The UK's first Spaceport

The UK's first National Space Policy (NSP), published on 13 December 2015, was debated by the House of Commons in the UK parliament on 14 January 2016.  The NSP commits to four key principles in the government’s use of space. The Government:

  • recognises that space is of strategic importance to the UK because of the value that space programmes deliver back to public services, national security, science and innovation and the economy
  • commits to preserving and promoting the safety and security of the unique space operating environment, free from interference
  • supports the growth of a robust and competitive commercial space sector, underpinned by excellent academic research
  • commits to cooperating internationally to create the legal frameworks for the responsible use of space and to collaborating with other nations to deliver maximum benefit from UK investment in space. 

The MPs also debated the location of the proposed UK Spaceport.  According to news reports in the Scotsman and the Sunday Post, Scotland is emerging as the likely location, based on criteria issued by the Department for Transport.  The considerations outlined include a coastal location, local population density, weather patterns and a clear sea path to the north into a polar orbit. A final list of technical requirements will be published in 2017 in advance of the bidding process.

Fieldfisher partner John Worthy published a commentary on the NSP in Satellite Finance magazine, February 2016.

Inmarsat and Airbus Defence and Space

Inmarsat announced on 23 December that it had awarded Airbus Defence and Space a $600 million contract to build the first two mobile communications satellites for its sixth-generation fleet. The contract will see Airbus deliver the first satellite (Inmarsat-6 F1) by 2020. The fleet will feature a dual-payload with each supporting both L-band and Ka-band services.   Each Inmarsat-6 F1 is designed to remain in service for at least 15 years. The satellite will be based on Airbus Defence and Space's Eurostar platform (E3000e), which uses electronic propulsion for orbit raising. 

Europe's Space Policy needs to be more competitive

In its report on the Annual European Space Policy Conference on 12-13 January in Brussels the European GNSS Agency ("GSA") highlighted the need for Europe to become more competitive to maintain its market share in the space sector. With rising competition from China, Russia and India, the market must work to create conditions to give businesses the confidence to invest. GSA Executive Director, Carlo des Dorides, told the conference that Europe must invest more in the downstream market.  Dorides also highlighted that space funding is currently available from a wide range of sources and that a more co-ordinated approach would be preferable.  To assist with this, the GSA has published a Funding Guide - a centralised database listing all available funding initiatives for space. Dorides also called for measures to ensure that funded projects achieve a shorter time to market.   (Source: the European GNSS Agency (GSA))

AMOS-5 declared a loss

Spacecom, the Israeli satellite operator, has declared its AMOS-5 satellite as 'lost'. It previously announced in November 2015 that it had lost contact with the satellite which, according to some reports, suffered electrical problems. The satellite was originally launched in 2001. The company has reported that it expects to receive a full insurance payout for the loss of the satellite. It was recently announced that Spacecom's AMOS 6 is scheduled to launch by SpaceX in May 2016.

Satcoms funding initiatives in Europe

Among recent funding initiatives for the European satellite communications sector the European Commission is currently inviting applications for funding for "Maturing Satellite Communications Technologies" under the umbrella of the Horizon 2020 program (deadline 3 March 2016). Alongside this, the European Space Agency has a funding stream under the ARTES programme for "Megaconstellations" such as OneWeb's planned fleet of 900 low earth orbit satellites.  These large fleets of microsatellites are set to have a significant impact on the sector, potentially providing low-cost, high-speed broadband to hard-to-reach areas.   The call for proposals for Megaconstellations will close on 29 July 2016. 

First SpaceDataHighway laser terminal launch

On 30 January 2016, the first laser terminal of the European Data Relay System (known as the SpaceDataHighway) was successfully launched as part of the Eutelsat-9B telecom satellite aboard a Proton rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.   The SpaceDataHighway is a public-private partnership between the European Space Agency and Airbus Defence and Space.  It will provide high speed laser communication, relaying data in near-real time at 1.8 Gbit/s and is expected to begin providing services to the European Commission's Copernicus Sentinel satellites in summer 2016.

Clyde Space expansion

Glasgow company, Clyde Space, which designed and manufactured Scotland's first satellite announced on 27 January the launch of its first US subsidiary as well as an increase in its manufacturing capacity by acquiring an additional 2500 square feet of space to be used as a clean room for building and testing satellites.  CEO Craig Clark said in a statement that about 40% of the company's business comes from the USA through customers such as SPIRE Global, MIT, NASA and the US Air Force.  Initially, the US company will concentrate on developing sales but moving quickly to manufacturing. 

Airbus Defence and Space and OneWeb JV

Airbus Defence and Space and OneWeb announced on 26 January 2016 the creation of OneWeb Satellites, an equally-owned joint venture that will design and build the 900 satellites that will make up the OneWeb constellation, delivering high speed, internet using low earth orbit microsatellites.  Initially, 10 flight models will be manufactured in Toulouse, France based on a prototype, with mass production of the operational satellites planned for North America.  Launches are expected to begin in 2018.

IoT – call for satellite companies to help define standards

Internet of Things (IoT) industry group, the LoRa Alliance, is inviting satellite companies to join it in developing global standards for Low Power Wide Area Networks for IoT applications.  In an interview with Via Satellite, the group's chairman, Geoff Mulligan, outlined the role that satellite networks might play in backhauling data from remote or rural areas.  The LoRa Alliance has grown rapidly since its launch in Marcy 2015.  It now has over 190 members including IBM, Cisco, HP, Bosch, Diehl, Mueller as well as SMEs and start-ups.