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ABS, Hispasat and Star One cry foul over C-band Alliance

ABS-3A satellite. Credit: Boeing artist's concept

WASHINGTON — Three regional satellite operators with C-band coverage over the United States have complained to U.S. telecom regulators about being left out of a group led by four of the world’s largest satellite operators to arrange a proposed spectrum transfer to the wireless industry.

The three operators, Hispasat of Spain, ABS of Bermuda and Star One of Brazil, say they have tried to negotiate with Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat — the leading satellite operators involved in arranging for the likely transfer of some C-band frequencies to cellular companies for 5G — but were “stonewalled by the big four,” according to Phil Spector, a long-time telecom lawyer now working as a consultant for ABS. 

ABS-3A
Images shows some of ABS-3A’s C-band coverage. Credit: ABS

Spector and other ABS, Hispasat and Star One representatives met with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission this month amid concerns they and potentially other small fleet operators will not receive money from the proposed transfer of spectrum, an amount telecom analysts estimate could total billions of dollars. 

“They are going to allocate this money among themselves, and at least to date they are not going to share that money with these three smaller operators,” Spector said in an interview. “We think that’s wrong. If the FCC adopts this proposal for the C-band and allows these four operators to realize substantial sums of money from giving up part of the C-band, the same logic would apply to these three smaller companies.”

Despite the difference in scale, Spector said the three operators have invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” in satellites that cover all or part of the United States in the C-band. That investment included getting market access from the FCC, he said. 

In their presentation to the FCC, ABS, Hispasat and Star One admit they have not generated any revenue from C-band services in the U.S., but say they all intend to. ABS’s all-electric propulsion satellite ABS-3A has a projected end of life in 2042, for example, leaving more than two decades to line up customers. 

Amazonas-3 C-band coverage. Credit: Hispasat
Amazonas-3 C-band coverage. Credit: Hispasat

The plan put forward by Intelsat, Intel and SES, and later adopted by Eutelsat and Telesat, also includes provisions for “future foregone business opportunity costs.”

Luxembourg and U.S.-based Intelsat, Luxembourg-based SES, Paris-based Eutelsat and Telesat of Canada formed the C-band Alliance Oct. 1, creating an entity that will facilitate the transfer of spectrum and distribute proceeds from cellular companies that, under the satellite operators’ plan, are required to pay for replacement infrastructure and other costs associated with migrating satellite customers out of the band.

Members of the C-band Alliance control more than 90 percent of U.S. satellite C-band, which spans from 3.7 to 4.2 gigahertz, but not all of it.

In their presentation to the FCC, ABS said one of its six satellites, ABS-3A, has U.S. C-band coverage. Amazonas-3, one of Hispasat’s 11 satellites, also covers the U.S. in C-band. Star One says three of its seven satellites are “capable of transmitting to and from US points in the C-band,” though only one, Star One C1, has a coverage map showing U.S. C-band coverage.  

Embratel Star One's C-band footprint on its Star One C1 satellite. Credit: Star One
Embratel Star One’s C-band footprint on its Star One C1 satellite. Credit: Star One

In contrast, Intelsat has 26 satellites with full or partial C-band coverage of the U.S., SES has 18, Eutelsat has five and Telesat has three, based on numbers from the first half of this year.

Spector said executives from ABS and Hispasat met with members of the C-band Alliance in September during World Satellite Business Week, an annual Paris gathering of C-suite satellite industry executives, but that the meetings were fruitless.

“That’s what then led to the decision to make this presentation to the FCC,” he said.

Dianne Vanbeber, Intelsat vice president of investor relations, confirmed the meetings took place between the C-band Alliance founding members and the three regional operators, but declined to comment further.

In an Oct. 19 statement, the C-band Alliance said that “any operator that has C-band customer services in the continental U.S. that would be impacted by the proposed regulatory change is welcome to join the consortium.”

“The CBA aims to protect all users of C-band services in the United States, ensuring all transition expenses, such as filters, are installed correctly and at the CBA expense,” the group said.

Spector said the small fleet operators intend to voice their concerns again during the FCC’s comment window on the regulator’s C-band plan, which closes Oct. 29. 

“The value of their investment in the assets in space will be diminished,” if the plan is approved and satellite operators lose spectrum, he said, “so compensation is appropriate.”

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Arianespace assessing impact of crewed Soyuz failure on satellite-launching variant

The impact of an Oct. 11 crewed Soyuz rocket anomaly on Europeanized Soyuz rockets operated by Arianespace is still unclear. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON —  Arianespace said Oct. 11 it’s too soon to say whether the Soyuz-ST rockets it uses to launch satellites from South America will be grounded following the failure of a Russian Soyuz-FG rocket carrying crew to the International Space Station.

Preparations for Arianespace’s planned November launch of a Soyuz-ST rocket carrying a European weather satellite remained underway Oct. 11 at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana despite a still-unexplained Soyuz booster failure earlier the same day that forced the Soyuz-MS10 spacecraft to abort its mission about two minutes after liftoff and make an emergency landing.

“Along with our Russian partners, as soon as the relevant data is available, we will study the possible impact of this anomaly on Arianespace’s planned launches with Soyuz,” Arianespace said in an Oct. 11 statement. “At this point, it is still too early to draw any conclusions. In the meantime, the launch campaign for next Soyuz in November is continuing.”

The payload for the November mission is Metop-C, a weather satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space for Europe’s Eumetsat meteorological organization. The launch is scheduled for Nov. 7, according to a recent Eumetsat update.

Arianespace also noted in its statement that it uses a variant of the Soyuz rocket Russia uses to launch Soyuz TMA-M capsules to the space station.

“The versions of this launcher used for Arianespace flights from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana are ST versions, which are different from the FG version used for this mission to the ISS,” Arianespace said in the statement.

While both rockets are Russian, the Soyuz variant that Arianespace uses is slightly newer and incorporates changes such as a larger fairing, a new digital telemetry system and some engine modifications necessary for launching in high humidity.  

The crewed Soyuz vehicle with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin returned to Earth safely after the Soyuz rocket booster malfunctioned. Roscosmos has set up a “state commission” to investigate the anomaly.

Arianespace has been launching Soyuz rockets for companies and government agencies since 2011, operating the Russian vehicles from Guiana Space Centre, the same spaceport used to launch European Ariane 5 and Vega rockets. Russian crewed missions take place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Eumetsat’s Metop-C weather satellite is designed to measure temperature, humidity and wind, as well as to detect ozone and other atmospheric gases. Eumetsat has two second-generation MetOp satellites, Metop-SG A1 and Metop-SG B1, also slated to launch on Soyuz rockets between 2021 and 2023.

Four additional Arianespace customers — OneWeb, based in Britain’s Channel Islands, telecom satellite operator SES of Luxembourg, and the Italian and European space agencies — all have Soyuz missions scheduled for this year or next year.

The list of upcoming Arianespace Soyuz missions includes:

  • OneWeb’s debut launch of 10 small telecom satellites, planned for sometime between December and February. The launch is the first of 21 Soyuz missions OneWeb purchased from Arianespace to carry between 690 and 720 satellites to low Earth orbit. OneWeb envisions a fast-paced launch campaign for the subsequent 20 missions, each carrying 34 to 36 spacecraft.

  • SES’s final first-generation launch of four O3b satellites, planned for 2019. All 16 O3b satellites in medium Earth orbit today launched on Soyuz rockets four at a time. SES has not announced a launch provider for the second-generation fleet, called O3b mPower, which Boeing is building, but said last year that the satellites were also designed to launch four at a time like the first generation from Thales Alenia Space.

  • The 2019 dual launch of the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS (Characterizing ExOPlanet Satellite) and the Italian Space Agency’s Cosmo-Skymed radar satellite. The civil- and military-purposed Cosmo-Skymed satellite has a similar polar, sun-synchronous orbit to CHEOPS, enabling the shared launch. Airbus is CHEOPS’ manufacturer, while Thales Alenia Space is in charge of building Cosmo-Skymed.

Soyuz is Arianespace’s medium-lift launcher, filling the gap between the light-lift Vega rocket and the heavyweight Ariane 5. Last year Arianespace used Soyuz for two missions to geostationary transfer orbit — the drop of point for most multi-ton telecom satellites — a feat championed as evidence of the rocket’s versatility. Before then, Arianespace-operated Soyuz launches were all to lower orbits, many to medium Earth orbit for the European Commission’s Galileo navigation satellites and for SES’s O3b telecom fleet.

Eumetsat and the Italian Space Agency did not respond to requests for comment. OneWeb declined to comment. SES said it is not expecting an impact on its launch schedule due to the difference on Soyuz variants.

ESA issued the following statement:

“Most important – the crew (Nick Hague, NASA, Aleksey Ovchinin, Roscosmos) is safe and in good condition. The aborted launch will have influence on the planning for the near future of ISS and the Horizons mission of ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst. We can’t provide further comments on this right now.

“A commission is put in place by Russian space agency Roscosmos. All other International Space Station partners, including ESA, are in full support of the ongoing efforts by the Roscosmos commission.

The ISS partnership is strong and has already dealt well with similar incidents related to cargo vehicles in the past.”

ESA Director General Jan Woerner sent an email Oct. 11 to the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, offering ESA’s assistance in the Soyuz anomaly investigation.

Glavkosmos, the Russian company that since 2017 has also marketed Soyuz missions, but mainly for cubesat and other small satellite missions, also did not respond to a request for comment.

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SES’s future GEO satellites will be more like O3b, CEO says

Steve Collar, SES president and chief executive, is shown talking to Rodolphe Belmer, Eutelsat chief executive, during a satellite operators panel at the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris in September 2018. Credit: SpaceNews/Brian Berger

WASHINGTON — Fresh off the success of a recent contract win to connect IBM Cloud customers with O3b satellites, SES’s chief executive said many of the operator’s future geostationary satellites will have attributes of O3b to appeal to more cloud networks.

Luxembourg-based SES announced IBM as a customer last week, saying the two companies will collaborate on IBM Cloud computer services that rely on satellite connectivity.

Speaking Oct. 9 at the Satellite Innovation 2018 conference in Mountain View, California, SES CEO Steve Collar said cloud computer networks are the next big customer set SES wants to reach, and that the company will hone future satellites and ground infrastructure to serve such clientele.

Collar said the second-generation O3b satellites that Boeing is building, known as O3b mPower, will form the tip of the spear as SES reshapes its business to cater to more cloud computer companies.

“What we’ve done with O3b mPower is what we are going to do with every single GEO satellite that we launch in the future that is data or network related,” Collar said.

In an email, Collar elaborated on the O3b-ification of SES GEO satellites, saying such satellites will have “flexible, reconfigurable payloads that integrate fully into the network.”

SES has 16 first-generation O3b satellites from Thales Alenia Space operating in 8,000-kilometer medium Earth orbits, plus another four scheduled to launch next year on an Arianespace Soyuz. O3b satellites are all focused on data services, whereas SES’s 50-plus geostationary satellites in 36,000-kilometer orbits provide a mix of television broadcast and data connectivity.

Collar became CEO of SES in April, having served as CEO of O3b before the company was acquired by SES in 2016.

At the conference, Collar stressed the need to integrate O3b mPower with SES’s GEO fleet. A substantial part of this evolution will involve the use of an “intelligent ground network” that can manage services from each fleet regardless of orbit, he said. The ground network will need virtualized satellite gateways on the ground, shifting the emphasis from hardware to software, to become “an integral part of the cloud environment.”

“It’s making our network entirely flexible in terms of how traffic is routed,” he said. “Sometimes we will be sending traffic over the GEO system, over the MEO system or indeed over terrestrial links in order to deliver the right kind of experience to our customers.”

Data customers are gradually becoming a larger part of SES’s overall customer makeup, and are expected to grow faster than its core broadcast business. In July, SES forecast its broadcast revenue will shift from 68 percent of total revenue today to less than 60 percent by 2020. Data connectivity, in contrast, will expand from 32 percent of revenue today to more than 40 percent by 2020.

Collar described the reshaping of the company for cloud customers as a “third round” of major evolution (the first being 30 years ago with the provisioning of satellite television in Europe, and the second around 2009 when SES first invested in O3b).

“Ten years ago we were at the beginning of the journey of: how do we become a network provider rather than being defined as being a satellite operator? Now we are talking about becoming a mainstream participant in a global cloud-scale network community,” he said.

Collar said SES is retooling the entire company by “hiring a whole load of software engineers” and network engineers — talent the satellite industry has to fight with internet giants such as Google and Facebook for — to position the satellite operator as part of a larger cloud ecosystem. That process emphasizes hiring recent graduates, including those straight out of colleges and universities, he said.

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Artificial intelligence extends into space

Adam Van Etten, CosmiQ Works technical director, Valvanera Moreno, SES system architecture and innovation manager, Devin Brande, Orbital Insight advance programs director, Gabriel Comi, Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services' Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy Capability Center chief architect, discuss artificial intelligence and machine learning at Satellite Innovation 2018 in Mountain View, California. Credit: SpaceNews/Debra Werner

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California –SES is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore ways to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to simplify operation of its communications satellite fleet.

“We have a very large fleet and tens of thousands of telemetry signals on each of our satellites,” Valvanera Moreno, SES system architecture and innovation manager, said Oct. 10 at Satellite Innovation 2018 here.“The next satellites will have even more data to process. That’s why we think this area has a lot of value.”

Like SES, government agencies and space companies looking for ways to apply artificial intelligence to various problems they face.

Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics company, relies on artificial intelligence to help answer questions its customers ask.

“Artificial intelligence enables human analysts to extract maximum value from imagery,” said Devin Brande, Orbital Insight advance programs director. “We are on the cusp of combining modern remote sensing with other sources of intelligence to create a rich picture.”

Raytheon’s Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance business established a capability center to focus its artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise. “As we grow that into a fundamental capability of our business, the goal is to dissolve the capability center and have it become part of the DNA of our business,” said Gabriel Comi, Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services’ Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy Capability Center chief architect.

CosmiQ Works, one of four laboratories established by In-Q-Tel to explore how the U.S. government can take apply new and emerging commercial space capabilities to solve national security problems, and its partners Radiant Solutions, DigitalGlobe and Amazon Web Services holds competitions, called SpaceNet, that offer cash prizes to competitors who develop automated methods to detect road networks or other landmarks from high-resolution satellite imagery.

CosmiQ Works makes the winning algorithms open source. “Hopefully, that helps our government partners and the commercial sector,” said Adam Van Etten, CosmiQ Works technical director. “Sometimes these algorithms that get a lot of press don’t translate to our domain.”

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Intelsat: losing 200 or more megahertz of C-band will require new satellites

Intelsat-37e

WASHINGTON — Intelsat says some satellite operators will be forced to buy new spacecraft if U.S. telecom regulators demand the transfer of 200 or more megahertz of C-band spectrum from satellite operators to cellular companies.

The Federal Communications Commission’s point person for C-band has said on multiple occasions, including last week, that 5G cellular networks will need at least twice as much satellite spectrum as Intelsat and SES initially said the satellite industry could afford to surrender.

Speaking Oct. 2 at the Americas Spectrum Management Conference here, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that upcoming 5G cellular networks need “at least 200 to 300 megahertz” of satellite C-band, and that the spectrum needs to be made available fast, “not in five or 10 years down the road.”

Fleet operators Intelsat and SES, which together control more than 90 percent of the C-band in the United States, had asserted until the past few months that they needed the whole 500-megahertz band, but could find ways to cede 100 megahertz in light of mounting regulatory pressure. More recently the companies have admitted it would be possible to relinquish more of the band, but said every additional megahertz lost causes more difficulty in serving television broadcasters and other customers with fewer resources.

Speaking Oct. 2 at a Deutsche Bank event in Arizona, Intelsat’s vice president of investor relations, Dianne VanBeber, said the satellite operator’s initial C-band proposal for 100 megahertz “didn’t require a major rearchitecting of the band” like the higher proposed amounts will.

“As we start moving beyond our initial range, what really happens is you have to replace the capacity that you are taking away by building new satellites at new orbital locations,” she said.

VanBeber said satellite operators will need to find ways to replace transponders that can no longer be utilized if larger chunks of spectrum are required for 5G.

“The way I’ve been explaining it is if you have a 24-story apartment building, and all of a sudden the government says ‘from now on there’s only 18-story apartment buildings,’ you’ve got to recreate more buildings to pick up your six floors you just lost,” she said.

Intelsat is already at the beginning of a refresh for its North American broadcast fleet, having ordered one new satellite, Galaxy-30, from Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) in January. Last year the company said it was preparing three new satellites for the region, but it was not clear how big an impact U.S. spectrum policy changes would have on that plan.

Under the satellite operator-led C-band plan, the cost of new satellites resulting from the loss of spectrum would have to be covered by mobile network operators seeking to use the spectrum.

Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat announced Oct. 1 the founding of the C-band Alliance — an entity that would oversee the transfer of spectrum and fills the role of a “transition facilitator” as designated by the FCC. O’Rielly said the formation of the C-band Alliance put the satellite operator plan in the lead over alternative spectrum reallocation ideas, such as an auction.

So far, the FCC has voted to open up C-band, but hasn’t decided precisely how it will transition spectrum. VanBeber said an FCC decision is expected in the April to June timeframe.

Satellite operators have not said how much spectrum beyond 100 megahertz they could give up. SES CEO Steve Collar said in July that the company is evaluating ways to yield more of the band.

“We’ve been pretty clear that we have a plan that closes for 100 megahertz,” he said during an earnings call. “We also acknowledge the desire for more spectrum to be freed up and we are working on it.”

SES warned it may need new satellites as a result of any spectrum transfer even before it joined forces with Intelsat in 2017, saying new C-band satellites would likely have “a cost ranging from $150 million to $250 million in capital expenditure per satellite.”

VanBeber said one way satellite operators might be able to clear more spectrum is if someone makes very efficient filtering technology for the transition band that will serve as a buffer between satellite and cellular signals. A “super hot filter” could reduce the size of the transition band, she said, which is presently projected to take up 50 megahertz.

The need for new satellites would likely absorb some of the money fleet operators anticipate receiving from cellular companies taking over swaths of C-band. Satellite operators have refused to quantify the proceeds they might receive, highlighting instead the necessity of an agreeable transition plan to ensure continuity of service to C-band-dependent customers.

Nonetheless, Intelsat’s stock value has soared nearly tenfold from the beginning of the year on optimism around C-band.

Jefferies analyst Giles Thorne wrote Oct. 2 that Intelsat could generate $3.9 billion from transferring C-band. SES could gain 3.6 billion euros ($4.1 billion), and Eutelsat some 395 million euros ($455 million).

“We think a 200 MHz commitment will emerge imminently,” he wrote, highlighting the FCC’s Oct. 29 deadline for comments on its C-band Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Jacques Kerrest, Intelsat’s chief financial officer, alluded to using windfall proceeds to pay down Intelsat’s debt, which stood at $14.2 billion as of June 30.

“The real question that the company and the board will have to deal with — and depending on the amount of the proceeds, obviously —  is what kind of leverage we want to live with going forward,” he said.

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Telesat changes tune, joins C-band spectrum group

C-Band Alliance

DALLAS — Canadian fleet operator Telesat has joined Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat as part of an industry consortium it once threatened to oppose.

The four large satellite operators on Oct. 1 formalized the creation of a consortium called the “C-Band Alliance,” establishing a group to facilitate the transfer of some C-band spectrum from satellite operators to cellular operators.

The purpose of the C-Band Alliance is to fulfill the role of a “Transition Facilitator” outlined in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s plan to allow cellular signals in satellite airwaves. The FCC approved the plan in July.

Telesat had signalled its intent to fight such a consortium if the group placed Intelsat and SES in charge of distributing proceeds from cellular operators — funds required to pay for new infrastructure and other costs associated with migrating satellite customers out of C-band in the United States.

Dianne Vanbeber, Intelsat vice president of investor relations, declined to say how the consortium will allocate money from cellular operators.

“Overall, the Consortium agreement identifies the share of proceeds in an equitable fashion, but the exact percentages are not public information,” she said by email.

Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg said the company was able to find common ground with Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat that “gave Telesat the proper level of assurance that our customers’ requirements and our significant investments in infrastructure would be dealt with appropriately.”

“It’s also very much the case that, if the FCC does move forward with reallocating a portion of the C-band spectrum, any reallocation can be most coherently and effectively addressed in the context of an industry-wide solution, which should achieve the best outcome for the broadcasters that rely on satellite C-band infrastructure for the distribution of their important services as well as the terrestrial wireless players who are contemplating making significant investments in 5G infrastructure and bringing those services to market in a timely way,” he said by email.

Intelsat and SES control more than 90 percent of the C-band spectrum in the United States. Eutelsat and Telesat each have single-digit percentages.

In the United States, C-band is predominately used for satellite television broadcasting. Other countries, tropical nations in particular, use the band for a wider range of telecom services thanks to its strength during rainstorms.

In their joint statement, the four satellite operators made no mention of exactly how much C-band they would be willing to transfer. Intelsat and SES originally sought to open up 100 megahertz of the band, which stretches from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz. FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has pushed for 200 to 300 MHz or more.

O’Reilly praised the formation of the C-Band Alliance in an Oct. 1 statement, saying it makes the satellite-operator-led plan the frontrunner over other options such as a spectrum auction.

“This announcement appears to be a great step to quickly and orderly reallocate the spectrum to commercial wireless use. It also further establishes the private market option as the lead proposal to do so,” he said.

O’Reilly also praised the selection of Preston Padden, a former consultant with past executive positions at ABC Television Network, Fox Broadcasting, the Walt Disney Company and American Sky Broadcasting (now part of Dish Network), as the alliance’s head of advocacy and government relations. Padden is an “experienced hand … who knows how to get projects completed,” O’Reilly said.

The satellite operators announced Bill Tolpegin, currently CEO of OTA Broadcasting, will be the alliance’s chief executive.

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FIRST UP Satcom | Thales InFlyt eyes global Ka-band network • Iridium to connect Ocean Cleanup effort • SES opens Isle of Man teleport

Ocean Cleanup environment Iridium

To receive FIRST UP Satcom, a weekly SpaceNews newsletter for satellite and telecom professionals, sign up here.

TOP STORIES

Thales InFlyt’s new CEO Philippe Carette said he wants the company to offer worldwide Ka-band satellite connectivity for aircraft, a service that would position the company as a competitor with Viasat and Inmarsat. Thales InFlyt plans to use capacity on SES-17 in 2021 for service over North America, and Inmarsat’s Global Xpress for the rest of the world. Thales will continue using Global Xpress capacity, but “the need will be there soon” for additional capacity in Asia, Africa, Europe and elsewhere, he said. Carette said last week’s announcement that Inmarsat will be Panasonic’s exclusive Ka-band supplier for aviation (Panasonic has championed Ku-band) was validating for Thales Inflyt’s Ka-first approach. [Runway Girl Network]

Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit that is building a fleet of 60 plastic collector screens in the Pacific Ocean, will connect its fleet using Iridium satellites for broadband. Iridium said Sept. 25 that it is providing two terminals per screen in order to provide data, imagery and video for the environmental initiative, which aims to halve the amount of plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years. Each plastic collector screen measures 600 meters long and three meters deep, and uses wind and ocean movements to trap plastic that a boat then retrieves for recycling. Iridium service provider The AST Group is providing the satellite operator’s L-band terminals to Ocean Cleanup.  [Iridium]

SES opened a new teleport in the Isle of Man outside the capital city of Douglas. The facility links into SES’ satellite fleet, supporting broadcast, voice and data services. Local telecoms firm Sure provided fiber connectivity to the teleport, and Stewart Clague Services assisted with teleport design, installation, construction and maintenance. SES CEO Steve Collar said in addition to supporting SES’ satellite fleet, the teleport will contribute to broadcasts of the annual International Isle of Man TT motorcycle races and other events. [Isle of Man Government]

MORE STORIES

Airbus has tested a high-altitude balloon system that it says could one day work as part of an integrated comms network that uses satellite and terrestrial infrastructure. The balloon carried an Airbus LTE AirNode up 21 kilometers, where it was able to cover a 30-kilometer diameter area with secure communications. The test, conducted in Canada with support from the Canadian and French space agencies, showed speeds of 0.5 to 4 Mbps. The balloon supported 4K video streaming to simulate an information, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. [Airbus]

A ThinKom phased array antenna successfully tracked an O3b satellite in medium Earth orbit for 30 minutes during a ground test, ThinKom said Sept. 25. The test precedes a flight demonstration planned for later this year to show the antenna’s ability to auto-track and perform seamless beam switching through aircraft roll, pitch, and yaw motions. ThinKom and Telesat also announced a partnership Sept. 24 to develop Ka-band user terminals for Telesat’s future low-Earth-orbit constellation. ThinKom will use one of its current antennas to run tests with Telesat’s orbiting prototype satellite over the next few months. [ThinKom]

Israeli satellite operator Spacecom confirmed it’s cancelling its Amos-8 contracts, but said little about its future plans. Spacecom said Tuesday it was cancelling the contracts with SSL to build Amos-8 and with SpaceX to launch it. While the Israeli government announced earlier this month an agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries to build Amos-8, Spacecom was vague about its plans to replace the destroyed Amos-6 satellite. “The company is examining the program’s feasibilities with several options, including potential joint efforts with the Government of the State of Israel,” it stated. [SpaceNews]

On its 100th mission Tuesday night, an Ariane 5 successfully launched two communications satellites. The Ariane 5 lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana, at 6:38 p.m. Eastern, at the end of its 45-minute launch window because of an issue with ground equipment. The rocket deployed into geostationary transfer orbit the Horizons-3e and Intelsat-38/Azerspace-2 satellites, built by Boeing and Space Systems Loral, respectively. Intelsat is a co-owner of both satellites, with Horizons-3e serving as the final spacecraft in Intelsat’s Epic fleet of high-throughput satellites. [SpaceNews]

MT Mechatronics Germany received a contract from Scisys to build five ground stations for Germany’s Heinrich Hertz satellite. The ground stations, ranging from 7.3 to 13 meters in diameter, are for control of the satellite, including the use and assessment of experiments and new communications technologies. Heinrich Hertz will carry around 20 experimental technologies and a dedicated military payload for the federal armed forces of Germany. Scisys is the prime contractor for the Heinrich Hertz ground segment. OHG Systems is building the satellite for the German Space Agency, DLR, in anticipation of an Ariane 5 launch in 2021 or 2022. [Scisys]

Satellite radio company SiriusXM is acquiring streaming music firm Pandora for $3.5 billion.The all-stock deal, announced Monday, is expected to close in early 2019, pending approval of Pandora’s shareholders. The agreement gives SiriusXM, which provides subscription-based services, a foothold in ad-supported online streaming. SiriusXM gave no indication it would abandon its satellite broadcasting services with this deal. [Los Angeles Times]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.

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SES wants fleet of identical, interchangeable satellites

Steve Collar, SES president and chief executive, is shown talking to Rodolphe Belmer, Eutelsat chief executive, during a satellite operators panel at the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris in September 2018. Credit: SpaceNews/Brian Berger

PARIS — Fleet operator SES plans to revolutionize satellite purchasing and operations.

Instead of buying individual satellites tailored for a specific job at a precise orbital location as it has for decades, the Luxembourg-based company is seeking homogenous satellites with digitally processed payloads it can reconfigure to perform any job in geostationary or medium Earth orbit.

“We will only buy one type of satellite going forward,” Steve Collar, SES president and chief executive, told reporters Sept. 10 at the World Satellite Business Week conference here. “Exactly the same spacecraft can be operated at 19.2 degrees, 23.5 degrees, 108 degrees East, it doesn’t matter. We can put them wherever we want.”

If the SES board of directors approves the plan, SES will solicit proposals by the end of the month and begin purchasing in early 2019 the new 2.5 to 2.9-ton spacecraft offering approximately 12.5 kilowatts of power, said Martin Halliwell, SES chief technology officer, who leads the initiative.

Prior to announcing its plan, SES worked with 11 potential satellite vendors and selected three for continued cooperation. Company executives declined to name the vendors.

SES is embarking on this campaign because it expects satellites to be an integral part of evolving global communications networks. To perform that role, however, the industry will need to expand satellite production dramatically, Collar said.

“If we get the savings we think we will, we will be able to significantly scale our network without spending more or more modestly scale our network and spend less,” Collar said. “We haven’t yet decided where that comes out.”

To further improve economies of scale, SES is encouraging manufacturers to share the new spacecraft design with other customers. “Let’s make the party as big as possible,” Halliwell said. Collar added, “We think it will improve the economics of the whole industry.”

SES plans to stack three of its future satellites, which don’t yet have a brand name, on rockets. The rockets could then drop them off in medium Earth or geostationary transfer orbit, as needed, Halliwell said.

SES operates 56 satellites in geostationary orbit and 16 O3B satellites in medium Earth orbit. The firm plans to launch four more O3B satellites in 2019. SES also is investing more than 1 billion euros ($1.16 billion) in O3B mPower, a seven-satellite constellation built by Boeing for internet and data connectivity that is slated to begin launching in 2021.

SES’s plans to fly the new reprogrammable satellites comes after mPower, Collar said.

SpaceNews.com

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Satellite operators spar on spectrum sharing

Spengler

PARIS — Chief executives of satellite operators took sharply divergent views on working with terrestrial mobile operators on access to spectrum, with some advocating for negotiations while another warned of making any deals.

The difference of opinions expressed during a panel at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here Sept. 10 comes as discussions continue on a potential transfer of C-band satellite spectrum to mobile operators for 5G services in the United States and next year’s World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) that will take up other satellite spectrum proposals.

Intelsat Chief Executive Steve Spengler, the leading advocate for the U.S. C-band spectrum proposal, argued that while C-band globally is important for Intelsat, the company felt that, in the United States, it needed to work out an arrangement that will hand over some C-band spectrum to terrestrial operators.

“The key here is protecting the incumbents while addressing the reality that the 5G situation had to be addressed one way or another,” he said. “We’d rather have a situation where we’re managing it, where we’re controlling this process, to get the right outcome.”

Supporting that proposal is SES, who with Intelsat controls the vast majority of C-band satellite spectrum in the United States. “It was a unique situation in the U.S. where there was no other practical alternative in terms of where this would go,” said Steve Collar, president and chief executive of SES. “This was an opportunity to create something that was genuinely a win-win.”

Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg, left, and Telesat CEO Daniel Goldberg at World Satellite Business Week in Paris (SpaceNews/Brian Berger)
Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg, left, and Telesat CEO Daniel Goldberg at World Satellite Business Week in Paris (SpaceNews/Brian Berger)

However, Mark Dankberg, chairman and chief executive of Viasat, took a very different view. While Viasat is not involved in the C-band spectrum discussions in the U.S., he said his experience with debates about spectrum sharing at other frequencies led him to be skeptical about working with terrestrial operators.

“I don’t really see the mobile operators as our friends, because if they really wanted satellite as part of 5G, they wouldn’t be trying to take existing spectrum away from us, which will make our services less capable and more expensive,” he said.

“We all need to be extremely wary” about the benefits of sharing satellite spectrum with terrestrial operators, he cautioned. “I think that issue about spectrum is a hugely important issue for us.”

Rupert Pearce, chief executive of Inmarsat, tried to strike a middle ground in the debate. “I think we don’t do a good enough job as a community educating the world about the potential important differentiating role of satellite in a 5G world, and we don’t do a good enough job holding our nose and going in to talk to the [mobile network operators] about why they should regard us as collaborators,” he said. The satellite industry, he said, needs to explain to companies and governments those cases where 5G services can be best provided by satellite.

While Spengler advocated for a C-band deal in the U.S., he said it’s still important for the satellite industry to advocate for other spectrum at next year’s WRC. “There is still a lot of uncertainty around Ka-band,” he said, including concerns that regulations may no longer be globally harmonized.

“We have to stay together globally to make sure that we advocate for our interests just as others will be doing for theirs,” he said.

SpaceNews.com

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SES lowers video forecast, gives glowing review of O3b mPower progress

Steve Collar SES

WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg lowered its revenue forecast for its television broadcast division July 27 while forecasting stable growth of data services.

Sharing the results of an internal review following his April appointment as CEO, Steve Collar described SES as taking a “more prudent view for video,” as revenues declined despite an increase in number of channels broadcast.

The majority of SES’s revenues — 68 percent — come from television broadcasts, including video services beyond just content distribution. By 2020, though, SES expects that number to be less than 60 percent as data services, currently 32 percent of revenues, increases to more than 40 percent.

Collar downplayed the revised video forecast, saying the overall picture for SES “is a healthy one.” The company reported 981.4 million euros ($1.15 billion) of total revenue for the first six months of the year, down 6.4 percent from the same period last year, and an operating profit of 227.7 million euros, down 9.3 percent compared to the same time period. Ignoring currency fluctuations, SES said revenues decreased only half a percent year over year, and profit by 5.6 percent.

Future business

SES’s biggest investment at present is O3b mPower, a seven-satellite system Boeing is building to provide 10 terabits of capacity for internet and data connectivity services. Collar said the completion of O3b mPower’s preliminary design review, disclosed by Boeing July 25, was “one of the cleanest that we’ve had,” and suggests SES is “going to be able to deliver more performance over that system than we initially expected.”

SES has 16 Ka-band O3b satellites in medium Earth orbit today, plus another four slated to launch next year on a Europeanized Soyuz from Arianespace. O3b mPower is expected to start launching in 2021, though SES has not yet announced a launch provider.

Collar said SES is maintaining its forecast for its data division, SES Networks, at 660 to 690 million euros this year. Following the internal review, SES said its SES Networks division should generate 850 to 900 million euros in 2020, compared to the previous forecast of more than 875 million euros.

Ferdinand Kayser, CEO of SES Video, said close to 95 percent of the anticipated 2018 revenue for the division was already secured by the middle of the year, appreciably higher than where the company was even at the end of 2017. SES attributed a combination of customer reductions in North America and the failure of some new broadcast platforms in emerging markets to a 2.3 percent decline in year-over-year video revenue, factoring in currency fluctuations. That decrease occurred even as SES’s total number of channels broadcast reached 7,941, a 3 percent annual increase, with capacity-intensive HD channels growing 7 percent to 2,765 channels and ultra-HD growing by more than 90 percent to 38 channels.

“The acceleration of HD and ultra-HD across Europe, North America and the international continues to be a key driver, demonstrating the long-term importance of satellite as the most efficient distribution network for providing tens of millions of viewers simultaneously with streaming content and which is the only one offering a quality guarantee,” he said.

Kayser said SES Video is pursuing strong business leads for SES-10, which launched last year to provide new coverage to Latin America, and SES-9, a replacement launched in 2016 for NSS-7 that provides some new capacity over Asia.

Optimistic on C-band

SES, together with Intelsat, Intel and most recently Eutelsat, submitted a plan to U.S. regulators that offers up 100 megahertz of C-band spectrum for 5G cellular networks that featured prominently in a government plan to open the band to more users.

Collar praised the Federal Communication Commission’s plan, released July 12, as “really encouraging,” despite indications that it may take more than 100 megahertz.

“We’ve been pretty clear that we have a plan that closes for 100 megahertz,” he said. “We also acknowledge the desire for more spectrum to be freed up and we are working on it.”

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said July 12 that he wants 5G to have 200 to 300 of the 500 megahertz of C-band currently allocated for satellite communications in the U.S., substantially more than satellite operators have volunteered to yield so long as mobile operators cover the expense. Satellite operators use C-band in the U.S. mainly for television broadcasting, along with some other services such as emergency communications when terrestrial systems are damaged or destroyed.

“Everything up till now has been win-lose: we get something, you lose something. This is the first time where we create an environment where we can invest in our customers, in our video neighborhoods and at the same time free up spectrum,” Collar said.

The FCC wants to free up more spectrum for 5G quickly to support new devices as telecommunications companies continue to test the technology this year. Satellite operators say such a timeline plays to their advantage over other plans, such as a spectrum auction.

SpaceNews.com

Original Link

FIRST UP Satcom | India to reduce foreign satellite use • Boeing revenues up • Facebook internet satellite in the works

To receive FIRST UP Satcom, a weekly SpaceNews newsletter for satellite and telecom professionals, sign up here.

TOP STORIES

India wants to migrate Direct-to-Home (DTH) television broadcasters from international satellites back to Indian spacecraft, and is taking steps to begin that process. An Indian minister said the Department of Space, which includes the Indian Space Research Organisation, is “initiating efforts to migrate DTH services from foreign satellites to Indian satellites.” Broadcasters use 42 domestic transponders and 69 foreign transponders to distribute satellite television channels in India, according to the minister. He said India will add sufficient domestic capacity over the next three years to shift broadcasters onto Indian satellites. [Television Post]

Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security division reported a 9 percent increase in revenue during April, May and June, as compared to the same three months last year. The company said O3b mPower, the seven-satellite system it is building for Luxembourg-based SES, completed a preliminary design review during the quarter. Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security backlog stood at $52 billion, with 35 percent coming from international customers. The company also closed new fighter aircraft sales to Kuwait and the U.S. Defense Department during the quarter. [Boeing]

Newly released documents confirm that Facebook is working on an internet satellite project. The documents, released under a Freedom of Information Act request to the FCC, show that Facebook is the company behind a satellite project called Athena to provide broadband internet access. The documents confirm earlier reporting that linked Facebook to a company called PointView Tech LLC that had filed applications with the FCC for such a satellite project. [Wired]

MORE STORIES

SES hopes to double the size of its non-broadcast business over the next five years. John-Paul Hemingway, CEO of SES Networks, said data connectivity is about a third of SES’s overall revenue today, but should match or exceed television broadcasting in the coming years. “We have the expectation that Networks will absolutely be the growth engine of SES,” he said. SES Networks includes business from the O3b constellation of Ka-band, medium Earth orbit satellites, which SES is currently expanding. Hemingway mentioned cloud connectivity as a promising area for growth. [Via Satellite]

Telstra has selected Gilat Satellite Networks very small aperture terminal (VSAT) systems to expand the reach of its 4G cellular network across Australia. Gilat terminals are part of Telstra’s new 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell program that was unveiled last month. The program seeks to extend coverage to new areas for for customers like rural farmers, mining companies and local councils that are willing to co-fund the infrastructure. [Gilat]

As online streaming services gain popularity, Central and Eastern Europe remains a holdout for traditional linear television programs. Research from the media agency Wavemaker finds that young television viewers between 13 and 29 years old, while increasingly favoring streaming, are ditching linear television at a slower rate than Western Europe. Romania, Hungary and Poland were the top three countries in the study, with young viewers watching an average of 220 minutes per day, down from 226 minutes a year earlier. “Young viewer groups, who most often reach for alternative sources of video content, offer the most disturbing picture of the future of linear TV,” said Wavemaker President Izabela Albrychiewicz. “In this respect, the last half of the year was kind to broadcasters in the CEE region.” [Broadband TV News]

Maxar is considering options to deal with an extended drought in commercial GEO satellite orders that could include exiting the market entirely. Maxar, which owns Space Systems Loral, is considering three “strategic alternatives” to addressing the decline in such satellite orders that include “right-sizing” its existing operations or partnering with another manufacturer, as well as exiting the business entirely. Maxar will make a decision on one of those options by the end of the year, according to a Bank of Montreal analyst who attended a closed-door meeting in June where the company discussed those alternatives. Maxar confirmed it’s weighing those options for its commercial GEO satellite business while noting growth in other sectors, including low Earth orbit satellites and business with the U.S. government. [SpaceNews]

The use of inter-satellite links was a key reason behind Hispasat’s investment in LeoSat, the company’s CEO said. In an interview, Carlos Espinós said he was attracted to LeoSat’s proposed constellation because its use of inter-satellite links limits its ground infrastructure needs. Espinós said the low latency promised by LeoSat’s system should allow it to compete well with terrestrial fiber systems. Hispsat’s investment is “absolutely the same” in LeoSat as an earlier one by Japanese operator Sky Perfect JSAT, he said, but neither company has disclosed the value of their investments. [SpaceNews]

KVH says it has shipped its 8,000th very small aperture terminal (VSAT) for maritime communications services. Citing research from Euroconsult, KVH said the maritime industry used twice as many KVH terminals than it did from any other supplier as of the end of last year. KVH recently introduced a terminal that is compatible with Intelsat’s Epic series of high-throughput satellites, which offer more bandwidth than traditional spacecraft. [KVH]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.

Original Link

FIRST UP Satcom | India to reduce foreign satellite use • Boeing revenues up • Facebook internet satellite in the works

To receive FIRST UP Satcom, a weekly SpaceNews newsletter for satellite and telecom professionals, sign up here.

TOP STORIES

India wants to migrate Direct-to-Home (DTH) television broadcasters from international satellites back to Indian spacecraft, and is taking steps to begin that process. An Indian minister said the Department of Space, which includes the Indian Space Research Organisation, is “initiating efforts to migrate DTH services from foreign satellites to Indian satellites.” Broadcasters use 42 domestic transponders and 69 foreign transponders to distribute satellite television channels in India, according to the minister. He said India will add sufficient domestic capacity over the next three years to shift broadcasters onto Indian satellites. [Television Post]

Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security division reported a 9 percent increase in revenue during April, May and June, as compared to the same three months last year. The company said O3b mPower, the seven-satellite system it is building for Luxembourg-based SES, completed a preliminary design review during the quarter. Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security backlog stood at $52 billion, with 35 percent coming from international customers. The company also closed new fighter aircraft sales to Kuwait and the U.S. Defense Department during the quarter. [Boeing]

Newly released documents confirm that Facebook is working on an internet satellite project. The documents, released under a Freedom of Information Act request to the FCC, show that Facebook is the company behind a satellite project called Athena to provide broadband internet access. The documents confirm earlier reporting that linked Facebook to a company called PointView Tech LLC that had filed applications with the FCC for such a satellite project. [Wired]

MORE STORIES

SES hopes to double the size of its non-broadcast business over the next five years. John-Paul Hemingway, CEO of SES Networks, said data connectivity is about a third of SES’s overall revenue today, but should match or exceed television broadcasting in the coming years. “We have the expectation that Networks will absolutely be the growth engine of SES,” he said. SES Networks includes business from the O3b constellation of Ka-band, medium Earth orbit satellites, which SES is currently expanding. Hemingway mentioned cloud connectivity as a promising area for growth. [Via Satellite]

Telstra has selected Gilat Satellite Networks very small aperture terminal (VSAT) systems to expand the reach of its 4G cellular network across Australia. Gilat terminals are part of Telstra’s new 4GX-lite Mobile Satellite Small Cell program that was unveiled last month. The program seeks to extend coverage to new areas for for customers like rural farmers, mining companies and local councils that are willing to co-fund the infrastructure. [Gilat]

As online streaming services gain popularity, Central and Eastern Europe remains a holdout for traditional linear television programs. Research from the media agency Wavemaker finds that young television viewers between 13 and 29 years old, while increasingly favoring streaming, are ditching linear television at a slower rate than Western Europe. Romania, Hungary and Poland were the top three countries in the study, with young viewers watching an average of 220 minutes per day, down from 226 minutes a year earlier. “Young viewer groups, who most often reach for alternative sources of video content, offer the most disturbing picture of the future of linear TV,” said Wavemaker President Izabela Albrychiewicz. “In this respect, the last half of the year was kind to broadcasters in the CEE region.” [Broadband TV News]

Maxar is considering options to deal with an extended drought in commercial GEO satellite orders that could include exiting the market entirely. Maxar, which owns Space Systems Loral, is considering three “strategic alternatives” to addressing the decline in such satellite orders that include “right-sizing” its existing operations or partnering with another manufacturer, as well as exiting the business entirely. Maxar will make a decision on one of those options by the end of the year, according to a Bank of Montreal analyst who attended a closed-door meeting in June where the company discussed those alternatives. Maxar confirmed it’s weighing those options for its commercial GEO satellite business while noting growth in other sectors, including low Earth orbit satellites and business with the U.S. government. [SpaceNews]

The use of inter-satellite links was a key reason behind Hispasat’s investment in LeoSat, the company’s CEO said. In an interview, Carlos Espinós said he was attracted to LeoSat’s proposed constellation because its use of inter-satellite links limits its ground infrastructure needs. Espinós said the low latency promised by LeoSat’s system should allow it to compete well with terrestrial fiber systems. Hispsat’s investment is “absolutely the same” in LeoSat as an earlier one by Japanese operator Sky Perfect JSAT, he said, but neither company has disclosed the value of their investments. [SpaceNews]

KVH says it has shipped its 8,000th very small aperture terminal (VSAT) for maritime communications services. Citing research from Euroconsult, KVH said the maritime industry used twice as many KVH terminals than it did from any other supplier as of the end of last year. KVH recently introduced a terminal that is compatible with Intelsat’s Epic series of high-throughput satellites, which offer more bandwidth than traditional spacecraft. [KVH]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.

Original Link

FCC votes to open C-band for 5G

“We are going to need a bigger boat,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said July 12, quoting the 1975 movie Jaws as a metaphor for the challenge of handling 5G needs. “Or in our case, more spectrum.”

WASHINGTON — U.S. telecom regulators approved a plan announced last month to allow 5G signals in the same spectrum currently used for satellite television broadcasts.

The unanimous vote by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and the agency’s three commissioners lays the groundwork for the transition of some, or possibly all of the 500 megahertz of spectrum commonly known as C-band.

Exactly how much spectrum will be determined through the processes outlined in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which detailed a four-step plan to make C-band accessible for 5G communications.

The order also requires users of C-band satellite dishes in the U.S. to license their dishes with the FCC (and update existing licenses), enforcing what was previously a voluntary process so that regulators can understand how heavily the band is used.

Intelsat and SES, the world’s two largest geostationary satellite operators, along with chip-maker Intel and, as of today Eutelsat, back a plan to free up 100 MHz of C-band as long as new users cover the cost of migrating customers and lost opportunities.

The NPRM gives multiple pathways for the expanded use of C-band, including market-based methods like the plan satellite operators put forward, spectrum auctions (favored by T-Mobile), and alternative methods. The FCC is seeking comment on the best way forward.

Like Jaws, but with less blood

The FCC kicked off discussions on how to make more spectrum available for 5G last year, fearing that the U.S. would fall behind other countries in preparing for the next generation of high-speed communications.

“If we make headway here, we can start to reclaim that lost leadership in spectrum that’s so critical for 5G networks,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said at the ruling.

Mobile network operators have long had eyes on C-band, which in the U.S. ranges from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz, as a large swath of contiguous spectrum with favorable signal propagation characteristics.

Pai, speaking July 12 ahead of the vote, said the FCC wanted to “identify a mechanism that will unleash activity in this band like the $3,000 bounty placed on the shark in Jaws, but with … less bloodletting” referencing the popular 1975 film.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said the satellite industry’s willingness to cooperate on ways to use C-band instead of resisting the change made for a rare opportunity to have a less painful transition.

“[It] just so happens that the current primary users, certain satellite providers, are receptive to reducing [their] footprint,” he said. “It’s rare you see the stars align to execute a large change in spectrum policy.”

O’Rielly said he was pleased to support the NPRM, but cautioned that the 100 MHz offered from satellite operators is unlikely to be sufficient.

“I’ve advocated for 200 to 300 Megahertz, with a serious review to release even more,” he said.

While ceding more spectrum would upset satellite operators, O’Rielly’s other remarks about the urgency of spectrum reallocations may give them relief.

The O’Rielly said the reallocation “needs to happen quickly,” not in five or 10 years. Intelsat, Intel and SES while championing their plan for the past several months have said a market-based approach could open up C-band in three years or less. Regulatory mandates would be more difficult and require considerably more time, they argued.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said the satellite industry plan “could provide the quickest path to clearing spectrum, and do so without the issues that arise when the commission begins imposing mandates.”

Carr, citing financial analysts’ predictions that 2021 will be the year of peak investment in 5G infrastructure, encouraged taking a market-based approach, saying it “makes the most sense to move forward with options that have the best shot at bringing the spectrum online during the initial 5G rollout.”

Intelsat, in a statement provided to SpaceNews, said it is “pleased with the emphasis on the need for speed and the benefits of a market-based solution.”

“The satellite operators — Intelsat, SES and now joined by Eutelsat — will work to demonstrate our ability to efficiently implement our market-based proposal, protecting the C-band services environment from disruptive interference while clearing spectrum to accelerate the era of 5G in the U.S.,” Intelsat said.

Original Link

Satcom companies willing to partner with China to gain market access

From left to right: Christopher Baugh, president of Northern Sky Research; Mark Rigolle, CEO of LeoSat Enterprises; Thomas Van den Driessche, CEO of Newtec; Mark Dankberg, CEO of Viasat; Hadi Nazari, CEO of North Telecom; John-Paul Hemingway, CEO of SES Networks and PJ Beylier, CEO of SpeedCast. Credit: SpaceNews

SINGAPORE — Multiple satellite communications companies say they are willing to team up with Chinese companies in order to sell into its sizeable but regulatorily challenging market.

China’s growing prowess in satellite communications, evidenced by a growing number of exported Chinese satellites and investments in foreign satellite companies, doesn’t have satellite operators and service providers spooked the way it does satellite manufacturers and launch providers.

“For the domestic market in China we hope definitely to partner with Chinese partners,” Thomas Van den Driessche, CEO of Belgian ground systems provider Newtec, said June 25 at the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum here.

“The domestic market in China is huge and it’s opening up for different types of services in land as well as maritime, fishing, boats, aviation and so on,” he said. “That’s a huge opportunity.”

Van den Driessche said the “strong evolutions” of fleet operators China Satcom in Beijing and APT Satellite in Hong Kong have caught Newtec’s attention. Both operators are investing in high-throughput satellites bringing large amounts of capacity to the Asia Pacific for broadband services. Newtec is willing to partner with Chinese companies and the Chinese government to “trigger” access to that market, he said.

“It’s an absolute partner play,” said SES Networks CEO John-Paul Hemingway. “You look at someone like SES who needs to build a global coverage for supporting mPower, mobility customers, et cetera, you have to partner with the Chinese operators.”

Luxembourg-based SES is building seven very-high-throughput “O3b mPower” satellites with Boeing to provide 10 terabits of capacity for connectivity services around the world. Earlier this month, SES gained market access from U.S. telecom regulators for 26 more medium-Earth-orbit satellites, providing regulatory assurance SES says enables it to expand the O3b constellation from equatorial to global.

SES is one of several European fleet operators with eyes on China. London-based Inmarsat has indicated that it may relocate its fourth Global Xpress satellite over China after its upcoming satellite, GX-5, launches next year.

“It’s no secret that we are also looking to do more in China and more in the ‘One Belt, One Road’ region,” Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said last year. “That is a place where we continue to have ambitions.”

Eutelsat of Paris has also stitched itself into China’s “One Belt, One Road” international trade infrastructure program, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative. In January, Eutelsat forged a “cooperation agreement” with China Unicom to use its Eutelsat-172b satellite for inflight connectivity as well as to study collaborative satellite communications services.

The Chinese market “is going toward decentralization from what we can observe,” said Hadi Nazari, CEO of North Telecom, a Dubai-based satellite services provider that uses capacity from APT Satellite, Eutelsat, YahSat and others. “When you want to go to any market … you have to see how you can enter that market.”

“We see China as a fantastic market,” said Mark Rigolle, CEO of LeoSat, a Dutch-U.S. company raising money to build a constellation of 84 low-Earth-orbit broadband satellites.

But Chinese regulations do make it “a somewhat frustrating market,” he added. LeoSat’s constellation is designed to use inter-satellite links for low-latency, high-speed broadband services without a large number of gateway facilities built on the ground. But to access the Chinese market, LeoSat will likely have to build a gateway station there regardless.

“In a country like China — they are not the only country but they are a big country that will require us to route everything through the gateway before it goes out of the country or comes in from abroad, so one of [our unique selling points] is kind of lessened,” he said.

Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg said he views China as “both a partner and a competitor.” China has a large domestic market, but is also selling turnkey satellite systems to customers, helping create new satellite operators in countries like Algeria, Laos and Cambodia.

“They are going to set a level of performance and economic value that others will have to beat if we want to provide [Internet] access to those markets,” Dankberg said.

China is a market of interest to U.S.-based Viasat for its yet-to-be-ordered ViaSat-3 Asia-Pacific satellite, but regulatory uncertainties have prevented the company from viewing China as an anchor market. Viasat has instead mentioned Australia as a potential anchor market for the future satellite promising at least a terabit of throughput.

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Asian satellite operators worried U.S. C-band debate will affect their markets

“This is a disaster for the whole industry.” — Huang Baozhong, executive vice president at APT Satellite, said at the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum June 25. Photo shows Eutelsat Asia CEO Jean-François Fenech (left), APT’s Baozhong (center) and Mitsutoshi Akao, executive officer & group president of Sky Perfect JSAT’s Global Business Group Space and Satellite Business Unit. Credit: SpaceNews

SINGAPORE — Satellite operators in Asia say the debate over C-band in the United States is triggering similar discussions in their markets, causing concern that cellular operators could end up in control of the spectrum in other parts of the world.

While next-generation 5G networks are nearing deployment in the U.S., Europe and other technologically advanced areas like South Korea, several operators argued that most of Asia is still developing and has strong need for C-band satellite services.

“My personal belief is that Intelsat sold out the industry,” Roger Tong, AsiaSat’s recently appointed CEO, said at the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum here June 25.

Intelsat and Intel have proposed letting 5G networks use some C-band spectrum in cases where it is strongly needed provided cellular operators compensate satellite operators for transition costs and lost business. SES backed Intelsat and Intel’s proposal when they agreed to clear only 100 MHz of the band instead of all 500 MHz allocated for satellite in the U.S.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission included some of Intelsat and Intel’s suggestions in a notice of proposed rulemaking it issued June 21 in preparation for a July 12 vote.

“Once they get [C-band], they won’t stop,” Tong said of cellular operators. “They will be more and more bandwidth hungry, they will claim to have more devices out there, they will claim that their market segment is expanding so they have to expand the spectrum.”

“This is a disaster for the whole industry,” said Huang Baozhong, executive vice president at APT Satellite. “I am 100 percent sure that most other countries will follow and then this will be spread all over the world.”

Baozhong said he fears the 100 MHz offered to mobile network operators is unlikely to be enough.

“They will take another 100 or 200, [until] finally all the C-band will be gone,” he said.

“What’s happening in the U.S. is having an impact in our region,” said Clare Bloomfield, director of policy and research at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA).

CASBAA has consulted several governments including the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, India and Australia on C-band, she said.

Jim Simpson, CEO of ABS, said cellular companies are striving to convince telecom regulators across Asia that they need C-band more than satellite operators — a claim less easily defended in Asia because of the spectrum’s ability to get signals through rainstorms better than Ka- and Ku-band.

“I agree they will need more bandwidth, but they are not going to be needing as much as they get,” he said. “And frankly, satellite should be a very complementary activity for them in multiple different areas because we really are pretty beneficial from a 5G perspective.”

Jean-François Fenech, CEO of Eutelsat Asia, disagreed with other panelists, saying he doesn’t foresee a fight over C-band coming to Asia.

“The good thing I observe is many of the countries have national satellite systems which are operating in C-band, so I don’t see how they would shoot in their own foot if they believe satellite in C-band is good for them,” he said.

India’s GSAT-17, Laos’ LaoSat-1 and Bangladesh’s Bangabandhu-1 satellite — all launched within the past few years — carry C-band payloads for telecom services in Asia. Last year Eutelsat also launched a satellite — Eutelsat-172b — with C-band coverage of the Asia Pacific.

Sky Perfect JSAT’s Mitsutoshi Akao, executive officer and group president of the Japanese operator’s Global Business Group Space & Satellite Business Unit, said the Japanese government likes to follow U.S. decisions, and that his company is discussing with the Japanese government the importance of C-band.

Several Asian satellite operators argued that the situation in the U.S. differs strongly from the situation in Asia. However, both have one thing in common — insufficient data on how widely C-band is actually used.

“Worldwide we really don’t know how many C-band receive-only antennas there are,” Baozhong said.

A Chinese study from 2007 found more than 20 million C-band dishes in use, he said, but the current number is unknown.

Fenech estimated Indonesia has 10 to 13 million C-band dishes for television broadcast services.

JSAT’s Akao said the number of C-band dishes in Japan is “small,” but still important.

Original Link

FCC unveils proposal for C-band reallocation

Intelsat and SES both issued positive remarks about the FCC’s tentative plan. Credit: FCC

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission issued a draft proposal June 21 for giving the wireless industry access to C-band spectrum commercial satellite operators use to deliver cable and broadcast network programming.

The FCC is scheduled to vote July 12 on a four-step plan that would culminate in opening up at least some of the 500-megahertz swath of radio-frequency spectrum to next-generation 5G wireless networks hungry for bandwidth.

How much of the band, and consequently the magnitude of the impact on satellite operators and their C-band customers, is still to be determined.

The plan was outlined in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the FCC released June 21.

Since October, more than 200 organizations filed comments to the FCC in anticipation of the rule-making.

The FCC proposal partially reflects a plan put forward by Intelsat, Intel and SES by calling for an industry-formed “Transition Facilitator” for the spectrum. That idea lines up with the satellite industry-supported plan for a consortium of satellite operators that negotiate terms for transferring spectrum to mobile operators.

The idea of a centralized facilitator garnered “record support,” according to the FCC, though Eutelsat and Telesat have expressed reservations about who would hold power in a satellite operator consortium. Telesat has said it will fight its competitors’ C-band plan if Intelsat and SES control the consortium.

Intelsat and SES, which together control more than 90 percent of U.S. C-band spectrum, support yielding 100 megahertz of C-band, plus a so-called guard band of 40 to 60 MHz of unoccupied spectrum, to mobile network operators and internet service providers. Eutelsat and Telesat each control a single-digit percentage. Wireless and internet providers would pay satellite operators for lost business opportunities and the cost of migrating customers to different frequencies.

The FCC is also considering auctioning the spectrum — a strategy favored by mobile network operator T-Mobile.

The proposed Transition Facilitator is the first step in the FCC’s plan; it would handle negotiations with new entrants wanting to claim C-band spectrum. The commission posed several questions for industry and interest groups to debate, such as whether the commission should have the right to approve or reject the formation of a Transition Facilitator.

The FCC asked for input on whether full coverage of the lower 48 states should be a requirement for consortium membership. The consortium would still incur costs re-configuring networks and relocating customers, for satellite operators with U.S. C-band coverage that don’t join its ranks, according to Intelsat and SES, though the FCC noted it is not clear how this process would work.

The FCC’s second step calls for a negotiation period between the Transition Facilitator and entities requesting access to C-band spectrum. In this stage the commission leaves open how much spectrum could transition from satellite operators to terrestrial telecom companies.

T-Mobile’s concern that the satellite industry’s C-band plan will “likely result in inefficient reallocation of spectrum,” led the FCC to ask whether the 100 megahertz Intelsat and SES agreed to offer up should be an “Initial Minimum Spectrum Benchmark.”

Intel, while allied with Intelsat and SES, said the market-based approach put forward “could clear additional spectrum beyond the 100 megahertz” without taking more time to complete. Intelsat, SES and Intel believe their market-based approach would facilitate new use of the band in 36 months or less and that a regulatory mandate would take many years longer to implement.

The negotiation stage includes consideration of various auction plans, including satellite operators relinquishing spectrum for auction in exchange for a portion of the proceeds.

Once the commission has a C-band transition plan, its third step is to begin accepting terrestrial license applications to use the spectrum. The FCC is requesting input on many details of this process such as timing, what criteria to require, and on how to best protect satellite services that remain in the band.

The fourth and final step consists of granting new terrestrial licenses in C-band and moving satellite customers out of the spectrum as needed. Similar to the other steps, the FCC asked for comments on “the best way to effectuate this process.”

The FCC is still seeking data on how heavily satellite customers use C-band since only 4,700 dishes are registered. On June 21, the FCC granted a 90-day extension for registering C-band dishes — at the behest of SES and Intelsat — and created options for registering multiple dishes simultaneously to lower the cost of the voluntary process. The FCC is implementing a temporary freeze on new registrations to get a snapshot of how the band is used.

As a motivation for unregistered C-band customers to step up, the FCC proposed that only dishes it knows about are ensured regulatory protection from signal interference.

The FCC also wants to collect additional data on registered dishes, such as which satellites they are pointed at and how often they are in use. If existing registrants don’t provide the updated information, the FCC proposes removing them from the database.

Intelsat offered praise for the draft C-band plan, thanking FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and commission staff in a June 21 tweet for “considering a different approach to this challenging issue.”

“The interest shown by the FCC encourages us to further our work to support stakeholders, including customers, in embracing our proposal as the most expedient solution,” Intelsat said.

SES issued a similar statement June 25. “We are pleased with the positioning of our proposal in the draft C-band NPRM released on June 21 by the FCC,” SES said.

In October, Intelsat and Intel began the satellite industry’s push to find a compromise on C-band, saying the regulatory pressure in the U.S. to repurpose the band for 5G was considerably stronger than in other parts of the world. SES joined in February on the grounds that satellite operators only cede 100 megahertz of C-band. 

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SES, Intelsat plead for an extension for C-band dish registration

The FCC plans to decide on future uses of C-band spectrum in July. Satellite operators are concerned it won’t have a full picture of the band’s current users. Credit: russellstreet /Flickr (Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON — Fleet operators SES and Intelsat asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to extend the deadline for their customers to register C-band dishes before the commission decides on the band’s future use.

The two companies said they are “gravely concerned” that the commission’s current rules for registration remain too cumbersome for most customers to complete, making the FCC’s database of C-band users smaller than the true number.

Writing to the FCC June 18, SES and Intelsat said the commission should allow U.S. C-band dish operators — the vast majority being broadcasters — to file one application per organization instead of one per dish. That application should have one fee, the companies argued, to drastically lower the cost.

The FCC on April 19 stopped accepting new C-band registrations in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz range so that it can finalize its assessment of the C-band user base. The commission will decide next month how to repurpose the band so that it can support more functions than satellite communications, namely 5G cell networks.

Luxembourg-based SES and Intelsat of Luxembourg and Washington asked the commission to grant a 60-day extension.

“Given the time-sensitive nature of these matters, SES and Intelsat request expeditious Commission action,” the companies wrote.

Intelsat and SES together hold more than 90 percent of U.S. C-band spectrum rights. The operators, together with Intel, have proposed a plan to the FCC to cede one-fifth of the band to cellular operators on an as-needed basis in exchange for new users covering the cost of moving customers and lost business.

As the window closes for C-band registrants, the FCC agreed to waive frequency coordination documentation — a process that typically costs around $700, according to SES.

The commission does still charge a filing fee of $435 to register each dish. The cost of the voluntary process continues to discourage many registrants, satellite operators claim.

Intelsat said one known broadcast customer with 3,700 unlicensed dishes would have to complete individual paperwork for every single dish and pay more than $1.6 million in filing fees.

Intelsat and SES have both highlighted the importance of C-band for the satellite industry despite the dearth of hard data. In a presentation at the New America think tank here June 15, Intelsat’s Vice President for Spectrum Strategy Hazem Moakkit said more than 100 million U.S. homes rely indirectly on C-band for television programming.

Looming spectrum sacrifices

To prevent interference from new users, Moakkit and Michele Farquhar, counsel to SES and a partner at Hogan Lovells, cautioned that satellite signals will need to be distanced from other users.

Farquhar said a guard band that could be as much as 50 additional megahertz will likely be needed if the FCC accepts the satellite industry proposal.

That would leave 350 megahertz for satellite users. Moakkit said C-band users can’t afford to have noise from other sources even in adjacent bands.

“We can’t live with that. It’s pretty much like if you have a baby and are trying to put the baby to sleep and then a frat house moves next door,” he said.

Farquhar, echoing comments made in April by SES CEO Steve Collar, said all 500 megahertz of C-band band is already in use, and the loss of even the 100-plus megahertz as proposed will likely require new satellites, filtering technology and fiber installments for ground infrastructure.

“There is no spare anything,” she said of C-band. “That’s the problem.”

Terrestrial communications companies have their eyes on more spectrum than the satellite industry wants to give up.

Google’s Spectrum Engineering Lead Andrew Clegg said access to the full 500 megahertz would allow terrestrial internet companies to provide services that “could rival consumer fiber optic delivery.”

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in a May 31 tweet that he was “leading [an] effort to reallocate good portion of 3.7-4.2 GHz” for 5G. How big that portion is remains to be determined.

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SES, with FCC’s blessing, says O3b constellation can reach global coverage

Artist’s rendition of SES Network’s O3b mPower constellation. Credit: SES.

WASHINGTON — SES says its constellation of medium Earth orbit O3b satellites now has the ability to expand from an equatorial system to a global system thanks to new approvals from U.S. telecom regulators.

On June 8, SES said the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved the Luxembourg company’s request to sell satellite connectivity services in the U.S. with 26 additional O3b satellites. Those satellites would operate in both inclined and equatorial orbits, expanding O3b’s coverage from its present 50 degrees out from the equator all the way to the poles.

With 16 satellites already in space, SES’s new authorization will permit it to operate a total of 42 satellites in medium Earth orbit. The new satellites will include four more first-generation satellites built by Thales Alenia Space for launch next year on an Arianespace Soyuz, 10 satellites in inclined orbits, and 12 satellites in equatorial orbits.

SES said the FCC approval enables the company to “triple its next-generation O3b mPOWER fleet” for which Boeing is building the first seven satellites in anticipation of a 2021 launch. Each O3b mPower satellite has more than 10 times the capacity of the first-generation satellites, according to SES. The first seven are estimated to provide some 10 terabits of total throughput.

SES, when announcing O3b mPower last September, said the first seven satellites would cover 80 percent of the Earth’s surface, but would not be limited to that coverage footprint.

“We designed O3b mPower as a system, not as a bunch of satellites, and not as limited to the first seven satellites that we launch,” Steve Collar, then CEO of SES Networks and now CEO of all of SES, said at a press conference. “O3b mPower will be and is conceived as being a fully global system.”

SES operates the O3b satellites in 8,000-kilometer orbits, roughly a fourth of the distance to Earth compared to geostationary satellites, enabling significantly lower signal lag.

To date all of SES’s O3b satellites operate in Ka-band, using high-throughput spot beams for broadband connectivity and network services. The FCC’s approval included rights to six satellites with higher frequency V-band — a region of spectrum satellite operators have been testing for commercial use. SES is the second company to obtain FCC approval for V-band satellite communications following Hughes Network Systems in March. Other companies including Boeing, Viasat, SpaceX, OneWeb, Theia Holdings and Telesat have also requested authorization for V-band satellite systems.

Industry reservations

SES’s application for new O3b satellites faced opposition from Iridium, Telesat and Viasat.

Iridium petitioned the FCC to deny SES’s application because it included access to some frequencies designated for mobile satellite services operators like Iridium.

Mobile satellite services operators and fixed satellite services operators are losing their distinction as operators of both kinds seek to provide data services to the same platforms such as aircraft, cruise ships and oil rigs.

The FCC sided with SES’s view that O3b’s mobile satellite services operations “have the same characteristics as its [fixed satellite services] operations.”

Canada-based Telesat asked the FCC to give priority to operators who have earlier spectrum filings with the International Telecommunication Union. Such prioritization would give Telesat, which is planning a low Earth orbit constellation of 117 satellites, first rights to certain Ka-band frequencies over SES. The FCC rejected Telesat’s proposal, but stipulated that SES comply with the commission’s spectrum-sharing rules.

Viasat voiced concern about O3b signal power levels and the risk they could interfere with geosynchronous satellites. The FCC said a newly adopted rule requires satellites outside of the geostationary arc not cause unacceptable interference to geostationary satellites providing fixed data or broadcast television services, and conditioned SES’s authorization on obeying this rule. SES’s O3b satellites must also adhere to any future power limitations the FCC — and to an unspecified extent, the ITU — sets on V-band, the agency said.

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SES, with FCC’s blessing, says O3b constellation can reach global coverage

Artist’s rendition of SES Network’s O3b mPower constellation. Credit: SES.

WASHINGTON — SES says its constellation of medium Earth orbit O3b satellites now has the ability to expand from an equatorial system to a global system thanks to new approvals from U.S. telecom regulators.

On June 8, SES said the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved the Luxembourg company’s request to sell satellite connectivity services in the U.S. with 26 additional O3b satellites. Those satellites would operate in both inclined and equatorial orbits, expanding O3b’s coverage from its present 50 degrees out from the equator all the way to the poles.

With 16 satellites already in space, SES’s new authorization will permit it to operate a total of 42 satellites in medium Earth orbit. The new satellites will include four more first-generation satellites built by Thales Alenia Space for launch next year on an Arianespace Soyuz, 10 satellites in inclined orbits, and 12 satellites in equatorial orbits.

SES said the FCC approval enables the company to “triple its next-generation O3b mPOWER fleet” for which Boeing is building the first seven satellites in anticipation of a 2021 launch. Each O3b mPower satellite has more than 10 times the capacity of the first-generation satellites, according to SES. The first seven are estimated to provide some 10 terabits of total throughput.

SES, when announcing O3b mPower last September, said the first seven satellites would cover 80 percent of the Earth’s surface, but would not be limited to that coverage footprint.

“We designed O3b mPower as a system, not as a bunch of satellites, and not as limited to the first seven satellites that we launch,” Steve Collar, then CEO of SES Networks and now CEO of all of SES, said at a press conference. “O3b mPower will be and is conceived as being a fully global system.”

SES operates the O3b satellites in 8,000-kilometer orbits, roughly a fourth of the distance to Earth compared to geostationary satellites, enabling significantly lower signal lag.

To date all of SES’s O3b satellites operate in Ka-band, using high-throughput spot beams for broadband connectivity and network services. The FCC’s approval included rights to six satellites with higher frequency V-band — a region of spectrum satellite operators have been testing for commercial use. SES is the second company to obtain FCC approval for V-band satellite communications following Hughes Network Systems in March. Other companies including Boeing, Viasat, SpaceX, OneWeb, Theia Holdings and Telesat have also requested authorization for V-band satellite systems.

Industry reservations

SES’s application for new O3b satellites faced opposition from Iridium, Telesat and Viasat.

Iridium petitioned the FCC to deny SES’s application because it included access to some frequencies designated for mobile satellite services operators like Iridium.

Mobile satellite services operators and fixed satellite services operators are losing their distinction as operators of both kinds seek to provide data services to the same platforms such as aircraft, cruise ships and oil rigs.

The FCC sided with SES’s view that O3b’s mobile satellite services operations “have the same characteristics as its [fixed satellite services] operations.”

Canada-based Telesat asked the FCC to give priority to operators who have earlier spectrum filings with the International Telecommunication Union. Such prioritization would give Telesat, which is planning a low Earth orbit constellation of 117 satellites, first rights to certain Ka-band frequencies over SES. The FCC rejected Telesat’s proposal, but stipulated that SES comply with the commission’s spectrum-sharing rules.

Viasat voiced concern about O3b signal power levels and the risk they could interfere with geosynchronous satellites. The FCC said a newly adopted rule requires satellites outside of the geostationary arc not cause unacceptable interference to geostationary satellites providing fixed data or broadcast television services, and conditioned SES’s authorization on obeying this rule. SES’s O3b satellites must also adhere to any future power limitations the FCC — and to an unspecified extent, the ITU — sets on V-band, the agency said.

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SpaceX launches SES-12 on “hybrid” Falcon 9

A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off June 4 with the SES-12 telecom satellite. Credit: SpaceX webcast

WASHINGTON — SpaceX launched the all-electric SES-12 telecom satellite June 4 on a Falcon 9 rocket that combined two generations of the rocket.

Featuring a pre-flown Block 4 first stage and the new Block 5 upper stage, the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base at 12:45 a.m. Eastern.

The 5.4 metric-ton SES-12 satellite separated from the rocket’s upper stage 32 minutes later.

Described by manufacturer Airbus Defence and Space as “the largest and most powerful all-electric satellite ever produced,” SES-12 carries six wide-beam and 72 high-throughput spot-beam transponders for television and connectivity services across the Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

The satellite should have enough fuel to last 22 years in orbit — seven longer than the design life of most geostationary spacecraft — thanks to the effectiveness of the Block 5 upper stage, according to SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell as quoted in Florida Today.

The Ku- and Ka-band satellite has a digital processor to flexibly allocate capacity according to customer demand — a feature satellite operators are increasingly demanding to prevent geostationary spacecraft from losing their efficacy as markets change over time.

The first-stage booster used today first launched Sept. 7 with the Air Force’s secretive Orbital Test Vehicle 5 spaceplane. SpaceX did not seek to recover the booster or the payload fairings.

SES-12 was originally to launch on an Ariane 5 rocket from European launch provider Arianespace, but SES switched the satellite with one of its SpaceX missions in August. Luxembourg-based SES used that Ariane 5 to instead launch SES-14, a satellite needed on an expedited schedule to replace the malfunctioning NSS-806.

An Arianespace Ariane 5 anomaly eliminated the weeks of schedule saving that SES hoped to obtain by switching missions. A trajectory deviation with Ariane 5 sent SES-14 into the wrong orbit, requiring an estimated four weeks of additional maneuvering with onboard propellant to reach its geostationary slot.

SpaceX’s SES-12 mission was supposed to occur by the end of March but was delayed until June.

SES-12 is a replacement for the 15-and-a-half-year-old NSS-6 satellite. SES plans to co-locate SES-12 with SES-8 at 95 degrees east.

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O3b MEO constellation grows to 16 with latest Soyuz launch

An Arianespace Soyuz launches from the Guiana Space Center March 9 with four O3b satellites. Credit: Arianespace video still.

WASHINGTON — A Soyuz rocket from Arianespace successfully delivered four telecommunications satellites into medium Earth orbit for fleet operator SES.

The rocket took off from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana at 12:11 p.m. Eastern March 9 after a 33-minute delay caused by high altitude winds. The four 700-kilogram satellites separated from the rocket’s upper stage two hours after liftoff in pairs 20 minutes apart.

The launch is Arianespace’s second launch of the year and first since an inertial navigation system with incorrect launch data led an Ariane 5 rocket slightly off course in January. Arianespace said at the time of the Ariane 5 investigation that future missions were proceeding as scheduled.

However, on March 5 Arianespace chose to delay the Soyuz launch by three days for “additional checks at the Guiana Space Center (CSG) as part of the resumption of launches,” according to a company statement. Spokesperson Aaron Lewis declined to say if they delay was related to the European Space Agency’s recommendation that Arianespace vet launch documents and mission parameters more diligently before launching.

Luxembourg-based SES now has 16 high-throughput Ka-band satellites circling the Equator at an altitude of 8,000 kilometers, about one fourth the distance from the Earth as geostationary orbit, where most telecommunications satellites operate. SES took full ownership of O3b in 2016, pairing O3b’s MEO satellites with its GEO fleet.

SES was an early investor in O3b back in 2009, four years before the company had any spacecraft in orbit and when the idea of putting broadband-optimized satellites in MEO instead of the traditional geostationary orbit faced substantial industry skepticism. O3b has championed MEO’s lower latency, or lag time, as an advantage over GEO.

In a post-launch speech at the CSG’s Jupiter control room, SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell said the four new satellites should enter service May 17, increasing the capacity of the O3b fleet by 38 percent. The new satellites also increase O3b’s reach by five degrees further from the Equator, up to 50 degrees north and south latitude.

Halliwell, an SES employee for 31 years and CTO for the past seven, said he plans to retire next year, and that today’s launch will likely be his last visit to the CSG.

The four satellites launched today are part of an eight-satellite order O3b Networks made in 2015 to incumbent supplier Thales Alenia Space, prior to SES ownership. The other four satellites launch early next year, Halliwell said, on another Arianespace Soyuz. Those satellites will compete the first-generation O3b constellation.

SES placed an order in 2017 with Boeing for seven second-generation satellites for a constellation called O3b mPower, designed to deliver 10 terabits of throughput. O3b mPower is scheduled to start launching in 2021. SES has not yet selected a launch provider for the O3b mPower satellites. 

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SES’ Sabbagh takes CEO job at UAE cyber firm

Karim Michel Sabbagh President and CEO, SES. Credit: SpaceNews/Kate Patterson.

WASHINGTON — Karim Michel Sabbagh, president and CEO of satellite fleet operator SES, will return to the United Arab Emirates to lead a cybersecurity company headquartered there.

DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyber company with research and development centers in Canada, Finland and China, announced Sabbagh’s hire March 5. He will join the company as CEO in April, splitting leadership responsibilities with DarkMatter’s founder Faisal Al Bannai.

“It is exciting for me to return to the vibrant Middle East region having spent a number of years away, and to lead one of only a handful of full-service cyber security firms present in the world today,” Sabbagh said in a statement. “I look forward to contributing to building a global cyber security powerhouse in arguably the most significant industry of our time.”

Sabbagh left the UAE to lead SES at its Luxembourg headquarters in 2014. He previously worked at the global consulting firm Booz & Co. in Dubai for more than 15 years.

SES appointed Steve Collar, previously CEO of O3b Networks, to succeed Sabbagh when he leaves. SES took full ownership of O3b Networks and its constellation of high-throughput, medium Earth orbit (MEO) connectivity satellites in 2016.  Last year, SES placed an order with Boeing for seven advanced MEO satellites called O3b mPower. SES is launching four more first-generation O3b satellites from Thales Alenia Space March 9 on an Arianespace Soyuz, expanding the constellation to 16 satellites.

Similar to SES, DarkMatter described the addition of Sabbagh as a means to further the company’s international presence.

“As we have set our foothold in UAE, and begun to plan for regional and global expansion, the company will continue to evolve to support its vision, and build its competencies,” Al Bannai said in a statement. “We have attracted exceptional talent from inception, and with every addition, we have strengthened our ability to achieve our goals.”

Al Bannai said he is splitting his job in two, with Sabbagh becoming CEO to “take responsibility for the business,” and him becoming managing director “to focus on the strategic direction and oversight of the firm.”

“It has taken some time to find the right fit, and in Karim Sabbagh I believe we have found an outstanding professional who will make a great addition to DarkMatter,” he said.

SES, in hiring Sabbagh, described “his experience in the emerging markets” as one of the motivations for bringing him to the helm.

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Bad coordinates led Ariane 5 launch astray, investigators conclude

Arianespace’s Jan. 25 Ariane 5 launch followed bad instructions that sent the rocket farther south than intended. Credit: Arianespace video still from Jan. 25.

WASHINGTON — The Ariane 5 rocket that deviated from its expected flight path Jan. 25 and lost contact with ground control was fed the wrong coordinates, according to the independent commission Arianespace tasked last month to find out what caused the close call.

Both telecommunications satellites onboard the rocket safely reached orbit despite the flight anomaly but will need to burn additional fuel to reach their perch some 36,000 kilometers above the equator.

The European Space Agency-led independent enquiry commission concluded that Ariane 5’s inertial navigation system was fed the wrong azimuth. That sent the rocket 20 degrees off course, causing alarm nine and a half minutes into the mission when Ariane 5 left the view of the ground station monitoring its intended path.

Evry, France-based Arianespace, operator of the Ariane 5, said in a Feb. 23 statement that the cause of the launch hiccup is now “perfectly understood,” and corrections are being immediately implemented by Arianespace and Ariane 5’s manufacturer ArianeGroup.

SES-14 and Al Yah-3, the two satellites aboard the rocket, are both healthy but will need extra time to reach their operational orbits and enter service. Luxembourg-based SES’ SES-14 will need an extra four weeks of orbit raising with its electric propulsion system on top of the six months initially planned. YahSat of Abu Dhabi, UAE, said Feb. 20 that its Al Yah 3 satellite, equipped with a hybrid chemical and electric propulsion system, will reach geostationary orbit in June.

The independent enquiry commision, led by ESA inspector general Toni Tolker-Nielsen, submitted its conclusions Feb. 22. NASA, which is entrusting Ariane 5 with next year’s launch of the $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, participated in the investigation.

The commission said Ariane 5 had incorrect azimuth information directing the rocket to 90 degrees instead of 70 degrees, a course Ariane 5 began following “from the initial seconds of flight.” Standard quality checks missed the wrong mission parameters.

Future launch campaigns should scrutinize mission parameter data more carefully through better document verification and additional consistency checks, the commission advised.  

“Arianespace and ArianeGroup already are deploying the measures recommended by the Commission, paving the way for the next launch of Ariane 5, planned for March,” Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said in a Feb. 23 statement. “Thanks to the establishment of these corrective measures, we will be able to further enhance the outstanding reliability of Ariane 5.”

Prior to the Jan 25 launch, Ariane 5 had completed 82 consecutive launches without incident.

Arianespace’s next mission is a March Soyuz launch of four O3b satellites for SES, followed by an Ariane 5 carrying Avanti’s Hylas-4 satellite. The campaigns for both missions remain unchanged, Arianespace said.

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O3b’s Steve Collar to lead SES, Karim Michel Sabbagh stepping down

Steve Collar will succeed Karim Michel Sabbagh as CEO of SES this April. Credit: SES

WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator SES on Feb. 12 announced that CEO Karim Michel Sabbagh will be leaving the company April 5, exactly four years after assuming the position.

Steve Collar, who ran the medium-Earth orbit satellite operator O3b Networks from 2012 to 2017 and now leads all of SES’s connectivity business, will replace Sabbagh.

Additionally, SES’s Chief Financial Officer Padraig McCarthy, is retiring, with another former O3b executive, CFO Andrew Brown, taking his place.

In a statement, SES said Sabbagh chose to leave the company “ In order to spend time with his family and to pursue new interests.”

McCarthy, who has been at SES since 1995, agreed to “remain at the disposal of the company” post-retirement.

SES has yet to select a replacement for Steve Collar to lead the company’s SES Networks division, which now also includes the O3b broadband satellites as part of its portfolio.

Romain Bausch, the 19-year CEO of SES until 2014 and current chairman of the company, praised Collar and Browne’s success with O3b, which has 12 satellites in orbit, four more launching next month, another four launching in 2019. After SES took full ownership of O3b in 2016, the operator placed a seven-satellite order with Boeing for O3b mPower, a constellation designed to beam 10 terabits of high-speed internet connectivity.

Karim Michel Sabbagh SES CEOKarim Michel Sabbagh, CEO of SES. Credit: SES

“We are extremely excited to welcome Steve and Andrew as our next CEO and CFO,” Bausch said. “They each have extensive experience with SES and the broader satellite industry, especially also as the architects of O3b, the fastest growing and most successful satellite start-up. We have confidence that, with our leadership team, our industry position, our solid balance sheet and our differentiated assets and capabilities, we are well positioned to deliver on our objectives.”

Sabbagh joined SES from global consulting firm Booz & Co. in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  Under his leadership, SES took full ownership of O3b Networks, transforming SES into a geostationary- and medium-Earth orbit operator. He also led SES in the 2016 purchase of Israeli media and broadcast company RR Media for $242 million. SES then merged RR Media with its SES Platforms Services subsidiary to become MX1, meant to expand both traditional television broadcast as well as nonlinear, IP-based video distribution. Following those two acquisitions, SES reshaped its operating model into two divisions: SES Networks focusing on connectivity, and SES Video focusing on television broadcast.

“Karim steered the strategic positioning of SES in a fast-changing environment, built world-class capabilities with the leadership team and restructured our business and organisation to allow for full implementation of our strategy,” Bausch continued. “Padraig has made an enormous contribution to the success of SES since he joined in 1995, enabling SES to develop its strong financial profile and balance sheet and grow into its worldwide leading position. I wish Karim all the best for his future endeavors and Padraig for his well-deserved retirement.”

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SES allies with Intelsat, Intel on revised US C-band proposal

“Space and ground segment operators have invested billions of dollars in U.S. C-band networks and connectivity and generate important value out of it. It is therefore our duty and mission to protect the C-band in the U.S. from any form of disruption and preserve its use.” — Karim Michel Sabbagh, SES president and CEO. Credit: SES

WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator SES has agreed to join Intelsat on an amended proposal to let 5G networks use some of the satellite industry’s coveted C-band spectrum for next-generation cellular systems in the United States.

The modified proposal, building on a submission Intelsat and computer chip-maker Intel made to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in October, would allow mobile networks to use one-fifth of satellite-designated C-band. SES had stipulated in November that, while considering Intelsat and Intel’s plan, the operator could not support opening the full 500-MHz of U.S. satellite C-band.

With SES on board, Intelsat now has the support of its most needed partner to advance the proposal. Intelsat and SES together control more than 90 percent of the C-band spectrum licensed in the U.S.

In a joint statement released Feb. 9, Intelsat and SES said they began discussions with the FCC on the proposal this week. The operators are including in the proposal the creation of a consortium for other satellite operators that beam down content or data over the lower 48 states to guide the proposal’s implementation, if accepted by the FCC.

Under pressure by mobile operators that have for years sought to wrest C-band spectrum away from satellite operators, Intelsat surprised its peer-competitors last fall when the company teamed with Intel on an idea that would enable both industries to use the same spectrum — just not simultaneously.

Intelsat said it was not betraying the heavily defended industry stance that mobile and satellite signals cannot use the same spectrum at the same time without generating intolerable interference levels, particularly for satellite users. Rather, the proposal calls for satellite operators to voluntarily migrate C-band customers to a different section of the band, or physically relocate their dishes in specific geographic areas where 5G networks have heightened spectrum needs.

“For the industry, we think this is great news,” Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Andrew Spinola wrote in a Feb. 9 research note. “Satellite is slowly being dragged into the 5G/Broadband world and there is a lot of change on the horizon. This news is a positive indication that the industry is becoming more comfortable with this transition, in our view, and willing to consider the greatest sources of value given the industry’s assets.”

Intelsat furthermore emphasized that the proposal was specific for the U.S. market, where regulators have taken an increased interest in freeing up more spectrum for 5G.

“The C-band is and remains a critical component of the U.S. network architecture,” SES, President and CEO Karim Michel Sabbagh said in a Feb. 9 statement. “Space and ground segment operators have invested billions of dollars in U.S. C-band networks and connectivity and generate important value out of it. It is therefore our duty and mission to protect the C-band in the U.S. from any form of disruption and preserve its use.”

Sabbagh added that the new consortium would enable that protection while forging a path for new 5G terrestrial services to form.

SES spokesperson Markus Payer told SpaceNews the consortium will arrange “secondary agreements” where mobile operators compensate satellite operators for the enormous costs of moving antennas, adding filtering technology, and possibly even launching new satellites in order to clear the needed spectrum.

“This whole thing can only happen if these costs are covered,” he said. “We think we found a mechanism and a system to get that done.”

Telecom network operator SpeedCast, a larger buyer of satellite capacity but not an operator of any spacecraft, wrote to the FCC in November saying service providers like itself needed to be included in the spectrum conversation. Intelsat vice president of investor relations Dianne VanBeber told SpaceNews that the consortium only has satellite operators as members because C-band end users don’t hold rights to the spectrum.

“Under the joint proposal, 100 percent of any network redesign costs will be compensated by those mobile operators using the spectrum. It is satellite operators who incur lost opportunity cost by virtue of limitation on services across the spectrum in which we have invested billions of dollars,” she said.  

VanBeber said Intelsat has 26 satellites with full or partial licensed C-band coverage of the United States, or roughly half the operator’s fleet.

In SES’s geostationary fleet of 43 satellites, 18 have C-band capacity over the United States, according to Payer.

Fleet operators Eutelsat of Paris and Telesat of Canada — both of whom chimed in on the FCC’s C-band spectrum discussion — have five and three satellites with C-band U.S. coverage, respectively.

Intelsat and SES said the consortium will ensure band reconfiguration and relocation costs are covered for all affected parties, including earth station and fixed microwave operators. The two companies say their market-based approach will make C-band spectrum available in one to three years versus any government-led spectrum allocation that could, based on historical precedent, take well over a decade. VanBeber said Intelsat does not yet have an expectation of when it will hear from the FCC regarding the agency’s spectrum inquiry, but notes that “creating a path to 5G deployment is a national priority.”

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SpaceX launches GovSat-1 with previously flown Falcon 9 booster

SES and Luxembourg’s GovSat-1 satellite lifts off Jan. 31 on a Falcon 9 first used to launch NROL-76 in May 2017. Credit: SpaceX video still.

WASHINGTON — SpaceX conducted its second mission of the year Jan. 31, launching the GovSat-1 satellite for fleet operator SES and the government of Luxembourg on a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket.

The launch took place at 4:27 p.m. Eastern from the recently opened Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

GovSat-1 separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage 33 minutes after liftoff.

SES, which was the first to trust one of its satellites to a previously flown Falcon 9 booster, has now gone that route three times, more than any other SpaceX customer.

GovSat-1 is part of a joint venture between SES and the Luxembourg government for secure military communications over Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as parts of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The public-private venture’s first satellite has 68 transponder-equivalent units of 36 MHz capacity each, and counts the North Atlantic Treaty Organization among its first customers. The X- and Ka-band satellite was built by Orbital ATK on the company’s new GEOStar-3 platform.

SpaceX did not attempt to land the rocket’s first stage on a droneship or back at the Cape. 

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder, tweeted a photo of the booster partly submerged in the Atlantic Ocean, saying “[t]his rocket was meant to test very high retrothrust landing in water so it didn’t hurt the droneship, but amazingly it has survived. We will try to tow it back to shore.”

The booster was part of SpaceX’s “Block 3” iteration designed to fly no more than two or three times. SpaceX plans to introduce a Block 5 booster this year durable enough to fly as many as 10 missions or more.

SpaceX’s next mission is the much-anticipated Falcon Heavy on Feb. 6 from Cape Canaveral. Additional commercial missions in February include two Falcon 9 missions for Spanish satellite operators — one from Vandenberg for Hisdesat’s Paz radar satellite, and another from Cape Canaveral for the Hispasat 30W-6 communications satellite.

Wednesday’s mission was SpaceX’s first launch since the classified Zuma mission ended with questions about whether the payload reached its orbit. SpaceX said Falcon 9 performed as planned during the Jan. 7 mission, an assertion that shifted focus to Northrop Grumman, which provided the payload and payload adapter.

Not long after the launch, SpaceX customers Iridium and SES said the Zuma mission hadn’t shaken their confidence in Falcon. The Air Force said it saw no reason to revisit Falcon 9’s certification to carry national security payloads.

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Ariane 5 delivers SES-14 and Al Yah 3 to orbit despite telemetry loss

Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel announcing Jan. 25 that an Ariane 5 carrying SES-14 and Al Yah 3 lost contact with the ground shortly after ignition of the rocket’s upper stage. The company later announced the satellites made it to orbit despite the anomaly. Credit: video still from Arianespace webcast

Updated Jan. 26 at 8:38 a.m. Eastern. 

WASHINGTON — The two satellites that launched Thursday evening on an Ariane 5 are in orbit and communicating with the ground despite a harrowing loss of contact with the rocket a few seconds after its upper stage ignited.

The Ariane 5 lifted off at 5:20 p.m. EST from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana carrying the SES-14 and Al Yah 3 communications satellites.

During Arianespace’s live webcast of the launch, the launch appeared to be going well through separation of the first satellite, SES-14, about 27 minutes into the flight. The second satellite, Al Yah 3, riding in the rocket’s lower berth, was scheduled to deploy about eight minutes later. Instead of confirming separation, the Arianespace webcast eventually cut away from the live launch animation to pre-recorded footage of the Ariane 5 prior to launch.

About 20 minutes after that, Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel appeared on camera to announce that the team had lost contact with the rocket and had not yet heard from the satellites.

“[W]e have had an anomaly on this launch. Indeed, we lost contact with the launcher a few seconds after ignition of the upper stage,” he said. “Up to now, our customers do not have contact with the satellite. We need now some time to know if they have been separated, and where they are exactly, to better analyze the consequences of this anomaly.

“Arianespace, in full transparency, will come back to you to provide you with some more information as soon as we have them. I apologize on behalf of Arianespace,” Israel concluded.

An hour and a half after Israel spoke, Arianespace released a statement saying “both satellites were confirmed separated, acquired and they are on orbit. SES-14 and Al Yah 3 are communicating with their respective control centers. Both missions are continuing.”

A live animation from Arianespace's webcast showing separation of SES-14.A live animation from Arianespace’s webcast showing separation of SES-14.

Arianespace did not say whether the satellites are in their intended orbits, and did not immediately respond to a SpaceNews inquiry. 

SES-14 is an all-electric satellite that normally requires months to reach its geostationary slot — a timeline heavily influenced by launcher accuracy. SES said prior to launch that the satellite was expected to enter service in July.

On Friday morning, SES said that SES-14 was in good condition and would reach its planned orbit “only four weeks later than planned,” suggesting it was placed in the wrong orbit.

In addition to its communications payload, SES-14 is carrying a hosted payload, NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk instrument suite. 

Yahsat, the owner of Al Yah 3, has not commented yet on the status of its spacecraft. Al Yah 3 uses chemical propulsion and was designated for a super-synchronous orbit with an apogee of roughly 45,000 kilometers. Onboard propulsion has the job of circularizing the orbit to the geostationary arc at 36,000 kilometers over the course of five burns.

Ariane 5 lost telemetry a few seconds after ignition up the upper stage and the outage lasted “throughout the rest of powered flight,” according to the Arianespace statement. The loss of contact with the rocket became apparent when “the second tracking station located in Natal, Brazil, did not acquire the launcher telemetry.”

Israel, in his speech, apologized for the anomaly. “We know that there is no launch with no risk. We know that launch is always difficult, and tonight Ariane 5 has had an anomaly, so let’s take time now to better understand the situation of the satellites.”

Ariane 5 has completed 82 successful missions since a December 2002 failure that destroyed two satellites — Eutelsat’s Hot Bird 7 and France’s experimental Stentor communications satellite. Those 15 years of smooth sailing have allowed Arianespace to market the rocket as the champion of reliability.

It is unclear what impact tonight’s anomaly will have on Arianespace’s target of completing 14 launches this year — a goal announced just two weeks ago. The SES and Yahsat mission, designated VA241, is the first of those 14.

SpaceNews senior staff writer Jeff Foust contributed to this story. 

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NASA science hosted payload ready for launch

The SES-14 satellite will carry NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) instrument as a hosted payload. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

WASHINGTON — A NASA instrument to study the interaction of the Earth’s upper atmosphere with space weather is ready for launch later this month as a payload on a commercial communications satellite.

The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission is a hosted payload on the SES-14 communications satellite, scheduled for launch Jan. 25 on an Ariane 5 rocket that will also carry the Al Yah 3 communications satellite. The satellite arrived at the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, last month for launch preparations.

GOLD marks the first time NASA has flown a science mission as a hosted payload on a commercial satellite. Such payloads are designed to take advantage of excess payload capacity on commercial satellites to fly various communications, scientific and technology demonstration payloads for government agencies.

Hosted payloads offer, in theory, more frequent flight opportunities and at lower costs than dedicated spacecraft. In practice, though, only a handful of hosted payloads have flown for military and civil agencies to date because of the difficulties finding suitable satellite hosts and contractual challenges, among other issues.

For GOLD, a hosted payload made sense since the goal of the mission is to get a global view of conditions in the ionosphere as it interacts with the solar wind and geomagnetic storms, which is not possible with a satellite in low Earth orbit. “What we wanted to do is get the big picture,” said Richard Eastes, principal investigator for GOLD at the University of Central Florida, during a Jan. 4 NASA briefing. “That lets us put things into context, things that we can’t understand when we’re just looking at one little piece.”

With GOLD in geostationary orbit, he said, scientists will be able to see conditions in the ionosphere over an entire hemisphere, with observations planned for every half hour. “That allows us to follow the evolution in time, over the day, of the upper atmosphere,” he said. By contrast, missions in low Earth orbit pass over different locations at different times of day, making it difficult to separate changes in geography with changes in time.

Eastes said a hosted payload on a communications satellite made the most sense for a mission like GOLD. “Communications companies are flying lots of satellites, so that was the place to go,” he said. “So we started talking to some of the communications satellite companies, including SES.”

Getting GOLD launched has been years in the making. “SES has been working with Richard and the GOLD team for the good part of a decade, dozens of people company-wide,” said Todd Gossett, senior director of hosted payloads at SES Government Solutions, at the NASA briefing. “Now we finally get to realize the fruits of that labor.”

Eastes and other scientists will have to wait a while after launch before getting data from GOLD. SES-14 is an all-electric satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space, and will take several months to reach its final position in geostationary orbit. Eastes said it will likely be late September or early October before GOLD starts operations.

Despite the challenges that hosted payloads have faced, Gossett played up the benefits, such as the steady stream of potential opportunities for payloads as well as the use of other satellite infrastructure, such as ground stations and mission control centers, to operate those payloads.

Gossett said SES, which has worked on several other hosted payloads, is learning to find ways to make the process more efficient, such as coordinating schedules and synchronizing contracts. “Every time we go through the process, we learn a little something on how to take that process and apply it forward,” he said.

GOLD is not the only hosted payload science mission NASA has on the books. The Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument, selected as part of NASA’s Earth Venture program in 2012, is planned for launch no earlier than 2020 to measure air quality. The Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory (GeoCARB), selected by NASA as part of the Earth Venture program in late 2016, will measure vegetation and atmospheric carbon starting in the early 2020s. The host satellites for both TEMPO and GeoCARB have not yet been selected.

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Registering C-band dishes a costly, cumbersome task for customers, SES says

C-band dishes can cost over $1,000 for a voluntary registration process. Credit: russellstreet /Flickr (Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON — If the U.S. Federal Communications Commission wants a more accurate database of C-band satellite dishes, it should make the process of registering those dishes less expensive and time-consuming, fleet operator SES said Dec. 6.

In a letter recounting a Dec. 4, meeting between Luxembourg-based SES and representatives of the FCC, SES argued that its C-band customers have little incentive to register their dishes, since registration is a voluntary process that can cost over $1,000 per site.

The FCC is pushing for an updated registry of C-band users to better understand how the spectrum is used. That information would feed into an assessment of a large swath of “mid-band spectrum” that includes 3.7 to 4.2 GHz — the chunk of C-band available for satellite operators in the United States.

SES and competitor Intelsat account for more than 90 percent of the C-band spectrum rights over the United States, but lack accurate information on how many dishes their customers have deployed. Both companies say the FCC database’s 4,700 registered dishes vastly under-represents the true number of dishes in use.

Intelsat said Oct. 13 that one of its smaller customers has around 3,000 unlicensed dishes, meaning others have even more outside the FCC’s books. SES, in its letter, said “the American Cable Association has estimated that 90% of its members’ receive earth stations are unregistered, and if this rate is typical of C-band users, there could be more than 30,000 receive-only earth stations in total.”

Along with cost, SES said the only benefit C-band customers — who are typically television broadcasters — gain from registration is protection from subsequent C-band microwave links — a terrestrial telecommunications infrastructure with “extremely limited” use of C-band.  

SES said it is trying both to ease the FCC process and encourage its customers to register their dishes.

“For example, SES has suggested that the Commission could undertake a two-step procedure, collecting basic location information first through a simplified online data entry process with no fee and subsequently conducting a more complete antenna registration, but with significant modifications to encourage participation,” SES wrote. “Specifically, SES has argued that the Commission should waive or significantly reduce the registration filing fee and eliminate the coordination requirement for receive-only earth stations.”

C-band customers have a greater motivation to register their dishes now that the FCC is actively considering using the band for fifth-generation (5G) cell phone networks. Mobile network operators have long sought after C-band spectrum to expand their networks, having already gained the lower portion of C-band from 3.4 to 3.6 GHz across most of the world. In the U.S., 3.4 to 3.7 GHz is prioritized for other users, giving domestic mobile operators reason to eye the remaining 500 MHz, and satellite operators a more vehement reason to defend a more limited resource.

SES and other satellite operators say C-band is relied upon heavily for its robustness — something Ku and Ka-band satellites cannot match. Emergency services also often use C-band thanks to the frequency’s ability to penetrate through rain storms.

Satellite operators say they cannot use the same C-band spectrum concurrently with mobile users because the cellular signals are stronger than satellite, drowning out satellite links with insurmountable interference. Intelsat and Intel, in response to the FCC’s mid-band notice of inquiry, submitted a proposal whereby satellite operators would voluntarily clear out portions of C-band in limited geographic areas for mobile 5G networks. Mobile network operators would have to financially compensate satellite operators for relocating customers who were using the needed C-band spectrum, along with other satellite operator expenses.

SES, the ally Intelsat needs most for the proposal, said it is “examining proposals in the record, including the framework suggested by Intelsat and Intel for a market-based solution, as well as brainstorming about other ideas that could preserve satellite access to C-band spectrum for highly reliable programming distribution services while accommodating expanded terrestrial use.”

On Nov. 15, SES said it was open to exploring Intelsat’s plan, but not opening the entire 500 MHz of C-band to mobile users.

“Due to its network design and planning, SES’s center-of-the arc cable neighborhood spacecraft are fully loaded, and SES does not have sufficient alternative C-band capacity elsewhere in its fleet with the 50-state coverage necessary for video distribution customers,” SES said in its Dec. 6 letter.

Fleet operators Eutelsat and Telesat, both of whom have C-band customers in the U.S., are still evaluating the Intelsat-Intel proposal.

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Ukraine parlays SES telecom deal into closer ties with Luxembourg

Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s minister for foreign affairs speaks at the 2017 Halifax International Security Forum

SES satellites now carry 65 percent of all media broadcasts in Ukraine.

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — On his way to Canada to attend the Halifax International Security Forum, Pavlo Klimkin, minister for foreign affairs of Ukraine, made a stop in Luxembourg. There he met with the leadership of the global satellite communications operator SES.

Klimkin said his country’s telecommunications services market is growing, and SES satellites now carry 65 percent of all media broadcasts in Ukraine. SES signed a multi-year agreement in December with Ukraine’s 1+1 Media Group for the lease of one transponder on the Astra 4A satellite.

The Luxembourg visit also was an opportunity for Klimkin to talk to his counterpart Jean Asselborn and other officials about “European integration” and tax issues, and to discuss future business deals in Luxembourg for Ukrainian companies, Klimkin told SpaceNews.

Ukraine has become an important customer for Luxembourg-based SES and Klimkin is looking to parlay those ties into further cooperation between the two nations in other areas. Klimkin, for instance, wants Luxembourg to use Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines for cargo services.

Klimkin is a staunch champion of deeper integration with Western Europe and is seeking help from Europe and the United States to fight Russia’s incursions and territorial claims over Crimea and Donbas.

Russia is developing sophisticated electronic-warfare weapons to jam satellite links and disrupt communications, said Klimkin. He said he is waiting word from the Trump administration on future U.S. military assistance. Ukraine’s military needs advanced technology to fight Russia, he said, in addition to logistics support and training.

In his meetings in Luxembourg, Klimkin brought up ways in which both nations can cooperate in cybersecurity. During a roundtable meeting with reporters, Klimkin said Russia  continues to perpetrate cyber attacks on Ukraine’s electric grid and President Vladimir Putin has stepped up his country’s use of information warfare to spread propaganda.

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SES willing to partially explore Intelsat and Intel’s C-band plan

An SES ground station. Credit: SES

WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator SES, the industry partner whose support Intelsat and Intel need the most for their proposal to open C-band the U.S. has designated for satellites to 5G wireless networks hungry for more spectrum, is willing to go along with the plan, but with one major caveat: not the whole band.

In a statement provided to SpaceNews, SES spokesperson Markus Payer said SES is “open to exploring any approach to a joint use of C-band only if it meets two essential criteria: it must create appropriate financial incentives to justify the extremely high cost of such an approach, and it must ensure that we can continue to deliver services to our customers without any disruption.”

SES believes that “we cannot achieve this unless we open only a limited portion of the respective band,” he said.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission allots 500 MHz of C-band spectrum to satellite operators, who use it primarily for satellite television broadcasts. Such broadcasts constitute the largest chunk of revenue for most fixed satellite services providers. Those 500 MHz in the U.S. are the focus of Intelsat and Intel’s proposal.

In the U.S., satellite operators have access to the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz range of C-band. The total block of spectrum designated as C-band stretches from 3.4 to 4.2 GHz, but the FCC has already divvied up the first 300 MHz between federal users and the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS. Internationally, most of the world already allocated 3.4 to 3.6 GHz for mobile users two years ago at the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference.

SES, writing to the FCC Nov. 15 just before the comment window closed on the commission’s mid-band spectrum notice of inquiry, said the company is evaluating Intelsat and Intel’s plan, but “does not agree that any such approach could apply to the entire 500 MHz C-band downlink allocation.” Payer declined to say how much of the band SES is willing to open.

SES satellites reach more than 100 million U.S. households using C-band, a feat the company argues won’t be possible if the full 500 MHz could was potentially subject to 5G mobile users even in limited parts of the U.S.

“[I]n order to maintain service to customers in such a scenario, SES would need to deploy more satellites with C-band capacity, at a cost ranging from $150 million to $250 million in capital expenditure per satellite,” SES wrote. “Addition of those satellites will be paired with a necessary reconfiguration of the associated ground network that will require further significant investments.”

Intelsat and Intel’s plan involves 5G operators paying satellite operators for the cost of migrating customers to different swaths of the C-band on a case-by-case basis. This “extremely complicated task,” as SES puts it, would run up expenses “in billions of dollars.”

SES and Intelsat together control more than 90 percent of the C-band spectrum in the U.S.

Eutelsat, Telesat still undecided.

Two other global fleet operators with C-band capacity over the U.S. continue to evaluate Intelsat and Intel’s plan.

Paris-based Eutelsat chief executive Roldolphe Belmer told SpaceNews by email Nov. 15 that “Eutelsat is still assessing all the possible consequences of a market-based approach to release [a] portion of satellite C-band for terrestrial use.”

Five Eutelsat satellites — Eutelsat 113 West A, Eutelsat 115 West B, Eutelsat 117 West A, Eutelsat 117 West B and Eutelsat 172A — have C-band capacity with total or partial coverage of the U.S. In the operator’s Nov. 15 FCC filing, Eutelsat said it has “significant questions and in some cases concerns” about Intelsat and Intel’s proposal. Eutelsat used the filing in part to highlight several non-broadcast uses of C-band, including connecting U.S. oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, enabling voice and broadband in Alaska, and U.S. government customers in Hawaii using C-band to stay in contact with Asia.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s WAAS, or Wide Area Augmentation System, hosted payload on Eutelsat 117 West B, used to hone the accuracy of GPS signals for aircraft navigation and landing, also uses the upper portion of the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz band, Eutelsat said.

Canadian satellite operator Telesat, which has three satellites covering the full continental U.S. in C-band, told the FCC yesterday that “The Intelsat-Intel proposal raises a number of complex technical and business issues that need to be assessed, which Telesat is now doing.”

Telesat said it might provide further comments on Intelsat and Intel’s plan after completing that assessment.

Neither the Satellite Industry Association nor the Global VSAT Forum — both prominent industry trade groups — made mention of the Intelsat-Intel proposal in Nov. 15 letters to the FCC. The Global VSAT Forum said roughly 180 C-band satellites are in orbit today, constituting $50 billion of in-orbit investments. The Satellite Industry Association rebuffed terrestrial telecom companies claiming C-band use is in decline as in “conflict with the incontrovertible facts.”

Speedcast opposition

Satellite network operator Speedcast of Hong Kong, one of the largest buyers of satellite capacity, critiqued Intelsat and Intel’s proposal as neglecting the views of earth station operators, essentially biasing the proposal.

“Spectrum sharing with terrestrial services does not happen at the geostationary arc; it happens on the ground where earth station operators and service providers deliver gateway and end-user services,” Speedcast wrote to the FCC. “All C-band earth station operators and service providers must have a seat at any table where spectrum access issues that are fundamental to their business are considered.”

Speedcast said Intelsat and Intel’s proposal misses that even with satellite operators voluntarily clearing portions of C-band, in some cases that will be “infeasible due to customer obligations or operational necessity.”

“Speedcast cannot accept any process whereby one or more self-appointed C-band satellite operators negotiates spectrum access arrangements on behalf of earth station operators and service providers without their input or consent,” the company wrote.

Intelsat, Intel undeterred

Intelsat and Intel restated to the FCC in a joint filing Nov. 15 that their plan will make mid-band spectrum available for 5G much faster (one to three years) than a government-led reallocation effort (six to 18 years). The companies also note that their plan avoids the challenges associated with sharing the same spectrum simultaneously between satellite and mobile users — an idea the satellite industry says causes severe interference to satellite communications and is therefore not a feasible solution.

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Google using O3b satellites to connect Project Loon over Puerto Rico

One of Google’s Project Loon balloons floating from Nevada to Puerto Rico. Credit: Google.

WASHINGTON — Google’s experimental high-altitude balloon project is using connectivity from O3b satellites to provide emergency communications in hurricane-ravished Puerto Rico.

O3b owner SES said Oct. 23 that it is providing satellite capacity and a “rapidly deployable” O3b FastConnect terminal in order to connect Google Loons over Puerto Rico to the internet, which then beam 4G/LTE mobile connectivity to people on the ground.

The majority of Puerto Rico’s cellphone towers were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Maria, which struck the U.S. island as a Category 4 storm Sept. 20. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission tallied 95.2 percent of cell sites across the island were knocked out by the storm.

Google received permission from the FCC on Oct. 7 for the Loon trial run. At the time, 81.9 percent of cell towers on the island were still offline. The FCC’s most recent status report, released Oct. 22, said 66.6 percent of cell sites remain down.

In an interview with SpaceNews Oct. 23, SES Networks CEO Steve Collar said Puerto Rico is the satellite operator’s second time working with Google Loon, the first being in March following flooding in Peru.

“Our target as SES Networks is to have somewhere between half a gig[abit per second link] and a gig[-abit per second link] of connectivity available anywhere in the world within 24 to 48 hours,” he said.

Alastair Westgarth, head of Project Loon, wrote in an Oct. 20 blog post that Loon is working with AT&T to enable texting and internet access in Puerto Rico.

“We’ve never deployed Project Loon connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace, and we’re grateful for the support of AT&T and the many other partners and organizations that have made this possible,” he wrote.

Collar said setting up the O3b link took slightly longer than SES Network’s stated goal because of the complexity of the disaster response and the uniqueness of pairing satellite with Google Loon.

Along with SES Networks, local telco Liberty Cablevision also assisted in establishing the ground infrastructure for Loon, Westgarth wrote.

Emergency response officials continue to use satellite communications directly in Puerto Rico and the Gulf of Mexico to support relief efforts. Fleet operator Intelsat said Oct. 23 it is donating satellite connectivity through three Kymeta-equipped vehicles with Liberty Global Puerto Rico for the next eight weeks. The FCC says satellite-connected trucks are providing communications services in 11 counties across the island, including Arecibo, home of the Arecibo radio telescope.

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SpaceX launches third pre-flown rocket with EchoStar-SES satellite, lands booster

A pre-flown Falcon 9 launches EchoStar-105/SES-11 from Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 11. Credit: SpaceX video still

WASHINGTON — SpaceX completed its third launch with a previously used first stage booster Oct. 11, carrying a geostationary satellite for customers EchoStar and SES.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 6:53 p.m. Eastern from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at the beginning of a 2-hour launch window. EchoStar-105/SES-11 separated from the rocket’s upper stage roughly 36 minutes into the mission as planned.

The Falcon 9 booster, separating from the rocket’s upper stage about 2 and a half minutes after liftoff, returned to SpaceX’s drone ship “Off Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean. The same booster first flew on a February mission to the International Space Station with a Dragon capsule.

EchoStar-105/SES-11 was originally set to launch in late 2016, but suffered a year-long delay because of SpaceX’s September 2016 Falcon 9 explosion. The satellite will cover the Americas, including Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, from the 105 degrees west orbital location.

SpaceX is now halfway toward its goal of launching up to six pre-flown first stages this year. Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer, said in March that the company would likely use as many as six pre-flown boosters in 2017 to ease pressure on rocket manufacturing for the year.

Luxembourg-based SES, which was the first customer to dare to use a pre-flown Falcon 9 later that month, said it would fly up to three such missions this year. Newcomer satellite operator Bulgaria Sat was the second, with BulgariaSat-1 in June. SES has one more satellite launching this year — a joint venture satellite with the Luxembourg government called GovSat-1 — but has not yet said if it will fly new or pre-flown. The other two pre-flown boosters will launch with the first flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy later this year

SpaceX has now launched 15 times this year and landed 18 boosters overall. The company’s previous mission was less than three days ago, launching 10 Iridium Next satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

EchoStar-105/SES-11 is a 5,200-kilogram telecommunications satellite from European manufacturer Airbus Defence and Space with 24 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders. Englewood, Colorado-based EchoStar is leasing the Ku-band payload for 10 years, branded as EchoStar-105, while SES uses the C-band payload as SES-11.

EchoStar’s half of the satellite is designed for television broadcast, government and enterprise communications. The company has the option to renew annually after the the 10-year lease has elapsed.

SES-11 is a broadcast-focused payload that replaces the 13-year old AMC-18, and is designed to support high definition and Ultra-HD television.

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