space

Eutelsat, freed by Paris court ruling, pays Russia’s RSCC long-due $424 million

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat has paid its Russian counterpart, Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RCSS) a long-overdue bill of more than 400 million euros ($424 million) despite an ongoing legal battle between the Russian government and the shareholders of the former Yukos oil company.

The payment followed a ruling by the Paris Court of Appeal concluding that RSCC should not be considered an arm of the Russian government and thus liable for the government’s debts.

Moscow-based RSCC and Eutelsat confirmed on Nov. 24 confirmed that the payment had been made, ending an uncomfortable chapter in the the fleet operators’ dealings. The Eutelsat and RSCC satellite fleets have overlapping coverage and the two companies have used each other’s capacity on occasion.

The former Yukos shareholders are continuing to battle in French courts for the right to seize payments by French companies to Russian government entities following an international arbitration body’s 2014 decision saying the Russian government illegally appropriated the Yukos assets and dissolved the company.

Among the Yukos shareholders left holding worthless Yukos equity were Hulley Enterprises Ltd. of Cyprus, which has devoted considerable energy to use French law to claw back some of the funds.

Still unresolved: Arianespace’s debt to Roscosmos for Soyuz rockets

The Nov. 23 Paris Appeals Court ruling has no effect on a parallel appeal dealing with around 300 million euros that launch service provider Arianespace, of Evry, France, owes to the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.

Roscosmos is Arianespace’s counterparty to the contract under which Russian companies provide medium-lift Russian Soyuz rockets for use by Arianespace from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana.

The Russian government on Oct. 21 sent formal warning to the French government that it wanted a resolution of the Roscosmos payment by March 2017 or it would take France to court for violation of a 1989 bilateral treaty. The warning included references to unspecified other Euro-Russian space projects, suggesting that these might suffer if the legal stalemate continued past March.

The letter, sent to the French prime minister’s office, said Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing network, now being assembled in space thanks to the Europeanized Soyuz vehicle, is an example of Russia’s assistance to Europe.

Hulley Enterprises had grouped together more than a dozen Russian entities, including RSCC and Roscosmos, arguing that for all intents and purposes they are part of the Russian government. As such they are legitimate targets for collection of Russian government debt.

RSCC countered that it operates its business as a private-sector company and does not distribute its cash to the government or seek government aid to pay the company’s debts.

An earlier Paris court had agreed with the RSCC argument but its judgment had come with an order that no money be disbursed until a further court ruling. The Nov. 23 decision by the Paris Court of Appeal included no such payment-suspension order, and Eutelsat apparently transferred the money the same day.

“The positive ruling was achieved thanks to professional efforts of RSCC specialists and French lawyers acting on behalf of RSCC,” RSCC said in a …read more

“Standards and norms” needed in space, Pentagon experts say

Winston Beauchamp, the deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space, talks with SpaceNews about the issues the Defense Department is studying this summer as part of the Space Portfolio Review, what the Pentagon has learned from a new joint space operations center with the intelligence community and the role of hosted payloads. Credit: SpaceNews video still

WASHINGTON — The international community needs to establish expected patterns of behavior in space, despite ongoing worldwide political tension, top Pentagon space experts said.

“There is an erosion of some of the commonly accepted standards and norms, and there’s concern about that as folks around the world have tried to find advantage, find seams,” said Winston Beauchamp, the deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space. “That’s part of the reason why we want to codify our norms and behavior in space because it is such an important domain, not just for us but for humanity.”

Speaking at a Nov. 17 summit hosted by the Defense One website, Beauchamp said that the danger of collision and debris in orbit means that nations must work together to avoid those risks, even if they have somewhat tense relations – such as between the U.S. and Russia or U.S. and China.

“We need to be able to operate in space both to advance our state of technology and eventually get the human race off this planet onto another planet,” he said. “We can’t do that if we have to try to fly through a shell of debris.”

Rear Adm. Brian Brown, head of the Navy Space Cadre, said that norms often develop overtime, and that the U.S. is leading on developing them.

“Much like the maritime laws that we have, they established over time by safe and responsible behaviors and patterns of life,” he said. “That is something we are pushing for in a lot of different areas, so we don’t have miscalculations in space.”

Because of the long-lasting effects that could come from destroyed satellites and the resulting debris, the U.S. military is taking a defensive mindset, said Brown, the deputy commander for the Joint Functional Component Command for Space at U.S. Strategic Command.

“Everything is about not having a war extend to space,” he said.

Even in peacetime, to avoid collisions the U.S. is warning satellite companies and other nations when there’s a risk of collision, Brown said.

“There are norms and behaviors that are already out there that the U.S. is leading on,” he said. “If you look at basic safety of flight things that we do today, there are specific standards for low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit where we provide conjunction warnings if two satellites ,or a satellite and a piece of debris, come within proximity.”

Were another nation to attack U.S. assets in space, Beauchamp said the Pentagon wouldn’t automatically respond in kind.

“It’s important to note that if something were to happen in space, our response wouldn’t necessarily be in space,” he said. “If someone were to do something, we would respond in a time and place of our choosing, primarily because we wouldn’t expect something to happen in space in isolation. It would be an extension of some conflict that would be occurring terrestrially.”

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Bigelow calls on Trump to sharply increase NASA spending

Robert Bigelow, founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace, apparently had second thoughts about his first tweet. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

HOUSTON — Space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow said Nov. 17 that he believes that the Trump administration should as much as double NASA’s budget in the coming years and make plans for a human return to the moon.

Bigelow, the founder of commercial space habitat developer Bigelow Aerospace, argued in a speech at the Spacecom conference here Nov. 17 that such a dramatic, and arguably long-shot, increase in NASA funding was essential to the future of both the agency’s exploration efforts and business plans of commercial ventures, as well as affordable to the nation.

“I propose that NASA should have, beginning in fiscal year 2019, an annual budget equal to at least one percent of total yearly federal spending,” Bigelow said. The Obama administration, in its fiscal year 2017 budget proposal, requested $19 billion for NASA, less than half a percent of the overall request of more than $4 trillion.

Part of the reason for the additional funding, he said, is to deal with inefficiencies with some of NASA’s programs. “It is no surprise that NASA needs a greater allowance just to offset the politics, much less what’s needed to really get going,” he said.

The increase would also be used to support more ambitious space exploration efforts by NASA, such as lunar exploration. “The new White House needs to make a real commitment to this nation’s space future,” he said, specifically citing lunar bases and industrial activity. “The reason I’m focusing on the moon is because the business case for the moon is potentially substantial compared to the business case for Mars, and the financial requirements are of no comparison.”

Bigelow said he believed the nation could afford that jump in NASA’s budget because he expects economic growth in the country overall to increase significantly after Trump takes office, although he did not elaborate on how he reached that conclusion. “With this increase, the United States can easily afford NASA’s one percent, and even more,” he said.

In comments after his talk, he said he hadn’t been in direct discussions with anyone on the Trump transition team about his proposal. He was also optimistic that the next administration could increase NASA’s budget despite dealing with competing priorities, such as infrastructure redevelopment. “If you have a growing economy, it lifts all boats,” he said.

Bigelow’s support of Trump — he called Trump’s election an early Christmas present for the country and for NASA — is not surprising. In January, Bigelow joined the social network Twitter and immediately expressed his support for Trump. “What this country needs is an inspirational space program. I’ll bet @realDonaldTrump could do it,” he tweeted.

Bigelow was not the only person at the conference to support significantly increasing NASA’s budget. “NASA receives a pittance of the federal budget,” said Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), chairman of the House space subcommittee, in remarks delivered by video at the conference Nov. 15.

Babin, though, was not optimistic about a doubling or any other large increase for the agency. “As much as I would be thrilled to see NASA’s budget …read more

Loverro: U.S. government needs to rethink how it works with private space ventures

The U.S. government should overhaul regulations for space operations in order to attract more investment from the private sector, a panel of experts said Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (L to R) Todd Harrison, CSIS senior fellow; Doug Loverro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy; Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University; Dawn Harms, vice president, Boeing Satellite Systems International; Marcy Steinke, vice president, Digital Globe; and Richard Leshner, vice president, Planet Labs. Credit: C-SPAN

WASHINGTON — The next big change in space operations could be the paperwork.

The U.S. government needs to reform and rethink its policies about working with private companies, in order to make the opportunities more agile and enticing for businesses, a panel of military and civilian experts said Monday.

“How will we make sure regulation doesn’t disadvantage either our companies or our activities?” said Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. “I think that’s a key question. I don’t believe anybody knows the answer to that question.”

The panel on military-commercial relations in space was hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a kick-off to the think tank’s new Aerospace Security Project to study air and space issues more closely.

The regulatory framework of the nation’s space business has lagged behind rapid developments in the field, Loverro said. Some areas, like remote sensing, are stuck with outdated rules that require “regulatory reform, regulatory relaxation,” while other activities such as space traffic management “don’t have any regulation to date.”

Richard Leshner, vice president at Planet, a satellite-imaging company, said the commercial space industry is now “a partner leg” in space operations “in a way that’s more than just being the industrial contractor base.”

“Industry’s doing things differently and quickly,” he said. “Government, military, civil, needs to find a way to do rapid demonstrations and get data and information about what capabilities can bring.”

The government needs to “find ways to engage with industry through demonstrations, experiments, data buys, and figuring it out in real time, and then integrating that into the planning now so that your future architectures are integrated as well,” Leshner said.

Planet holds a $20 million contract with the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to supply imagery from the constellation of small satellites the company is deploying.

While there’s been an effort to make regulations less cumbersome to businesses, some of the rules are still being enforced as if the U.S. government is the only operator in orbit, said Marcy Steinke, vice president at Digital Globe, a satellite-imaging company that received roughly half of its first quarter revenue from a long-standing NGA contract.

“Some of the things they’re looking at is the regulatory oversight, which probably — when it was set up 20-plus years ago — made sense when every satellite was a classified government satellite,” she said. “But now that the world is different, we need to look at what do they really need to oversee and what can we let go. I hope that 2017 is the year where the answer comes; there’s a lot that can be let go.”

Steinke said her company has heard from several clients who have described the U.S. licensing and regulatory process as “restrictive.”

“The concern with the slowness of it is that that slow and cumbersome process just pushes customers to international competitors,” she said.

The current constrained fiscal environment might force the government and military to take a second-look at partnerships with commercial space vendors, said Scott Pace, the director of George Washington University’s Space …read more

Orbital, Airbus team to build Eutelsat satellite to launch with Orbital satellite-servicing mission

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PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on Oct. 11 said it had inaugurated its design-to-cost spending-reduction plan by ordering a direct-broadcast television satellite from Orbital ATK of the United States and Airbus Defence and Space of Europe.

In another cost-reduction measure, the satellite, Eutelsat 5 West B — benefiting from Orbital’s smaller platform size — will be launched in 2018 as a co-passenger aboard an International Launch Services Proton Breeze-M rocket.

Riding to geostationary transfer orbit with the Eutelsat satellite will be Orbital’s precedent-setting satellite in-orbit serving Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1, which uses the same GEOStar-based platform as Orbital’s telecommunications satellites.

Stacking the savings on a single Proton

Stacking two GEOStar-derived platforms on top of each other, without an adaptor between them, saves weight and will allow Eutelsat — and Orbital, for the MEV-1 — to save on launch costs.

Fleet operator Intelsat is Orbital’s inaugural customer for MEV-1, which will perform a test mission with Intelsat before moving on to its operational scenario of docking with a satellite, assuming control of its propulsion and attitude control, and providing fuel to extend its service life.

MEV-1 then undocks and is available to perform similar mission-extension missions on several satellites. Like the satellites themselves, MEV-1 has an estimated 15-year service life.

Satellite insurers are taking a cautiously optimistic view of MEV-1 and similar satellite in-orbit servicing initiatives. They have said MEV-1 customers likely will be forced to sign amended, higher-premium insurance policies, which usually provide for annual coverage of healthy satellites in orbit, to reflect the higher risk associated with servicing missions.

Eutelsat 5 West B will replace the Eutelsat 5 West A satellite at 5 degrees west longitude. It will carry the equivalent of 35 36-megahertz Ku-band transponders to deliver direct-to-home television to audiences located mainly in France, Italy and Algeria.

Eutelsat 5A, which also carries a C-band payload, was launched in mid-2002 and is nearing retirement.

Eutelsat’s revenue and profit warning in May had a chilling effect on the entire fixed satellite services industry. The company said the market reaction was overblown and that growth would return within three years.

Nonetheless, Eutelsat announced a broad cost-cutting program that included a 16 percent reduction — to 420 million euros ($470 million) per year for the coming three years from the earlier 500 million euros — in annual capital spending for three years.

The company said it would be pressuring its supply chain, notably satellite builders and launch-service providers, to minimize the effects of the lower spending on new capacity to be placed into orbit.

Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital’s GEOStar platform occupies the lighter end of the commercial geostationary-orbit satellite market. Airbus said the Eutelsat 5 West B would have a launch mass of about 3,000 kilograms and would generate 5 kilowatts of power to the payload at the end of its 15-year life.

Eutelsat Chief Technology Officer Yohann Leroy said the idea to marry an Airbus payload with an Orbital-built platform emerged as the natural consequence of Eutelsat’s bid request, whose power specifications were below what Airbus usually provides to customers.

Other companies besides …read more

Blue Origin to follow suborbital New Shepard with orbital New Glenn

Blue Origin founder tweeted out this infographic showing how its planned New Glenn rocket family stacks up against other rockets. Credit: Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos announced Sept. 12 via Twitter that Blue Origin plans to build a family of orbital rockets it’s calling New Glenn.

Both the two-stage and three-stage versions of the rocket would stand taller than the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy and SpaceX Falcon Heavy, according to the infographic the Blue Origin and Amazon.com founder tweeted.

Blue Origin’s next step…meet New Glenn #NewGlenn #GradatimFerociter pic.twitter.com/p4gICKZRfi

— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) September 12, 2016

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