SN Commercial Drive | New Glenn qualifies for NASA flights • SDA to reexamine bids •  Word of the day: Blisk
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 December 23, 2020
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Looking for WiFi hotspots may become a thing of the past as the European Commission joins a long list of government agencies and companies working to extend global broadband through space-based constellations. China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States are among the nations developing national constellations, backing private ones and establishing public-private partnerships. Imagine a world with widespread high-speed internet access. It may be here faster than you think. 

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  • New Glenn qualifies for NASA flights
  • SDA to reexamine bids
  • Lockheed buys Aerojet Rocketdyne
  • Word of the day: Blisk

Companies that competed earlier this year for Space Development Agency satellite contracts were asked to resubmit proposals following protests of the awards. SDA is "expeditiously implementing" a corrective action plan for the Tracking Layer Tranche 0 competition after Airbus and Raytheon protested awards made in October to L3Harris and SpaceX. It's not clear how the protests will affect the schedule for the program, which aimed to launch satellites in late 2022. [SpaceNews]

Lockheed Martin's plan to acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne for $4.4 billion is likely to be approved by the incoming Biden Administration, but it's not a slam dunk. The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2021, pending shareholder and regulatory approvals. The regulatory review may offer an early test of the Biden Administration's approach to aerospace industry consolidation. Some industry analysts said Raytheon or Boeing could challenge the merger on grounds it will be anti-competitive, particularly in hypersonic weapons. Lockheed CEO Jim Taiclet sees the acquisition as critical to the future of Lockheed's work in missile defense and hypersonic weapons. [SpaceNews]

SpaceX Falcon 9 completed its 26th and final launch of 2020 with the Dec. 19 Falcon 9 launch of a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. It was SpaceX's second launch for NRO, the agency that builds and operates U.S. government spy satellites. The first SpaceX NRO launch was in 2017. Although both NRO satellites were destined for U.S. government missions, the agency procured the launch commercially rather than through the U.S. Space Force's National Security Space Launch program. The NRO and other government agencies buy commercial launch services under "delivery in orbit" contracts where procurement of a satellite is bundled with the launch service. [SpaceNews]

NASA added New Glenn, the large launch vehicle under development by Blue Origin, to the list of vehicles eligible to compete for future agency missions. Being added to the list does not guarantee any contracts, but makes a vehicle eligible to compete for missions. Blue Origin nonetheless welcomed the news. "We are proud to be in NASA's launch services catalog and look forward to providing reliable launches for future NASA missions aboard New Glenn for years to come," Jarrett Jones, senior vice president for New Glenn, said in a company statement. Since announcing New Glenn in 2016, Blue Origin has secured commercial customers including Eutelsat, Mu Space, OneWeb, Sky Perfect JSAT and Telesat. [SpaceNews]

United Launch Alliance's new Vulcan Centaur rocket will be ready to launch its first mission in late 2021, according to ULA CEO Tory Bruno. ULA is confident that both the launch vehicle and its first customer — Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander —  will be on the launch pad "by the end of next year," Bruno said during a press briefing. The timeline for Vulcan's maiden flight has slipped over the past two years because ULA does not yet have flight-qualified BE-4 main engines for Vulcan's first stage. Engine manufacturer Blue Origin this year delivered two pathfinder engines to be used for ground tests but the actual flight engines are not scheduled to arrive at ULA's factory in Decatur, Alabama, until summer 2021. [SpaceNews]

The Italian government has ordered two additional Cosmo-SkyMed radar imaging satellites from Thales Alenia Space and tapped Telespazio to upgrade the constellation's ground segment under a contract announced Dec. 15. The contract provides nearly 300 million euros ($365 million) to build two second-generation Cosmo-SkyMed satellites. After the satellites launch in 2024 and 2025, Italy plans to retire its first-generation Cosmos-SkyMed satellites launched between 2007 and 2010. [SpaceNews]

The U.S. military wants to improve its reputation as a customer for space startups and tech companies, said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, head of the Space Force's Space and Missile Systems Center. "We need to do a better job in how we procure our nation's space capabilities, we need to do a better job interacting with private companies," Thompson said during the TechCrunch Sessions: Space conference. A relatively easy way to get a company's foot in the door is to join the Space Enterprise Consortium, which plans to award up to $12 billion worth of projects over the coming decade, Thompson added. [SpaceNews]

Raytheon Technologies completed its acquisition of satellite manufacturer Blue Canyon Technologies, making Blue Canyon part of Raytheon Intelligence & Space. The deal first disclosed Nov. 10 was approved more quickly than expected. In addition to commercial orders, Blue Canyon has more than 90 satellites in production for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Air Force and NASA. Industry sources said Raytheon had been interested for years in buying a satellite manufacturer to support its U.S. military and intelligence space programs, most of which are classified. [SpaceNews]

An investigation of a Vega launch failure conducted by the European Space Agency and Arianespace confirmed that misconnected cables in the rocket's upper stage doomed the mission. Investigators made recommendations to allow a return to flight in early 2021. An initial investigation by Arianespace, reported less than a day after the launch, concluded two cables used in a thrust vector control system in the rocket's Avum upper stage were inverted, causing the stage to tumble. [SpaceNews]

Made In Space has produced a ceramic turbine part in space. The company manufactured the single-piece turbine bladed disk or "blisk" with its Ceramic Manufacturing Module delivered to the International Space Station in October. The module is designed to demonstrate a process known as stereolithography that uses a resin and ultraviolet laser to produce ceramic parts in microgravity. [Space.com]


  • European Commission considers broadband 
  • OneWeb flies again
  • Viasat scoops up RigNet
  • Amazon touts low-cost flat-panel antenna

The European Commission awarded a consortium of European companies 7.1 million euros ($8.66 million) to study the feasibility of establishing a flagship program for a European space-based communications network. The consortium of satellite manufacturers, launch providers and telecommunications specialists includes Airbus, Arianespace, Eutelsat, Hispasat, OHB, Orange (formerly France Telecom), SES, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space. The initiative seeks to "provide secure connectivity for citizens, commercial enterprises and public institutions as well as providing global coverage for rural and 'not-spot' areas," Airbus said in a Dec. 23 news release. "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." [Airbus]

OneWeb resumed deployment of its broadband satellite constellation with a Dec. 18 launch of 36 satellites on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome, the first since the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The spacecraft, built by the Airbus-OneWeb joint venture OneWeb Satellites, will use their onboard propulsion to move into their final orbits at an altitude of 1,200 kilometers. They will join 76 satellites launched on three previous Soyuz flights. The launch was the first under a revised contract with Arianespace concluded in September that covers 16 Soyuz launches at a pace of roughly one a month to deploy the 648-satellite constellation. [SpaceNews]

Hispasat awarded Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. a multi-million dollar order to expand the existing SkyEdge II-c platform that Hispasat operates in Mexico and procure Capricorn VSATs for cellular backhaul over satellite. Hispasat will use Gilat technology to extend the service of Altan La Red Compartida, the shared telecommunications network in Mexico, to over three million people in Mexico. [Gilat]

The French Space Agency CNES awarded a contract to French antenna equipment manufacturer Anywaves to demonstrate the technical feasibility of a reflectarray antenna for nanosatellites. Initially, Anywaves plans to demonstrate a compact, folding reflectarray antenna. Later, the firm plans to develop and qualify engineering and flight models. Anywaves' final goal is to develop reflectarray antennas for six, 12 or 16-unit cubesat platforms and suitable for RF operations from X to Ka bands. [Anywaves]

Viasat announced Monday it is acquiring communications services firm RigNet for $222 million in an all-stock deal. Houston-based RigNet has particular expertise in the energy sector, a vertical market of interest to Viasat. In addition to oil and gas communications, applications and cybersecurity, RigNet has expertise in technologies to gather and immediately analyze data. The deal comes a month after Viasat acquired the assets of a European joint venture it established with Eutelsat Communications, including the KA-SAT broadband satellite. [SpaceNews]

Amazon has tested what it describes as a low-cost flat-panel antenna for use with its Project Kuiper constellation, an innovation that could be essential to the long-term success of satellite broadband. Amazon developed a Ka-band phased-array antenna with overlaid transmit and receive antennas in a disk about 30 centimeters across. The antenna will ultimately be part of the terminals used by customers of Kuiper's broadband services. [SpaceNews]

After completing testing of a multi-band phased array antenna system, Atlas Space Operations is seeking partnerships with phased array antenna companies interested in licensing the digital beam-forming, and monitoring and control software technology. Atlas developed the phased array antenna, which is designed for dual S-band and X-band coverage, under a contract with U.S. Space and Missile Systems Center and the Defense Innovation Unit. During testing, Atlas demonstrated technology that would allow phased arrays to scale up without structural complexity, Sean McDaniel, Atlas Space Operations founder and CEO, told SpaceNews. [Atlas Space Operations]

India sent the CMS-01 extended C-band communications satellite into a geostationary transfer Dec. 17 when the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C50 lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center. Once in geostationary orbit CMS-01 will provide extended C-band frequency communications for the Indian mainland and the Andaman-Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands. CMS-01 is expected to operate for more than seven years from 83 degrees East in geostationary orbit. [SpaceNews]

AST & Science LLC announced plans to become a publicly traded company through a special purpose acquisition company. In what is becoming a trend in the industry, AST & Science is merging its business with New Providence Acquisition Corp. as it prepares to trade on the Nasdaq exchange in the first quarter of 2021 under the ticker symbol ASTS. The transaction is intended to raise money for the company's campaign to build a space-based cellular broadband network capable of linking standard mobile phones. AST & Science also is rebranding itself as AST SpaceMobile. [SpaceNews]

Shey Sabripour was first exposed to active phased array antennas while designing satellites at Lockheed Martin in the early 1990s. Now he leads CesiumAstro, a company focused on making the technology ubiquitous. In late November, CesiumAstro raised $15 million in an investment round led by Airbus Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, bringing the firm's total investment to date to $29.2 million. [SpaceNews]


Jan. 4
SpaceX Falcon 9 to launch TurkSat 5A communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida
Jan. 10-15
American Meteorological Society virtual annual meeting
Jan. 12-13
Newspace Industrialization with Rob Hoyt of Tethers Unlimited, Jim Cantrell of Phantom Space and Ray Johnson of Bessemer Venture Partners
Jan. 14
The Great Game of Economics Afoot in Space webinar from NewSpace New Mexico
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
Thank you for reading this week's issue of SN Commercial Drive. For the latest commercial space news, visit SpaceNews.com and follow Debra Werner (@SpaceReportr) on Twitter.

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