Discarded Atlas 5 upper stage breaks up in orbit • Viasat, China Satcom partner on IFC • Hughes signs Jupiter-3 customer

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Deimos Atlas 5 debris
Ground-based telescopes in Spain identified 40 to 60 pieces of debris after the Atlas 5 rocket stage fragmented. Credit: Deimos Sky Survey

The upper stage of an Atlas 5 rocket left in space broke apart nearly 10 years after launching. Ground-based observatories in Switzerland and Spain spotted debris from the event, with the Spanish Deimos Sky Survey observatory identifying 40 to 60 fragments bigger than 30 centimeters. Objects in orbit that break up or collide with each other are top causes of space debris. The reason for the Atlas 5 upper stage break up, believed to have occurred between March 23 and March 25, is not yet known. [Inside Outer Space]

Viasat has formed a partnership with China Satcom to provide Wi-Fi to aircraft in China. The partnership includes a roaming agreement whereby Viasat customers can stay connected in China through China Satcom, and Chinese airlines can roam onto Viasat’s service outside of the country. China Satcom has one Ka-band satellite, ChinaSat-16, in orbit, and a second, ChinaSat-18, launching later this year. Viasat said it will provide in-flight connectivity equipment to airlines optimized for China Satcom’s network. Though focused on aviation, Viasat said the partnership could expand to other markets in China. [Viasat]

A Canadian internet service provider has committed to use capacity on Hughes’ upcoming Jupiter-3 satellite for the lifetime of the spacecraft. Xplornet, already a customer of Hughes and Viasat, signed a contract worth more than $250 million spread out over 15 years for 50 gigabits per second of capacity, plus gateway infrastructure, consumer terminals and operational and support services. Maxar Technologies is building Jupiter-3 (also known as EchoStar-24), which is projected to have more than 500 gigabits per second of total capacity when it launches in 2021. [EchoStar]

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Iridium is close to finalizing a new contract with the Defense Department for use of the company’s satellite constellation. Iridium CEO Matt Desch said April 23 that the company expects to finalize a multiyear renewal of its Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services contract with the Defense Department in the next 30 days. That contract provides unlimited voice and data services to military users. A five-year contract signed in 2013 was valued at $400 million, and the company has agreed to two short-term extensions since then while negotiating a long-term deal. Desch said he expects increased revenues from the new deal. [SpaceNews]

Airbus Defence and Space has appointed a new executive vice president for its Space Systems division to succeed Nicolas Chamussy. Effective June 1, Jean-Marc Nasr will lead the division. Nasr is currently Airbus Defence and Space’s Asia Pacific head of region. He will be replaced by Johan Pelissier, who is currently head of South East Asia for Airbus Defence and Space. Chamussy will stay within Airbus, though his new role has not been announced. [Airbus]

Asia-Pacific satellite startup Kacific says its first satellite is on track to start service this year. Kacific is sharing a satellite platform with Japanese operator Sky Perfect JSAT. Boeing is building the satellite for both operators. Kacific said Kacific-1 is 75 percent through module-level testing, and will soon enter its final phase of construction, followed by vibration and acoustic tests. SpaceX is scheduled to launch the Kacific-1/JCSat-18 satellite later this year on a Falcon 9 rocket. [Kacific]

Clyde Space will build and operate two cubesats equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS) receivers for Orbcomm. Under the $5.9 million contract announced this month, Clyde Space will build and launch the cubesats in 2020 and provide the AIS data they collect to Orbcomm under an exclusive license. The deal is a major step in the strategy of Clyde Space’s parent company, ÅAC Microtec, to expand its business by both building and operating spacecraft for customers. Orbcomm says the satellites will enhance the AIS service it currently provides with its own satellites. Clyde Space also won a separate contract from Polish space industry startup KP Labs to provide a satellite platform and launch for the Intuition-1 hyperspectral imaging cubesat, scheduled for launch in 2023. [SpaceNews]

The second satellite in the European Data Relay System is tracking for a summertime Ariane 5 launch after completing antenna testing in Ottobrunn, Germany. The testing confirmed the EDRS-C satellite, under construction by OHB System AG, and its Hylas-3 hosted payload worked nominally and didn’t cause interference with each other. The EDRS program is a public-private partnership between the European Space Agency and Airbus Defence and Space to use spacecraft in geostationary orbit as relay nodes for satellites below them in low Earth orbit. The first node, EDRS-A, launched in 2016 on the Eutelsat-9B satellite. EDRS-C, equipped with Avanti Communications’ Hylas-3 payload, was initially expected to launch in 2015, but ran into manufacturing delays. [ESA]

Relativity has won a contract to launch a small satellite for a Thai company.Relativity said it signed a contract with startup mu Space to launch a low Earth orbit satellite on its Terran 1 rocket in 2022. Neither the terms of the deal nor the mission of the mu Space satellite were disclosed. The contract is the second announced by Relativity, which said earlier this month it received a multi-launch order from Telesat to support that company’s broadband LEO constellation. [SpaceNews]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.