Thursday, January 14, 2021

SN Commercial Drive | NGA's hunger for commercial data • Iceye to expand constellation • Exotrail ignites thruster
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A commercial space newsletter from SpaceNews. Delivered Wednesdays.
 January 13, 2021
Small companies often struggle to win major government contracts. When they succeed the way Deployable Space Systems has with the Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA), people in the Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA, Maxar and Boeing who shepherded the flexible blanket array technology from inception to the world stage must be gratified. AFRL began supporting ROSA in 2008. NASA followed in 2009 and arranged an International Space Station demonstration in 2017. Now, NASA is buying ROSA to upgrade ISS arrays. 

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  • Blue Origin flight prep
  • NGA's hunger for commercial data
  • Iceye to expand constellation
  • Exotrail ignites thruster
Blue Origin is preparing for a test flight Jan. 14 of the latest version of the New Shepard suborbital vehicle with new environmental controls, display panels and communications systems to improve the customer experience. A mannequin, dubbed Mannequin Skywalker, will be in one of the capsule's six seats. Blue Origin last flew the reusable suborbital rocket in October. [SpaceNews]

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is working to speed up its acquisition of data products from hundreds of commercial suppliers. David Gauthier, director of NGA's commercial and business operations group, said during a Jan. 12 SmallSat Alliance webinar that analysts are interested in a variety of data sources like space-based radar to penetrate clouds as well as sensors to detect and geolocate the source of radio frequency signals in addition to electrooptical imagery. [SpaceNews] 

NASA is preparing to install six large Roll-Out Solar Arrays on the International Space Station to provide power at least through the end of the decade. The first two arrays built by Deployable Space Systems with solar cells from Boeing's Spectrolab are scheduled to launch later this year on a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft. When all the arrays are installed, NASA estimates they will generate 215 kilowatts of power, compared to 160 kilowatts from existing arrays. [SpaceNews]

Iceye is preparing to send three synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites into orbit on the SpaceX Falcon 9 small satellite rideshare mission scheduled for launch Jan. 21. With the upcoming launch, Iceye is expanding its commercial constellation to include six SAR satellites. In addition, Iceye is launching its second dedicated SAR satellite for an undisclosed customer. Iceye's Jan. 11 announcement cites multiple satellite launches planned for 2021. [SpaceNews]

French startup Exotrail propelled a six-unit cubesat about 700 meters along its semi-major axis with a miniature Hall-effect thruster. "ExoMG is the smallest Hall thruster ever flown and the first time a Hall thruster flew on a satellite of less than 100 kilograms," said Exotrail CEO David Henri. Over the next few months, Exotrail plans to fire the thruster onboard the NanoAvionics R2 cubesat to demonstrate collision-avoidance maneuvers, decrease the satellite's altitude and change its inclination. [SpaceNews]

Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite operator Capella Space announced the start of commercial operations after expanding its satellite manufacturing facilities in Colorado and California. "Between our direct sales and reseller partner network, we're ready to distribute our high-quality SAR imagery to customers in almost every country," Capella CEO Payam Banazadeh said in a Jan. 12 blog. Capella also established a government advisory board with former U.S. government space-policy leaders Doug Loverro, Gil Klinger and Jeffrey Harris. [SpaceNews]


  • Panasonic sells ITC Global
  • Intelsat and Airbus strike a deal
  • L3Harris proves multi-band phased array antenna
  • ThinKom links to AEHF

Panasonic Avionics is selling its ITC Global subsidiary to Marlink Global, an Oslo-based satellite and terrestrial communications provider. The move signals Panasonic's decision to focus squarely on the aeronautics market. Through ITC Global, Marlink plans to expand its role in energy and enterprise markets. Panasonic purchased ITC Global, a firm that provides satellite connectivity for energy, mining and maritime customers, in 2015. [Marlink/Runway Girl]

Intelsat ordered two geostationary communications satellites from Airbus Defence and Space to support the satellite operator's aviation connectivity business. Airbus and Intelsat signed the deal on Dec. 31, helping Intelsat meet its goal of attracting three satellite orders in 2020. The new Intelsat spacecraft will come from Airbus' OneSat family of fully reconfigurable geostationary satellites. The Jan. 8 announcement did not disclose the value of the contract. Airbus plans to deliver the satellites in 2023. [SpaceNews/Via Satellite]

L3Harris Technologies demonstrated 16 simultaneous satellite contacts with a Multi-Band Multi-Mission (MBMM) phased array ground antenna system integrated with the U.S. Space Force's Satellite Communication Network system. L3Harris said in a Jan. 12 news release it can scale up an MBMM antenna to support hundreds of concurrent satellite connections. The Space Force is evaluating technology to update its aging network of parabolic dish antennas. Lockheed Martin and Ball Aerospace announced in September that an electronically steered MBMM phased array antenna made contact with four military satellites in multiple orbits. Atlas Space Operations said in December that its MBMM phased array antenna system proved it can auto-tracked multiple satellites in low-Earth and geostationary orbit simultaneously. [SpaceNews/Atlas Space Operations]

Russia's Duma is considering fines for individuals and companies in the country that use Western-based satellite Internet services including SpaceX's Starlink, OneWeb, or other non-Russian satellite constellations under development. The recommended fines range from 10,000 to 30,000 rubles ($136 to $407) for ordinary users, and from 500,000 to 1 million rubles for legal entities that use Western satellite services. Russia plans to create its own satellite Internet constellation, Sphere. [Ars Technica]

Leaf Space raised 5 million euros ($6.1 million) for its ground segment as-a-service business, bringing its total raised to 10 million euros. With the latest funding, the Italian startup founded in 2014 plans to establish ground stations to serve microsatellites in Sri Lanka, Canada and Australia. By the end of the year, Leaf Space plans to operate 15 ground stations for its multi-customer Leaf Line service and additional dedicated ground stations for Swiss internet-of-things startup Astrocast. [Leaf Space]

ThinKom Solutions proved a pair of its 17-inch active diameter K-band/Q-band phased-array antennas can communicate through military Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites. ThinKom announced Jan. 11 that the demonstration proved its antennas work on the frequency-hopping waveform of the AEHF protected communications satellite network. The U.S. Space Force completed on-orbit testing in August of the sixth satellite in the AEHF constellation, which provides secret-level global communications for the U.S. military, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. [ThinKom/SpaceNews]

Globe Telecom, the Philippines' largest mobile network operator, awarded Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. a managed service contract for significant expansion of cellular backhaul over satellite services. Gilat did not reveal the exact value of the award in a Jan. 11 announcement but said it was worth millions of U.S. dollars. [Gilat]


Jan. 14
Blue Origin New Shepard suborbital vehicle test flight
Jan. 14
The Great Game of Economics Afoot in Space webinar from NewSpace New Mexico
Jan. 16
Rocket Lab to launch an OHB communications satellite
Jan. 17
Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket test flight
Jan. 17
SpaceX Falcon 9 Starlink launch
Jan. 18-19
AIxSpace conference with CNES President Jean-Yves LeGall, MDA CEO and President Mike Greenley, and Leap Biosystems CEO and President Dave Williams, a retired Canadian Space Agency astronaut
Jan. 21
Launch window opens for SpaceX Falcon 9 Transporter 1 small satellite rideshare mission 
Feb. 8-11
SmallSat Symposium with Peter Beck of Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit's Dan Hart and Kevin O'Connell from the U.S. Commerce Department
Feb. 25
Soyuz rocket to launch 36 OneWeb broadband satellites 
Thank you for reading this week's issue of SN Commercial Drive. For the latest commercial space news, visit and follow Debra Werner (@SpaceReportr) on Twitter.

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