Tag Archives: communications satellites

NASA considering purchase of communications services

Capitalism in space: Rather than build its own communications satellites, as it has done in the past, NASA is now considering purchasing these services from private communications satellite companies.

NASA had been studying a next-generation communications system that would ultimately replace the current generation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) spacecraft in Earth orbit, as well as support missions beyond Earth orbit. That included the possibility of partnerships with the private sector.

“Past networks have been expensive to operate and maintain because they were designed to only serve government customers, which has limited their ability to leverage commercial partnerships,” the agency said in its fiscal year 2019 budget proposal released in February. “The next generation project will engage with commercial industry through mechanisms such as services contracts, hosted payloads, and other public-private-partnerships to allow multiple commercial entities to partner with the Government in order to significantly reduce and eventually eliminate reliance on NASA or NASA contractor run ground systems.”

In a paper presented last year by several NASA officials at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, the agency said working with both commercial and international partners would be among the elements of its next-generation architecture. “Using open, commercial, and international standards will enable the use of commercial services by specifying required performance and interfaces without specifying provider-specific capabilities,” the paper stated. “Commercial entities will compete based on price, quality, timeliness, support and other factors that maintain a competitive environment.”

That desire to work with the commercial sector, along with harnessing new technologies like optical communications, was a reason cited by NASA a year ago for not exercising an option for an additional TDRS satellite under a contract NASA awarded to Boeing in 2007. The last satellite built under that contract, TDRS-M, launched in August 2017.

Using commercial communications satellites makes perfect sense. It will be faster, provide more redundancy, and will save the taxpayer a lot of money.

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Chinese company agrees to buy Israeli satellite company

Wheels within wheels: A Chinese company, managed by a Luxembourg company that in turn delegates management of its satellites to an Israeli-based company, has made a deal to purchase Spacecom, a different Israeli company that operates and owns the Amos fleet of communications satellites.

Observers said the deal could meet up with opposition from regulators, including the Communications Ministry. But Pollack said the transaction would be done in accordance with Spacecom’s license terms, which require the satellites be operated from Israel and that the company remain Israeli. The sale would put Spacecom under the direct control of an Israeli-domiciled company called Big Bird, which is managed by Major General (Res.) Ami Shafran, a former head of the Israel Defense Forces communications branch. Big Bird is 100%-owned by a Luxembourg company, which in turn is owned by Beijing Xinwei.

To say this financial deal is complicated is to understate the situation. Though it appears most everyone here is probably focused on making money, if I was Israeli I would be somewhat concerned that ownership of these crucial communications satellites is now going to be outside the country.

I also note the presence of Luxembourg in this space deal, illustrating again that this small European country is very much a big player in the commercial space industry.

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Russia to build new satellite communications cluster

The competition heats up: The Putin government’s newly released draft plan for Russia’s space industry includes the development of a new communications satellite constellation.

In addition to encrypted mobile communications, the Ellips satellites will support air-traffic control and traditional fixed communications. Reflecting its dual (civilian and military) application, the Ellips project would be funded jointly by the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, and by the Russian Ministry of Defense at a price tag of 65.6 billion rubles to develop and deploy the constellation.

The article then goes on to detail at length the problems the Russian communications satellite industry has had for the past two decades, including their inability to build satellites that will last in orbit as long as their competitors.

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The satellite communications company Intelsat has backed out of a deal to have a robot refuel some of itsr orbiting satellites.

Bad news: The satellite communications company Intelsat has backed out of a deal to have a robot refuel some of its orbiting satellites.

Apparently Intelsat would rather rake in the cash by launching new satellites rather than take a risk at a new technology that could save its customers a lot of money.

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Intelsat signs MDA to perform in-space refueling of its communications satellites

Intelsat signs MDA to perform in-space refueling of its communications satellites.

The concept of refueling geosynchronous satellites has been lurking about the aerospace industry for years. According to this deal, we should see an actual mission in about five years.

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