FIRST UP Satcom | BridgeSat, Sitael joint forces on lasercomm; Orbcomm enters China; UK, Singapore plan quantum cubesat

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TOP STORIES

Italian small satellite builder Sitael and American laser communications startup BridgeSat announced plans to form a joint venture in the European Union. The joint venture would expand BridgeSat’s presence in Europe and position the two companies for work on European space missions. Sitael will also spearhead a new optical ground station, handling location selection, operations, and maintenance. BridgeSat is developing a network of 10 laser-equipped ground stations around the world, with the first located in California. [Sitael]

Harris Corporation plans to work with Blue Origin on satellite antennas optimized for the New Glenn rocket. Harris said it has developed a larger version of its fixed satellite antennas, about five meters in diameter, that will be able to fit inside the seven-meter payload fairing of the New Glenn rocket. Those antennas would be able to provide cost savings over deployable antennas needed for rockets with smaller payload fairings. [Florida Today]

An Orbcomm partner in China has gained government approval to use the operator’s low-Earth-orbit constellation for satellite services in the country. Orbcomm said the partner, Asia Pacific Navigation Telecommunications Satellite, will help provide service in China. Orbcomm plans to build a satellite gateway in China to support its Internet of Things products, with more gateways “in the planning stages.” [Orbcomm]

The United Kingdom and Singapore launched a $13 million project to jointly build and operate a cubesat that supports quantum encryption. The British government’s RAL Space and the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Quantum Technologies are leading the project, which aims to demonstrate highly secure communications from space. The satellite, called QKD Qubesat, will test the transmission of quantum-encrypted keys across “globe-spanning distances.” QKD Qubesat is expected to begin operations in 2021. [UK Science and Technology Facilities Council]

MORE STORIES

Telesat has joined a group of companies proposing to transfer C-band satellite spectrum in the U.S. after initially opposing the proposal. Telesat said Monday it had joined Intelsat, SES and Eutelsat in the C-Band Alliance, which seeks to be the “transition facilitator” in any decision by the FCC to transfer C-band satellite spectrum to terrestrial operators, distributing funding to cover the costs of moving affected satellite customers out of that spectrum band. Telesat said it dropped its prior opposition to the plan after the other satellite operators provided “the proper level of assurance” that its investments and customers would be fairly treated. [SpaceNews]

Satellite communications experts see opportunity to participate in 5G networks even though the speed and latency markers are more aligned to terrestrial infrastructure. New 5G base stations cover smaller areas than 4G or 3G, meaning satellite can extend their reach beyond urban areas. “The possibility for satellite 5G is to cover areas that will not be covered by terrestrial 5G,” said Thierry Lefort, the head of European satellite business for the telecom, media and technology practice at PwC’s Strategy& division. “Inherently, terrestrial 5G will never be able to reach the coverage of 4G in the next five, perhaps even 10 years.” Satellites in medium and low Earth orbit have signal latencies low enough to enable a wider range of 5G services than geostationary satellites, even if none reach the 5G target of 1-millisecond latency. [SpaceNews]

Viasat and United Launch Alliance insist that a launch contract ULA recently won was competitively selected. Viasat awarded a contract to ULA last month for the launch of a ViaSat-3 broadband satellite on an Atlas 5 between 2020 and 2022. While the companies said ULA won a competition, both Arianespace and SpaceX said they did not bid on that contract. A Viasat executive said the company’s atypical procurement process may have caused confusion: “A lot of times they may look at our discussions and may not readily think about the fact that they are in a competition, but in reality, of course they all are.” [SpaceNews]

A space startup will fund the launch of a student-built cubesat selected through a competition. Astranis said Monday that it’s partnering with NanoRacks to fund the launch of a 1U cubesat selected in a competition this academic year run by Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). The co-founders of Astranis are former SEDS members who met through the organization, and see the competition as a way of giving back to the organization while also encouraging students to consider working for their company. [SpaceNews]

Comtech said it received a U.S. Army contract worth more than $19.7 million earlier this year for satellite communications and baseband equipment. The company did not say specifically when it received the contract beyond that it occurred this quarter. Comtech announced other Army contracts earlier this year, including one worth $4 million in September and another worth $32.5 million in August, also for satcom equipment. [Comtech]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.