German launch startups win DLR funds • Comtech wants out of Gilat merger • ClearSpace forming debris removal team

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Three German companies have received 500,000-euro ($571,000) awards from the German space agency DLR as part of a competition to foster small launch vehicles. Startups Isar Aerospace and HyImpulse Technologies, alongside OHB company Rocket Factory Augsburg will use the funds to further develop their launch vehicles ahead of a follow-on competition in the spring of 2021. DLR, the European Space Agency and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, are supporting the microlauncher competition, which aims to provide 25 million euros to German startups developing vehicles for commercial launch services. The competition calls for two demonstration flights in the 2022 to 2023 time frame. [DLR]

Comtech Telecommunications seeks to call off its merger with Gilat. Comtech told a Delaware court July 7 that Gilat’s exposure to the in-flight connectivity market, a sector hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has significantly reduced the company’s value since the merger was announced in January. Gilat blamed Comtech’s about-face on the company’s “own rapidly deteriorating performance” and said it would seek hundreds of millions of dollars in damages if the merger falls through. [Via Satellite]

Swiss startup ClearSpace is finalizing the team that will build its debris removal spacecraft. The company has selected 20 partners for the European Space Agency program, which calls for launching the spacecraft in 2025 to deorbit a leftover Vega rocket structure. The ClearSpace-1 team has until March 2021 to finish designing the spacecraft. ClearSpace has grown its own head count from five people last year to 20, and has partners across eight European countries. Microsoft is also supporting ClearSpace through its Global Social Entrepreneurship program, an initiative that provides grants, connections and tech support to startups. [EPFL]

MORE STORIES

Spaceflight will fly a next-generation Sherpa orbital transfer vehicle on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to launch no earlier than December. The vehicle, called Sherpa-FX, will carry 16 customer spacecraft plus hosted payloads. Sherpa-FX is an evolution of an earlier platform used in December 2018 to launch 64 smallsats on a Falcon 9. The upgraded dispenser is capable of multiple deployments, and will carry telemetry payloads to track satellites once deployed into orbit. Customers for the flight include Astrocast, Loft Orbital, HawkEye 360, iQPS, NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology program, and the University of South Florida Institute of Applied Engineering. Sherpa-FX is the first in a series of next-generation orbital transfer vehicles Spaceflight is developing. [Spaceflight]

The chairman of the FCC says he’s prepared to approve Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite constellation. Ajit Pai said Friday that he’s shared with his fellow commissioners a proposed approval of Kuiper with unspecified conditions. Project Kuiper involves more than 3,000 low Earth orbit satellites that will provide broadband internet access. The FCC is scheduled to hold an open commission meeting Thursday, although Kuiper is not on the agenda released last week for that meeting. [GeekWire]

The coronavirus pandemic will leave the aviation sector sick for about three years, according to an industry poll by Inmarsat and the Airline Passenger Experience Association. Aviation experts believe domestic markets will recover more quickly, with international travel limited by border restrictions. Close to 70% of participants said they expect business travel to return faster than leisure trips. The downturn in air travel has impacted the revenue of satellite operators like Inmarsat who provide Wi-Fi to aircraft. According to the study, 45% of respondents believe the pandemic will cause a short-term reduction in passenger experience investments (such as Wi-Fi), while 32% believe there will be an overall increase in investment. [Inmarsat]

OneWeb received permission from a bankruptcy court to make payments that will allow satellite production to resume. OneWeb told the court that making prepayments to OneWeb Satellites will allow it to “preserve its supply chain and resume constructing the satellites, as envisioned and required” under the terms of OneWeb’s acquisition by a venture led by the British government and Bharti Global. OneWeb Satellites is a joint venture of OneWeb and Airbus, and opened a factory in Florida last year for producing OneWeb’s satellite constellation. However, it’s unclear the extent of manufacturing that will stay in Florida given the British government’s desire to see the U.K. play a more meaningful role in building the constellation. [SpaceNews]

Italian startup Leaf Space and British aerospace company Smallspark Space Systems announced a partnership July 15 to provide ground station services to the U.K. government and private sector. The companies plan to pitch their services to the U.K. government to help restart OneWeb, a megaconstellation company that the British government and Bharti Global purchased out of bankruptcy earlier this month. Leaf Space operates a network of ground stations for communications links to smallsats. Smallspark Space Systems is a startup designing aerostructures and launch vehicles. [Leaf Space]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.