FIRST UP Satcom | SmartSky raises $104M • SES picks Halliwell successor • Netflix tops satellite, cable in US

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Ground-based inflight connectivity provider SmartSky Networks raised $104 million to continue deployment of its air-to-ground network. Most of the funding, $75 million, is debt from funds managed by BlackRock and equity investments by private equity firms Tiger Infrastructure, WP Global, Platform Partners, and Meritage Investors. SmartSky has raised close to $350 million. Its network of towers across the United States is scheduled to begin commercial service later this year. [SmartSky]

SES will replace its chief technology officer Martin Halliwell with Ruy Pinto, the company’s former deputy chief technology officer and chief information officer. Halliwell, who has worked at SES since 1987, is retiring in May. He will continue as part of the company’s senior leadership team, and serve as a strategic adviser to CEO Steve Collar until his retirement. SES also announced it is promoting John Baughn, formerly executive vice president of global services at SES Networks, to the newly created position of chief services officer. Baughn’s position consolidates customer support, operational delivery, logistics and services related resources across SES’s video and data businesses. [SES]

Netflix usage surpassed satellite and cable television in the United States for the first time last year, according to a study from PwC. Using a sample group of 2,016 people in the U.S. between the ages 18 to 59 whose annual household incomes topped $40,000, PwC concluded that 67 percent of U.S. consumers subscribe to traditional pay-TV, down from 73 percent in 2017 and 77 percent in 2016. Netflix, in contrast, grew from 70 percent to 76 percent over the same time period. Despite the popularity of Netflix, only 12 percent of consumers consider it easy to find content on their preferred streaming service, according to the study. [BGR]

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France’s independent state auditor Cour des Comptes criticized the economic model for Ariane 6, saying Europe chose a cautious approach for the rocket in 2014 and risks being uncompetitive in the long term. The auditor wrote the Ariane 6 will be too costly and suffers from a dearth of government procurement compared to U.S. rivals. Public space missions should be bundled together at the European Space Agency’s ministerial meeting in November, the auditor suggested. [Bloomberg]

Satellite ground segment and payload company Satixfy has created an electronically steered antenna. The company is close to finishing a full user terminal that supports the antennas with Satixfy modems. Satixfy said the antennas can manage multiple satellite beams simultaneously, and can null sources of interference to reduce their impact. A demonstration using a moving car is “weeks away,” Satixfy CEO Yoel Gat said. [Satixfy]

Flat panel antennas, like those Satixfy is making, are expected to generate $11 billion in sales by 2028. Northern Sky Research projects that the vast majority of flat panel antenna revenues will come from mobility markets, with aviation as the biggest driver. Constellations of satellites in low and medium Earth orbit have accelerated industry interest in flat panel antennas, NSR said. Most flat panel antennas can link with two or more satellites simultaneously — an important feature for satellites that are constantly moving relative to the ground. By NSR’s count, 23 antenna manufacturers are developing flat panel antennas. [NSR]

Arianespace kicked off its 2019 launch campaign Tuesday with the successful launch of two communications satellites on an Ariane 5. The rocket lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana, at 4:01 p.m. Eastern and delivered the Saudi Geostationary Satellite-1/Hellas Sat-4 and GSAT-31 communications satellites to geostationary transfer orbits. SaudiGeoSat-1/Hellas Sat-4, built by Lockheed Martin for King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology and Hellas Sat, is the first commercial satellite to use the company’s modernized LM2100 platform. GSAT-31 was built by the Indian space agency ISRO to replace the Insat-4CR satellite. Arianespace anticipates launching at least 12 times this year, of which five missions are Ariane 5 launches with two satellites each. [SpaceNews]

A new European rocket engine has passed a key early review. ArianeGroup says that the Prometheus engine completed a two-month definition review Feb. 1 in cooperation with ESA, the French space agency CNES and the German space agency DLR. That review confirmed the design of the low-cost liquid oxygen and methane engine that is potentially reusable. Production of two demonstration models of the engine is scheduled to begin in the first half of this year for tests in 2020. [ArianeGroup]

Telesat plans to hire more than 100 people as it develops its LEO broadband constellation. The Canadian company currently has about 250 employees at its Ottawa headquarters, but is hiring to carry out the research and development needed for its constellation. Dan Goldberg, president and CEO of Telesat, said he expected other local companies to also benefit from the system’s development. [CBC]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.