Amazon Announces Plans for LEO Broadband System 

On April 4,, Inc. (Amazon) announced that it plans to develop and deploy a constellation of 3,236 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that will provide broadband Internet services worldwide, joining a growing field of ambitious LEO broadband system operators, including OneWeb, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Facebook, Inc. and Telesat Canada. The initiative, which Amazon calls Project Kuiper, was revealed following the submission of filings to the International Telecommunication Union by the US Federal Communications Commission in March on behalf of Washington, DC-based Kuiper Systems LLC. 

SpaceX Raises Additional $500m in New Funding Round

On April 15, based on information provided in a regulatory filing, it was reported that Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) raised $500m through a new funding round, with shares priced at $204 each. The additional funding brings SpaceX’s total amount of equity capital to $3b. In a related development, on April 27, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved SpaceX’s request to operate more than 1,500 of its planned Starlink low Earth orbit constellation satellites in a 342 mile orbit (at a lower altitude than originally expected). The FCC also approved SpaceX’s plans to make a modest reduction in the total number of satellites in the constellation – from 4,425 to 4,409 – and to include the use of Ku-band gateway Earth stations for less than 75 of the lower-altitude Starlink satellites. SpaceX announced that the first batch of operational satellites for the Starlink constellation is on-site at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in preparation for launch in mid-May. The Starlink system will be used to provide broadband Internet services worldwide.

Relativity Scores Landmark Launch Orders

On April 5, Relativity Space, Inc. (Relativity), a Los Angelesbased start-up launch services provider, announced that it was selected by Telesat Canada (Telesat) to provide launch services for Telesat’s low Earth orbit broadband Internet constellation using the Terran 1 launch vehicle, the world’s first fully 3D-printed rocket. On April 23, Relativity announced that it was selected by Thai space and satellite company Mu Space and Advanced Technology Co., Ltd. (mu Space) to launch one of mu Space’s low Earth orbit satellites on a Terran 1 in 2022. With the first aerospace platform to integrate machine learning, software and robotics with metal 3D printing technology, Relativity seeks to optimize the launch vehicle manufacturing process, enabling production of a launch-ready Terran 1 from raw material in less than 60 days.

April Launch Services

April 1 – The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched India’s EMISAT satellite, along with satellites for 28 international customers, on a PSLV-C45 launch vehicle, marking the inaugural mission for PSLV-QL, a new variant of ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle featuring four strap-on boosters. EMISAT was manufactured by ISRO and will be used for electromagnetic spectrum measurement. Among the other satellites launched on the mission were Spire Global, Inc.’s 100th Lemur satellite, Astrocast S.A.’s second IoT nanosatellite and 20 Dove satellites for Planet Labs, Inc.

April 4 Arianespace S.A. (Arianespace) successfully launched four O3b satellites for SES S.A. on a Soyuz launch vehicle, marking the fifth O3b mission performed by Arianespace. Manufactured by Thales Alenia Space and equipped with Ka-band payloads for the provision of broadband connectivity services, the four new satellites join the 16 O3b satellites already on-orbit to complete the 20-satellite first generation O3b medium Earth orbit constellation and to enhance system connectivity, capabilities and performance. Arianespace launched the other 16 O3b satellites in batches of four beginning in 2013.

April 11 – Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) successfully launched the Arabsat 6A satellite for Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat) on a Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. Representing the largest and most powerful commercial satellite ever manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corporation and the last of Arabsat’s sixth generation satellites, Arabsat 6A is based on the LM 2100 satellite platform and is equipped to provide television, radio, Internet and mobile communications services to users across the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Following stage separation, SpaceX successfully landed the Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and its center core on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship. Arabsat 6A will be operated from the 30.5°E orbital position. 

Intelsat 29e Satellite Suffers Total Loss

On April 19, Intelsat S.A. announced the total loss of the Intelsat 29e satellite due to anomalies arising earlier in the month after a propellant leak caused damage to the satellite’s propulsion system.

Astro Malaysia and Measat Sign Transponder Deal

On April 18, Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd announced that its subsidiary MEASAT Broadcast Network Systems Sdn Bhd signed a deal with MEASAT Communications Systems Sdn Bhd for use of transponder capacity on the MEASAT-3d satellite, which is expected to be launched in 2022, for $360m.