Satellite industry weekly news (8th July)

Amazon makes a full-scale entry into the space business

Amazon, which has long been interested in the space business, announced on June 30 that it will open a new division dedicated to the space business, Aerospace and Satellite Solutions.

The company announced a service called AWS Ground Station in 2018. By using the satellite communication antennas owned by Amazon all over the world and the data processing capability of AWS, Amazon created a service that makes it easy to send and receive data via satellite.

AWS Ground Station is already being launched by NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Lockheed Martin, Maxar Technologies, and other large private companies as well as venture companies such as Capella Space. 

Aerospace and Satellite Solutions seems to develop services based on AWS Ground Station. Former US Air Force Maj. Gen. Clint Crosier has been appointed as the leader of the division. Mr. Crosier was also involved in the launch of the Space Force, and he might open the doors to the customers in the defense industry.

In addition, the Capella Space announced that it is possible to publish images within just a few minutes using AWS Ground Station for the process from downlink to providing data to customers.

Capella Space builds 36 SAR satellite constellations and provides satellite image services. They manage a huge amount of data of 2 to 5 TB per satellite per day with AWS.

It is said that it usually takes about 24 hours from the time of shooting to the release of data, but Capella Space has been selling the speediness that it offers within a few hours after receiving a request from a customer. By further shortening the time until provision, we believe that satellite data utilization will advance even in fields that require immediacy such as defense and disaster response.

Three companies in charge of ESA Copernicus plan selected

On July 1, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced a company that will outsource the next six missions of the Earth Observation Program “Copernicus Project”.

Selected were major satellite manufacturing companies Thales Alenia Space in France and Italy, Airbus in Germany and Spain and OHB in Germany.

The total contract value is about EUR 2.5 billion. About 800 million euros will be paid to German companies. The ESA has a “participatory participation system,” in which member countries can express their participation in each project and freely decide the funding ratio.

Germany announced in the fall of 2019 that it will contribute €3.3 billion, the largest 23% of ESA’s three-year budget. “The investment is being returned to Germany in the form of a contract,” the German Aerospace Center (DLR) commented, “I am pleased that SMEs can also receive orders”.

British government and Indian telecoms bid to acquire OneWeb

The satellite communications company OneWeb, which applied for Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Law in March 2020 and was attracting attention related to possible buyout received a bid from British government and Indian telecom.

It was reported that the UK is considering using the OneWeb satellite as an alternative, as it has to withdraw from the Galileo project promoted by ESA as the part of EU withdrawal.

The British-Indian consortium is also funded by Bharti Global, a leading telecommunications company headed by Indian entrepreneur Sunil Mittal. Bloomberg reports that the UK government and Bharti Global will invest $500 million, acquiring 45% of each, with the remaining 10% held by existing shareholders. The court proceedings are expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said in a press release “I am pleased that the sale process has been completed with positive results.” “We want to return to satellite launch as soon as possible.” 

Rocket Lab rocket launch failure

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket failed to enter orbit on July 4th due to a problem during the second stage combustion.

The cause is under investigation, but in the image taken just before the first stage separation, it was confirmed that some kind of substance was leaking off the rocket.

This mission was aimed at the fastest turnaround time of the Electron series. Turnaround time is the lead time from the launch of a rocket to the launch of the next rocket. Until now, the turnaround time of the series was about 35 days, but this time the company is aiming to launch it from June 13th to about 20th, and they expect a significant increase in launch efficiency.

Launch market is at the mercy of the government

In the first half of 2020 there were 45 orbital launches, four of which were unsuccessful. At this pace, the number of launches for the entire industry this year will be 90, which is slightly lower than the 102 launches in 2019.

Most of the large launches are for the government. Even in the small rocket market, which has a concept that meets the demand of the private sector, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) was the main customer for the launches of Rocket Lab.

Even SpaceX, which is most aggressively launching, 7 out of 10 Falcon 9 launches are for its StarLink satellites, and the most recent StarLink mission, June 13, Planet No revenue from the launch has been earned, except for a small amount of revenue from launching three company payloads. The other three launches were for the US government.

At first glance, it seems easy to cultivate private demand while securing stable government demand, but it does not seem to be so. The US government has overturned a non-competitive contract company on a mission for government customers over the next 24 months, announced on June 16. The reason is that it has received widespread criticism of the uncertainty of company selection. Six small-scale launch companies, including Rocket Lab, were selected for this contract, and they have created an environment where they can take on challenges in anticipation of stable demand.

Private demand is decreasing and bottoming out

Private demand is definitely decreasing compared to last year. The launch of small rockets in the first half of 2020 was as low as two, and sales of satellite operation services decreased.

The decline in private demand, of course, can be attributed to the impact of the coronavirus, but there seems to be also other reasons.

The underlying cause of the decrease in private demand is the communication satellite, which has been supporting private demand for some time. Due to the development of constellations and terrestrial communication networks, orders for geostationary orbiting communication satellites have dropped dramatically over the last few years. As a result, the demand for satellite launch itself has dropped considerably.