.
As prime contractor for the CSO satellites programme, Airbus has provided the agile platform and avionics, and was also responsible for the integration work, testing and delivery of the satellite to CNES. Thales Alenia Space provided Airbus with the very-high resolution optical instrument.
Airbus teams will also continue leading the User Ground Segment operations, as they do currently with operating legacy programmes (Helios, Pleiades, SarLupe, Cosmo-Skymed).
Airbus was awarded the CSO contract at the end of 2010, by CNES, the French space agency acting on behalf of the Armament General Directorate (DGA). The contract included an option for a third satellite, which was activated after Germany joined the programme in 2015.
“Thanks to our close partnership since the beginning of the French Space adventure with the French MoD, now including the Space command, CNES and DGA, as well as the tremendous support across industry and partners, especially Thales Alenia Space, we did it…again! Providing the most modern and efficient observation capability for the safety of our citizens, as well as the sovereignty and independence of France and Europe, CSO is a real game changer in terms of resolution, complexity, safety of transmission, reliability and availability: only a couple of nations can claim such a capability,” said Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Airbus Space Systems.
The satellite’s tremendous agility and stability enable it to quickly provide users with extremely high-quality images from the Thales Alenia Space instrument, even for the most complex acquisition schedules.
Airbus has built on the decades of experience innovations and success which led to Helios 1, Pleiades, and Helios 2, and also made use of the latest generation of gyroscopic actuators, fibre optic gyroscopes, on-board electronics and control software to optimise weight and inertia and significantly increase the pointing speed.
29 Dec 20. Airbus taps Arianespace for optical observation program. The aerospace company has secured a contract to support Airbus’ launch of four optical observation satellites.
Airbus has contracted Arianespace to support the launch of four satellites of the Composante Optique 3D (CO3D) constellation.
The optical observation satellites, developed in conjunction with the French CNES space agency, will be orbited using the Vega C launcher.
Weighing approximately 300 kilograms each, these satellites are expected to be launched together as co-passengers on a single flight and deployed into polar orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometres.
Once launched, the satellites will deliver stereoscopic images of the Earth at a resolution of 50 centimetres, with a high revisit rate.
The data will then be fed into an Airbus digital processing system, which will integrate advanced algorithms from CNES to produce ultra-precise 3D maps of the Earth’s surface.
The launch is scheduled for 2023 from the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
“With several months to go before the first Vega C launch, this new-generation European light-lift launcher has reaffirmed its ability to meet users’ innovative needs in low orbit, especially with the ability to carry multiple payloads – benefiting from the improved performance,” Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said following the announcement.
“For Arianespace, this is a further sign of the renewed confidence in the Vega system by our long-time partners of Airbus and CNES.” (Source: Space Connect)
26 Dec 20. NGA launches new tech accelerator in St. Louis. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is launching a new tech accelerator in St. Louis as a way to help commercial startups to develop new geospatial technologies.
The NGA Accelerator, which will be run in partnership with Capital Innovators and the Missouri Technology Corporation, will select eight companies to participate in its inaugural 13-week program. The program boasts more than $1m in perks and incentives for participants, including office space, mentorship, $100,000 in grant funding, investor connections and direct feedback from NGA. Participants will temporarily relocate to St. Louis for the duration of the program, which is set to launch March 22.
NGA has selected four technology focus areas for the first cohort: advanced analytics and modeling, data integrity and security, data management and artificial intelligence.
“Geospatial-intelligence is a rapidly growing industry and the NGA Accelerator will be the epicenter for next-generation technologies,” said Capital Innovators Management Director Brian Dixon in a Dec. 15 statement. “We think our combination of expert mentorship, a burgeoning startup community in St. Louis, and a range of support services will form the perfect foundation for any early-stage company looking to build a reputation among the government sector and beyond.”
In a press release, NGA boasted that the accelerator is a first of its kind in the U.S. intelligence community.
The decision to place the program in St. Louis adds to NGA’s recent investments in the city, where the agency is building a new state-of-the-art facility to house NGA West and has partnered with local universities to develop talent for its workforce.
“This project is part of our larger effort to grow the world’s best geospatial ecosystem in St. Louis,” said NGA Director Vice Adm. Robert Sharp. “Our strategy is to work closely with talented teams in the region to form a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Our tactics include close collaboration and technology transfer. The growing ecosystem is central to our efforts to maximize game-changing innovation.”
Applications to join the first cohort will be accepted through midnight Jan. 17. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
24 Dec 20. Space programs boost Defense Innovation Unit budget. Congress boosted the research and development budget of the Defense Innovation Unit by more than $20 m in its fiscal 2021 spending package sitting on the president’s desk.
Lawmakers allocated $66.9m in research, development, test and evaluation funds for DIU, a Pentagon office that fields commercial technology from nontraditional contractors to department components. That amount is nearly $27.5m more than DIU’s request, and a huge increase over its 2020 $46.6m RDT&E budget.
Two space programs increased the DIU budget by $9.5m, according to budget documents. The first increase was for DIU’s multi-orbit platform, which received a $4.5m boost. The commercial prototype project looks at “in-space transportation and robotic platforms for on-orbit servicing, assembly and logistics,” said Mike Madsen, director of DIU strategic engagement, in a statement.
DIU also got a $5m boost for its small tactical imagery satellites program, a commercial prototype project that’s assessing tactical geospatial intelligence capabilities for the war fighter, Madsen said.
The DIU budget increase was largely driven by a $15m increase in prototype funds over the budget request for “dual-use technologies,” products adapted from the commercial market to solve military problems.
The office also received a $3m increase in prototype funds for a talent management pilot program, called Gig Eagle.
“Gig Eagle is a new talent optimization app that will leverage commercial AI/ML technology to identify and engage the right talent in real-time,” Madsen said. “The initial rollout will unlock Reserve component talent for joint mission sets. We are currently working with a number of the services as potential partners.” (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
28 Dec 20. Skyroot Aerospace successfully test fires a solid propulsion rocket stage. This is the first time that a private company has successfully designed, developed and tested a full solid propulsion rocket stage in India
Skyroot Aerospace has successfully test fired a solid propulsion rocket stage (named Kalam-5). This is the first time in India that a private company has successfully designed, developed and tested a full solid propulsion rocket stage. Meanwhile, Mukesh Bansal, Vedanshu investments backed space start-up is looking to raise around $15m.
A special feature of this is that it is built with advanced carbon composite structure in a completely automated process. Carbon composite case is very challenging to design and manufacture but is five-times lighter than steel, said Pawan Kumar Chandana, co-founder & CEO, Skyroot Aerospace.
He added that Kalam-5 uses 15 different advanced materials, 9 different manufacturing processes, and has zero moving parts. This is a major milestone for Skyroot & for the Indian private space sector. “The test results closely matched our predictions and this success gives great confidence for our Vikram-I vehicle development,” said Chandana.
Test firing of Vikram-1 launch vehicle’s third stage (Kalam-100) is planned in a few months at ISRO facilities, added Naga Bharath Daka, co-founder & COO, Skyroot Aerospace. The company’s first launch vehicle ‘Vikram-I’ is under active manufacturing and targeting launch in Dec 2021 with the help of ISRO.
Chandana said, with this test along with the company’s Raman Engine test firing done in August 2020, Skyroot has demonstrated all propulsion technologies in Vikram-1 vehicles.
With this, Skyroot unveils the first of five Kalam series of solid rocket motors with a thrust ranging from 5kN to 1000kN (~100 Tons). The remaining four motors are in various stages of manufacturing and will be tested in 2021.
Kalam-5 is a demonstrator solid rocket propulsion stage with exactly the same propellant, materials and interfaces as the three solid propulsion stages of Vikram-1 launch vehicle. It gives a peak sea level thrust of 5.3kN and is designed to take 66 atmospheres and 30000C of combustion pressure and temperature respectively. This is also 1:4 scale in size of our Vikram-1 3rd stage, he said.
The solid motors are high thrust, low-cost rocket engines with propellant in solid form. They are highly reliable as they have very few moving parts. Testing was done at a private test facility on December 22 in Nagpur owned by Solar Industries- India’s largest explosives manufacturer and a leading space and defence contractor (also partner and investor in Skyroot).
Founded by former scientists of the Indian Space Research organization (ISRO), Skyroot has raised $4.3m till now and is in process of raising another $15 mn in 2021.
In the past the company has raised investments from: Mukesh Bansal (Founder Myntra, CureFit), Solar Industries (India’s largest explosives manufacturer and renowned Space & Defence Contactor), Vedanshu investments and a few other Angel investors. (Source: Google/https://www.business-standard.com/)
23 Dec 20. Firefly Aerospace and Adaptive Launch Solutions Sign Multi-Launch Agreement. Firefly Aerospace, Inc., a leading provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, and Adaptive Launch Solutions (ALS), a designer of multi-manifest hardware, avionics and sequencers, and an integrator of single and multiple satellites, today announced they have signed a multi-year Launch Services Agreement (LSA) which includes four Alpha launches beginning in 2021.
“Small launch provides small satellite owners right sized, right priced access to space meeting their program and business goals,” said Phil Smith, CEO of ALS. “Our agreement with Firefly Aerospace will provide the flexibility and responsiveness demanded by government operators and commercial owners. Under the agreement, ALS is the launch service provider for Alpha Flights 2 and 3, planned for launch in 2021. These two missions offer our customers the earliest commercial launch opportunities on Firefly Alpha. ALS brings to our Firefly partnership decades of launch integration experience, most recently utilized on the United States Space Force (USSF) Launch Manifest Systems Integrator (LMSI) program. The LMSI program team delivers capabilities and integration approaches that establish U.S. government enterprise-wide capability for small satellite delivery to space.”
“Firefly is very pleased to welcome ALS as a customer and partner for missions in 2021 and beyond,” said Dr. Tom Markusic, Firefly CEO. “In addition to providing launch services to ALS, Firefly plans to leverage ALS’ unique primary and secondary payload integration capability, processing experience and proprietary hardware for current and future launch campaigns.”
Firefly is preparing for the first launch of the Alpha vehicle in early 2021. Acceptance testing of both Stage 1 and Stage 2 for Flight 1 have been completed, and Firefly’s Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 2 launch site is nearing completion and activation.
“Firefly’s agreement with ALS will allow us to pursue strategic opportunities to support Firefly on both our Western and Eastern ranges,” added Firefly’s Chief Revenue Officer Bradley Schneider. “Firefly has now nearly filled our 2021 launch manifest and is focused on finalizing our 2022 flight opportunities. The demand for access to Low Earth Orbit is rapidly expanding, and Firefly will provide the most dependable and economical small launch vehicles in the industry.”
ABOUT FIREFLY AEROSPACE
Firefly is developing a family of launch and in-space vehicles and services that provide industry-leading affordability, convenience and reliability. Firefly’s launch vehicles utilize common technologies, manufacturing infrastructure and launch capabilities, providing LEO launch solutions for up to ten metric tons of payload at the lowest cost/kg in the small-lift class. Combined with Firefly’s in-space vehicles, such as the Space Utility Vehicle and Genesis Lander, Firefly provides the space industry with a one-stop shop for missions to the surface of the Moon or beyond. Headquartered in Cedar Park TX, Firefly has additional presence in Vandenberg, CA and Washington, D.C.
ABOUT ADAPTIVE LAUNCH SOLUTIONS
ALS is a Small Disadvantaged Business providing: Aerospace engineering design and analysis services, qualified flight hardware, launch integration, and mission engineering services for spacecraft and payloads, all accomplished with a team of deeply experienced staff who provide complete mission and launch engineering, direct engagement with LV provider to deliver Integrated Multi-manifest Carrier design, fabrication, assembly, test, flight readiness from a complete in-house small satellite systems integration lab while providing integration and interface requirements and all necessary support through direct engagement with SV owner/operators and program offices.
23 Dec 20. Congress provides $130m for hypersonic missile warning satellites. Congress increased the Missile Defense Agency’s budget by $130m to fund a new satellite constellation capable of tracking hypersonic weapons. A satellites in low Earth orbit will provide targeting data for hypersonic weapons that are dimmer than traditional ballistics and can maneuver in flight, plugging a massive hole in the U.S. missile warning architecture.
Lawmakers, who approved the appropriations package Dec. 21 by a majority wide enough to overcome a veto hinted at by President Donald Trump, had expressed concern throughout the year that the agency’s budget does not include any funding to develop the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS). While MDA leadership did ask Congress to fund the constellation, seeking $108m for HBTSS in its unfunded priority list, legislators communicated their confusion about why such a high priority program was not included in the agency’s actual budget request.
“In particular, ongoing acquisition programs that were identified as high priority within MDA’s architecture as recently as one year ago, such as the development of a space sensor for the tracking of hypersonic threats and ballistic missiles … have been removed from MDA’ s budget, or underwent significant funding reductions,” lawmakers wrote in comments on the plan. “The inconsistencies are concerning.”
The $130m budget addition for the project includes a $10m transfer from the Space Development Agency.
The legislation also appears to resolve some tension between the Pentagon and Congress over which agency should lead HBTSS development, a disagreement ongoing since 2019.
Lawmakers seemed to settle the debate with a mandate that MDA serve as the lead agency on the effort in the fiscal 2020 defense policy legislation. But the issue was revived earlier this year when then-Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin reportedly decided to place HBTSS funding under the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) budget request. The MDA director’s testimony that his agency was still in charge of HBTSS at a March hearing did little to assuage lawmakers’ frustration over the move, and they ultimately threatened to remove MDA from Griffin’s portfolio.
The source of the confusion seemingly comes from HBTSS’ place within the missile warning enterprise. While the program is ostensibly owned by MDA, it is just one part of a hypersonic detection and tracking solution being built into the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA), a constellation being developed by SDA that will eventually be made up of hundreds of satellites in low Earth orbit.
The constellation will include its own wide-field-of-view tracking layer satellites that will initially detect hypersonic threats. As threats come into and leave the view of individual satellites, custody of the threat will pass from satellite to satellite via an on-orbit mesh network. Ultimately, custody will land with an HBTSS, which has a more sensitive medium-field-of-view sensor that can create the targeting data needed to destroy the threat.
Due to HBTSS’ relationship with SDA’s architecture, the White House argued throughout 2019 that it was too early to put a single agency in charge of the program. Lawmakers seemed to put the issue to rest by placing MDA in charge, but Griffin’s reported move to shift some oversight back to SDA revived frustrations.
Griffin’s view, however, may have won out in the end. The newly passed fiscal 2021 appropriations bill states that SDA and MDA “will share responsibility for developing and deploying the HBTSS architecture and constellation under a joint memorandum of agreement that defines each agency’s roles and responsibilities.”
That isn’t to say Congress doesn’t want more clarification. The legislation calls on the agencies to submit a comprehensive acquisition strategy for HBTSS to Congress, including all components of the architecture, cost estimates, integrated test plans and more. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
21 Dec 20. SmartSat CRC formally launches Aurora Space Startup Cluster. The SmartSat CRC has launched the Aurora Space Startup Cluster, a new company with over sixty-five member companies. The Cluster represents every part of Australia’s space supply chain, from rocket launch services, in-space computing, precision sensors, satellite digital twin technology, in-orbit and deep space operations, right through to ground station antennae development and Earth data applications for agriculture, resources and sustainability management.
The Aurora Space Startup Cluster aims to provide a framework for startups to grow together in commercial collaborations with one another, with research organisations, and with local and international primes, to win business, commercialise leap-frog R&D, and build world-class capabilities in ways that would otherwise be difficult by themselves.
“Startups are, by definition, companies looking to grow fast by leveraging new technologies and disruptive business models,” says Chairman Dr Tim Parsons, who chaired the Aurora Steering Group in the past year through its formation phase and is current Chair of the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA). “If we’re to have any chance of meeting the nation’s ambitious growth targets for space, we need to help our space startups grow faster, in technical readiness level, in capability to execute, and commercial acumen.”
A brand identity for Aurora has also been established, reflecting the organisation’s goal to help its members grow, soaring upwards to break through the boundary between Earth and space.
Aurora’s Inaugural Board is comprised of Directors Andrew Barton (Southern Launch), Troy McCann (Moonshot), Chair Dr Tim Parsons (Delta-V Newspace Alliance), Conrad Pires (Picosat Systems), and Dr Anastasia Volkova (FluroSat), together with Prof Andy Koronios and Peter Nikoloff representing SmartSat CRC. (Source: http://rumourcontrol.com.au/)
24 Dec 20. NASA awards Venture class launch services contract. NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) has awarded multiple Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contracts to launch small satellites (SmallSats) to space, including CubeSats, microsats or nanosatellites.
The three companies selected to provide these commercial launch capabilities, and the value of their firm fixed-price contracts, are:
- Astra Space Inc. of Alameda, California: $3.9m
- Relativity Space Inc. of Long Beach, California: $3.0m
- Firefly Black LLC of Cedar Park, Texas: $9.8m
SmallSats, including CubeSats, are playing an increasingly larger role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research, and educational investigations at NASA. These miniature satellites provide a low-cost platform for NASA missions.
LSP supports the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) by providing launch opportunities to CubeSats that are awaiting launch. The VCLS Demo 2 contracts will launch CubeSats selected through the CSLI to demonstrate a launch capability for smaller payloads that NASA anticipates it will require on a recurring basis for future science missions.
The Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has partnered with LSP to fund the VCLS Demo 2 contracts. These VCLS Demo 2 launches of small satellites can tolerate a higher level of risk than larger missions and will demonstrate – and help mitigate – risks associated with the use of new launch vehicles providing access to space for future small spacecraft and missions.
NASA’s Launch Services Program is responsible for launching uncrewed rockets delivering spacecraft that observe the Earth, visit other planets and explore the universe – from weather satellites to telescopes to Mars rovers and more. (Source: Space Connect)
24 Dec 20. ESA purchases space debris removal mission from start-up. The European Space Agency has signed an €86m contract with an industrial team led by Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA to purchase a unique service: the first removal of an item of space debris from orbit.
As a result, in 2025, ClearSpace will launch the first active debris removal mission, ClearSpace-1, which will rendezvous, capture and take down for re-entry the upper part of a Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) used with Europe’s Vega launcher.
This object was left in a ‘gradual disposal’ orbit (altitude of approximately 801 km by 664 km), complying with space debris mitigation regulations, following the second flight of Vega back in 2013.
ESA director general Jan Wörner explained, “Think of all of the orbital captures that have occurred up until this point and they have all taken place with co-operative, fully controlled target objects.”
Paying for such a service contract rather than directly procuring and running the entire mission represents a new way for ESA to do business – intended as the first step in establishing a new commercial sector in space.
Along with part-purchasing this initial mission – ClearSpace itself will be raising the remainder of the mission cost through commercial investors – ESA is also contributing key technologies for flight, developed as part of the agency’s Clean Space initiative through its Active Debris Removal/In-Orbit Servicing project, ADRIOS.
These include advanced guidance, navigation and control systems and vision-based AI, allowing the chaser satellite to close safely on the target on an autonomous basis, as well as robotic arms to achieve capture.
“With space debris, by definition no such control is possible: instead the objects are adrift, often tumbling randomly,” Wörner said.
Wörner added, “So this first capture and disposal of an unco-operative space object represents an extremely challenging achievement. But with overall satellite numbers set to grow rapidly in the coming decade, regular removals are becoming essential to keep debris levels under control, to prevent a cascade of collisions that threaten to make the debris problem much worse.”
Luc Piguet, founder and CEO of ClearSpace comments, “At orbital velocities, even a screw can hit with explosive force, which cannot be shielded against by mission designers; instead the threat needs to be managed through the active removal of debris items.
Luisa Innocenti, head of ESA’s Clean Space Office, added, “The plan is that this pioneering capture forms the foundation of a recurring business case, not just for debris removal by responsible space actors around the globe, but also for in-orbit servicing: these same technologies will also enable in-orbit refuelling and servicing of satellites, extending their working life. Eventually, we envisage this trend extending into in-orbit assembly, manufacturing and recycling.”
“Space debris is a threat to the proper functioning of the space infrastructure on which modern society relies. We are proud that the Swiss startup ClearSpace could prevail in the ESA call to provide an active debris removal, in-orbit service. It is an important first step to demonstrate the technological feasibility and pave the way for a system capable to service mega constellations in the future,” says Renato Krpoun, head of the Swiss Space Office.
ClearSpace – a spin-off company established by an experienced team of space debris researchers from EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne – is leading an industrial team that includes companies from several European countries, and contributions will come from enterprises in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Romania.
With a mass of 112 kg, ClearSpace-1’s Vespa target is close in size to a small satellite, while its relatively simple shape and sturdy construction make it a suitable first goal, before progressing to larger, more challenging captures by follow-up missions – eventually including multi-object capture.
The ClearSpace-1 mission will initially be launched into a lower 500 km orbit for commissioning and critical tests, before being raised to the target orbit for rendezvous and capture using a quartet of robotic arms, flying under ESA supervision. The combined ‘space robot’ chaser plus the Vespa target will then be deorbited to burn up in the atmosphere. (Source: Space Connect)
23 Dec 20. European space and digital players to study build of EU’s satellite-based connectivity system. The European Commission has selected a consortium of European satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers, telco operators and launch service providers to study the design, development and launch of a European-owned space-based communication system.
The study will assess the feasibility of a new initiative aiming to strengthen European digital sovereignty and provide secure connectivity for citizens, commercial enterprises and public institutions as well as providing global coverage for rural and ‘not-spot’ areas. Complementing Copernicus and Galileo, this new EU flagship programme, once given the green light, would fully exploit the synergies of the technological potential akin to the Digital and Space industries. The contract value of the year-long feasibility study amounts to €7.1m.
The European space-based connectivity system, advocated by Commissioner Breton, is set to provide secure communication services to the EU and its Member States as well as broadband connectivity for European citizens, companies and mobility sectors, strengthening EU digital sovereignty. It will build upon the European Union’s GOVSATCOM programme of pooling and sharing satellite services, and will ensure a high level of reliability, resilience and security not currently available in the market; it will also leverage the EuroQCI initiative that promotes innovative quantum cryptography technology.
More specifically, the study phase awarded by the European Commission will consolidate the user and mission requirements and provide a preliminary architectural design and service provision concept, as well as associated budgetary estimates. A Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme will be considered and assessed during this phase.
The study will look at how the space-based system could enhance and connect to current and future critical infrastructures, including terrestrial networks, strengthening EU capability to access the cloud and providing digital services in an independent and secure way, which is essential for building confidence in the digital economy and ensuring European strategic autonomy and resilience.
It will leverage and strengthen the role of satellites in the 5G ecosystem, assessing interoperability whilst also taking into account the evolution towards upcoming 6G technologies.
This European sovereign infrastructure is set to benefit a large range of sectors, including road and maritime transport, air traffic and control, autonomous vehicle development as well as many Internet of Things (IoT) applications. It is intended to offer enhanced security in the transmission and storage of information and data supporting the needs of various users such as governmental agencies, finance & banking companies, science networks, critical infrastructures and data centres.
The consortium members are: Airbus, Arianespace, Eutelsat, Hispasat, OHB, Orange, SES, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space.
23 Dec 20. Swedish Space Corporation invests in joint UK/Swedish start-up ‘GlobalTrust.’ Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) has announced an investment in a new start-up data analytics business with offices in the UK and Sweden to address some of the most crucial environmental and social issues of the time.
This initiative is being led by SSC and is supported by the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult – a government established not-for-profit company with its core mandate focused on promoting and enabling industrial growth in the space sector.
Recent developments in satellite-delivered earth observation including frequent revisits, ever higher resolution imagery and real-time analytics have shown that remote sensing technologies can play a critical role in monitoring and assessing the impact of corporate activities almost anywhere in the world.
GlobalTrust shall combine the latest technologies and build upon the excellent market-facing work conducted by the Satellite Applications Catapult in the UK, by creating and operationally providing services in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), investor-focused intelligence (i.e. ESG metrics) as well as assisting public sector organisations create and deliver better public policy.
SSC’s CEO Stefan Gardefjord said, “GlobalTrust represents an exciting development for SSC, by providing a focus outside of its core space markets and into a wider range of sectors that have challenges that space technologies can help to solve. This venture therefore represents both the creation of a new business-line within the SSC group, but also supports and encourages growth in the need for high-quality space capabilities in SSC’s traditional business activities.”
GlobalTrust will focus on supporting public policy and corporate social responsibility imperatives that are aligned with societies’ expectations and working towards a better and more sustainable planet.
Satellite Applications Catapult’s CEO Stuart Martin said, “The Satellite Applications Catapult was created to stimulate and develop the space sector in the UK, and the formation of new businesses to achieve this goal is an important aspect of our work.
“GlobalTrust is the latest in a series of very high potential spin-outs from the Catapult, and its clear focus on tackling complex global issues and delivering lasting cultural change in the corporate world aligns strongly with our own vision. I look forward to seeing this new organisation develop and deliver significant impact in our rapidly changing world.”
GlobalTrust’s CEO, Dr Richard Hilton said, “We believe that GlobalTrust has emerged right at the critical point when technology, corporate need and societal expectations have collided, and there is now a strong appetite to make positive changes.
“Therefore, an opportunity for an independent and trusted entity to serve this demand exists. It starts not with just a good idea but builds upon many decades of experience in the space sector and with the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) market. GlobalTrust is well placed to hit the ground running in both the UK and Sweden, and we look forward to launching this exciting business endeavour”.
GlobalTrust will begin trading in December 2020 from its UK office, with a Swedish office opening in 2021. (Source: Space Connect)
23 Dec 20. Orbex secures $24m funding round for UK Space Launch. Orbex, an innovative European space launch company, has secured $24m in a funding round led by BGF, the UK’s most active investment company, and Octopus Ventures, one of the largest VCs in Europe.
BGF and Octopus Ventures have joined existing investors High-Tech Gründerfonds, Heartcore Capital and Elecnor S.A. – parent company of the multi-national space firm Deimos Space – in a new funding round for the orbital launch services company. The new investments secure the roadmap to the first launch from the Space Hub Sutherland spaceport in Scotland.
Keith Barclay, investor at BGF said, “Orbex is an impressive UK company which is developing a strongly differentiated and innovative launch solution for the rapidly-growing small satellite market. In Europe, they are a recognised leader with an experienced team, substantial institutional support, a growing customer list and patented technology. The private space sector remains a key future industry for both Scottish and UK governments and we’re very excited to be backing one of the most compelling examples of this evolving sector.”
Conceived and developed as an environmentally sustainable launch system, the Orbex Prime rocket uniquely uses bio-propane, a renewable biofuel that cuts CO2 emissions by 90 per cent compared to traditional kerosene-based rocket fuels.
Designed to be recoverable and re-usable, Orbex Prime is intended to leave no debris in the ocean or in orbit around the Earth. The company is constructing the rocket vehicle at factories in Forres, near Inverness in Scotland, and Copenhagen in Denmark.
“Orbex is creating a highly innovative launch solution that is rapidly gaining market traction with very serious customers. We’re delighted to be part of the future of the company and are very excited about what they’re looking to achieve, including the first ever vertical launches from UK soil,” said Simon King, Partner at Octopus Ventures.
Orbex has already confirmed six commercial satellite launch contracts, with the first launches expected in 2022. The company’s preferred launch site will be the Sutherland spaceport on the northernmost coast of Scotland, which was granted planning permission in mid-August 2020.
“This financing round is an important step forward for Orbex. It helps us maintain our rapid pace and allows us to move forward with certainty towards our first launch from the Sutherland spaceport. With BGF and Octopus Ventures we have found significant strategic partners who recognise our vision, and who have the capability to support our development through both the early flights and into subsequent growth and production,“ said Chris Larmour, Orbex CEO.
“We want the UK to be Europe’s leading destination for launching small satellites – driving economic growth in communities up and down the country,” said UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway. “Companies like Orbex are playing a vital role in the UK’s thriving commercial spaceflight market and today’s funding reflects the confidence that investors have in Orbex, helping to bring a small satellite launch from Sutherland one step closer.”
The announcement by Orbex will bring significant new investment in high technology employment opportunities and large-scale production facilities in the Highlands region of Scotland, close to the launch site at the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland. The A’Mhoine site was granted planning permission in August 2020 and is expected to begin construction in 2021.
“This is great for Forres, Moray and the Highlands and marks further strong progress for Orbex,” said Scottish Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation Ivan McKee. (Source: Space Connect)
22 Dec 20. Launch success for UAE’s FalconEye satellite. Airbus Defence and Space was in charge of the satellite design, integration and test, and supplied the platform.
The Earth observation satellite FalconEye was successfully launched last night from the European Spaceport (CSG) in Kourou, French Guiana by an Arianespace Soyuz rocket.
Owned and operated by the United Arab Emirates, FalconEye was developed by Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space as co-prime contractors.
The FalconEye system will support the needs of the UAE’s Armed Forces. The satellite weighed 1190 kg at launch and will be raised to a helio-synchronous orbit of 611 km. Airbus Defence and Space was in charge of the satellite design, integration and test, and supplied the platform. Thales Alenia Space designed and supplied the optical instrument and the image processing chain.
“FalconEye will offer top quality Earth observation, providing our customer with the best of what space imagery can offer. The high-performance optical satellite system represents an important step in the cooperation between the United Arab Emirates and France,” said Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Space Systems at Airbus. “Thanks to the trust of our Emirati customer and the support of the French government, we have been able to deliver a great team effort between Airbus and Thales Alenia Space.” (Source: Google/https://www.intelligent-aerospace.com/)
17 Dec 20. CNES Selects ANYWAVES For Reflectarray Antenna For Smallsats Demo. ANYWAVES has been selected by the French Space Agency (CNES) to demonstrate the technical feasibility of a Reflectarray antenna for smallsats.
Selected from a call for tender, the French manufacturer is now launching the development of a folding antenna, Reflectarray type, working from the X- to the Ka-band and perfectly suited to the smallest platforms. The goal is to develop the French industrial sector of wide beam coverage folding antennas and pave the way to new solar system missions and commercial applications in low Earth orbit.
The interest France and Europe pay to solar missions keeps growing and it is now time to shift toward next generation communications involving downlinks and inter-satellites links, with a particular effort on long distance communications between a small platform and Earth. It is in this context, impelled by NASA and its MarCO-A and MarCO-B cubesats equipped with a X-band Reflectarray technology, that the French Space Agency launched a call for tender to demonstrate the technical feasibility of this solution, up to the Ka-band, by the French industrial sector.
To face this challenge, ANYWAVES will be surrounded by major actors from the New Space such as CLIX Industries, COMAT and MECANO ID. The project was launched on December 16th and is divided into three steps — the first one, planned to last 12 months, will be dedicated to the manufacturing of a Reflectarray antenna demonstrator. The next steps will be about developing and qualifying an engineering model and then testing a flight model for the first opening mission. The final goal is to dispose of a Reflectarray antenna made of several panels, suited to 6, 12 or 16U platforms and suitable for RF operations from X- to Ka-bands.
Winning this call for tender is the opportunity for ANYWAVES to initiate the French sector of Reflectarray to smallsats. The company’s ambition is to become the first European antenna equipment manufacturer to put into orbit a Ka-band Reflectarray suited to commercial needs.
Emulating the conduct of a parabolic reflector, thanks to material structuration, this technology is made of plane panels folded over each other and folded again on a carrier. The Reflectarray antenna is both compact and easy to deploy, perfectly suited to the space constraints that smallsats imply. Its plan panels include an active face that reflects RF waves and controls the phase locally reflected. It also includes a structure which guarantees rigidity and stability. This is supplemented by folding and – or panels guiding mechanisms, positioning and-or locking devices between the lateral and the central sections plus a passive thermal control. (Source: Satnews)
17 Dec 20. ISRO Launches Their CMS-01 Communications Satellite. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on December 17 successfully launched their 42nd communication satellite, CMS-01, on board the PSLV-C50 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC-SHAR) at Sriharikota.
The CMS-01 satellite will have a life span of at least seven years, according to ISRO. The PSLV-C50 launcher lifted off from the Second Launch Pad of SDSC-SHAR at 3.41 pm, and after a flight of 20 minutes and 12 seconds, injected the satellite into its intended orbit. After injection, the solar panels of CMS-01 were automatically deployed and ISRO’s Master Control Facility at Hassan assumed control of the satellite.
In the coming days, orbit raising maneuvers will be executed to position the satellite in the geostationary orbit at its designated location. The CMS-01 communication satellite is envisaged to provide services in extended C-band frequency and the coverage will include the Indian mainland, Andaman-Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands. This band is mostly used for satellite communications and full-time satellite TV networks and is also used for weather radars, wi-fi devices and radio LAN.
ISRO Chairman Dr. K. Sivan appreciated the efforts of both the satellite and launch vehicle teams in realizing this mission amidst the coronavirus pandemic. This was ISRO’s last mission of 2020. Speaking about the upcoming PSLV-C51 mission, Dr. Sivan said, “The mission will be the fruition of the space reforms recently introduced in the country.” CMS-01 carries three satellites built by private entities, Sivan added.
Satellite communication experts say the C-band microwave radio frequency is less susceptible to absorption of signals by atmospheric rain, snow or ice, and signal losses, which are especially prevalent at frequencies above 11 GHz, which is the Ku band.
The PSLV-C50 is the 52nd flight of PSLV and 22nd flight of PSLV in ‘XL’ configuration (with 6 strap-on motors) which was used to launch Chandrayaan-1 in October of 2008. This was the 77th launch vehicle mission from SDSC-SHAR, Sriharikota and is India’s 42nd communication satellite. (Source: Satnews)
17 Dec 20. ESA Contracts ArianeGroup To Develop Themis Reusable Rocket Stage Demonstrator. ArianeGroup has received a 33m euros contract from the European Space Agency (ESA) to begin the first development phase for the Themis reusable rocket stage demonstrator. Themis will use Prometheus, the very low-cost rocket engine demonstrator currently under development as an ESA program.
The aim of the project, developed through the ArianeWorks platform, is to demonstrate Europe’s technological capacity in the field of reusability so that by 2022, the ESA member states will be in a position to determine the range of launchers most suited to the needs of Europe around 2030 based on available technologies, the requirements of Europe, and the evolution of the global space market. The first prototype of the very low-cost, potentially reusable engine Prometheus is currently being assembled. It was developed for ESA on the ArianeGroup sites of Ottobrunn in Bavaria (Germany) and Vernon in Normandy (France), and is due to be tested at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) facility in Lampoldshausen (Baden-Württemberg, Germany).
Prometheus is developed under ESA contract and is the precursor of future European space rocket engines. It could be in use beginning in 2025 on an Ariane 6 potential evolution and is also designed to equip a retro-firing landing stage. It is therefore a key technological step in Themis development.
The Themis program is the first “agile” development deployed on a large scale in the space sector in Europe. Pre-developed in under a year by the ArianeWorks innovation accelerator platform (a cooperation between ArianeGroup and CNES), it was approved at the ESA “Space 19+” Conference last year. The Themis demonstrator should make it possible to fast-track trial of all the technological building blocks necessary for reusability of a complete rocket main stage. A first full-scale tank has already been installed on the PF20 test zone at ArianeGroup’s Vernon site, where Ariane 1 was tested.
The Themis team already brings together French, Swedish, Belgian, and Swiss industrial partners, and will be expanded to include other European partners in the coming months to prepare for the up-coming phases. Sub-orbital flight tests are scheduled to begin in 2023 from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG) in Kourou, French Guiana.
“In a global context where the leading space powers are investing heavily in their launch systems and developing technologies with a focus on competitiveness, even domination, the sustainability of European access to space is more than ever a strategic issue. It is therefore essential to develop today the technologies that will be part of the launch vehicles of the next decades. This first contract for the development of a reusable rocket stage demonstrator is a clear sign of this ambition,” said ArianeGroup CEO André-Hubert Roussel. “Powered by the Prometheus engine demonstrator, running on liquid oxygen-methane or oxygen-hydrogen combinations, Themis will lead to the proving and development of very low-cost launcher solutions, while contributing to energy transition to a more eco-responsible space launcher sector.” (Source: Satnews)
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