Bangladesh’s satellite starts service • Starlink autopilot sparks concern • SAS Global secures loan

by

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

TOP STORIES

Bangladesh has started commercial operations with a satellite launched last year. Bangabandhu-1, a 3,500-kilogram communications satellite from Thales Alenia Space, started broadcasting private television channels over the weekend. Bangladesh’s state-owned bank, Sonali Bank, also signed a memorandum of understanding for communications services using the satellite. Bangabandhu-1, run by the Bangladesh Communication Satellite Company, is Bangladesh’s first communications satellite. Telecom minister Mustafa Jabbar said work is underway on a second satellite, called Bangabandhu-2. [The Daily Star]

Sky and Space Global secured a $1.1 million convertible loan from Telefox, an Israeli financial provider. The cubesat constellation company said it will use the funds for working capital and to ensure more time in finalizing discussions regarding another “funding package.” Of the $1.1 million, $983,000 is available as the principal amount; the remainder is the initial interest payment and tax on that interest. As a convertible loan, SAS Global said Telefox can turn the loan amount into fully paid ordinary shares before SAS Global repays the outstanding loan amount so long as it gives the company written notice. SAS Global said in April that it needed $5.2 million to keep its constellation of 200 cubesats on track for a first launch in 2020. [SAS Global]

SpaceX’s plan to have Starlink satellites autonomously maneuver around collision risks in orbit has some experts skeptical. SpaceX says Starlink satellites will directly receive Air Force tracking data and use that to tweak their orbits when presented with the risk of a collision. Space debris experts say the probability of a collision varies on a case-by-case basis, making automation difficult. “If [you react when] someone tells you there’s a 1 in 10,000 chance that you’re going to hit, you’ll be making a lot of maneuvers,” Hugh Lewis, an engineering professor and space debris expert at the University of Southampton, said. “If you set your level at 1 in 50, you won’t be making lots of maneuvers but you’re potentially going to be hit. I think the ultimate decision should have a human being involved in it.” [ IEEE Spectrum]

MORE STORIES

The U.S. Defense Department signed another month-long extension to an Iridium contract, providing more time to hammer out a firm multi-year deal. Iridium says it still expects to sign a new five-year contract more lucrative than the $400 million  contract that expired in October. Iridium and the Defense Information Systems Agency have used short-term extensions since then to continue the Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services contract, which provides unlimited voice and data services to the Defense Department. Iridium’s latest extension is worth $8.45 million. The company said a long-term agreement is expected before this latest extension ends. [Iridium]

Eight companies, including three satellite operators, received NASA funding to study space communications systems that would support the agency’s near-Earth missions. NASA divided $4 million between eight five-month study contracts focused on ways to evolve the agency’s communications system into an “interoperable, extensible space communications and navigation network.” Eutelsat Americas, Intelsat General and SpaceX each received study contracts, as did satellite manufacturers Northrop Grumman, Maxar Technologies and Boeing. Ground segment providers Atlas Space Operations and General Dynamics Mission Systems also received study contracts. NASA said the studies cover relay satellites, ground systems and other technologies that could support NASA exploration on and around the moon. [NASA]

United Launch Alliance has completed the critical design review (CDR) for its Vulcan Centaur rocket. The final system-level CDR, a weeklong detailed review of the vehicle, is the last review of the overall design of the rocket that is scheduled to make its first launch in 2021. While much of the attention the rocket has received was devoted to the choice of its main engines, the company notes that many other components of the rocket have, or will soon gain, flight experience on the existing Atlas 5. [ULA]

Tethers Unlimited has plans to develop a satellite servicing vehicle for low Earth orbit satellites. The company says it already has many of the technologies needed for the LEO Knight servicer either completed or in development under Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants. That servicer could be in orbit in three to four years to refuel small satellites or deorbit dead ones. The company didn’t disclose how much the project would cost or how it would be funded. [SpaceNews]

Australia’s NBN Co. will begin offering higher speed satellite internet in July after customer trials that start this month, according to one of its retail service providers. Broadband provider SkyMesh said the Sky Muster Plus service will allow “unmetered” connections for services such as email, basic web browsing and certain software updates. Bandwidth-intensive services like video streaming will remain metered. Sky Muster Plus will also have the ability to surge above 25 megabits per second, the company said. [itNews/SkyMesh]

EchoStar is selling its broadcast satellite services business to Dish Networks for $800 million to focus on internet connectivity. The sale, announced Monday, includes nine satellites as well as properties and personnel that operate those satellites. Roughly 90 percent of EchoStar’s broadcast satellite services revenue comes from Dish contracts, but that revenue fell nearly 10 percent last year with few opportunities for future growth. EchoStar President and CEO Mike Dugan said the sale allows the company to devote its attention to broadband internet services with its other satellites and the upcoming Jupiter-3 satellite, which will offer 500 gigabits per second of capacity for internet connectivity. [SpaceNews]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.