Intelsat, SES to participate in FCC’s $9.7B C-band program • OneWeb says it wants 48,000 satellites

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Intelsat and SES formally notified the U.S. Federal Communications Commission May 26 that they will participate in the agency’s $9.7 billion accelerated C-band spectrum clearing program. The satellite operators estimate they will each need to spend $1.6 billion on new satellites, launches and ground infrastructure to clear 300 megahertz of spectrum by December 2023. The FCC is requiring companies that bid for C-band spectrum in its publicly run auction to reimburse satellite operator relocation costs. The $9.7 billion accelerated clearing program provides additional funds to incentivize satellite operators to move out of the spectrum two years faster. Intelsat is eligible to receive $4.86 billion of the accelerated clearing funds, and SES $3.97 billion. The FCC required both operators to participate before commencing the accelerated clearing program, which offers smaller amounts to Eutelsat, Telesat and Embratel Star One. The FCC’s deadline for all operators to say if they will participate is May 29. [Intelsat/SES]

OneWeb told the FCC May 26 that it wants to increase its constellation size to 48,000 satellites despite having filed for bankruptcy over an inability to fund a smaller broadband megaconstellation. OneWeb is authorized for a constellation of 720 satellites, but declared bankruptcy in March after launching just 74 satellites. The British company said a 48,000-satellite constellation will “allow for greater flexibility to meet soaring global connectivity demands.” OneWeb said it has received “considerable interest from parties worldwide,” in its effort to sell its spectrum assets. [OneWeb]

The U.K.’s Ministry of Defence is expected to start a competition in early June for the ground segment of its Skynet geostationary satellite network. Four bidders are expected to compete for the ground segment contract, which could see Airbus replaced in August 2022 when the company’s current contract expires. The MoD required contenders sign nondisclosure agreements, but the “Athena” team comprised of Inmarsat, Serco, and the U.K. divisions of CGI and Lockheed Martin announced its intent to compete for the contract last year before the nondisclosures were implemented. The space segment of Skynet has been hampered by delays. Airbus and the MoD have yet to finalize a contract for the Skynet-6A satellite, for which Airbus was named the preferred contractor in 2017. Skynet-6A is intended to serve as a transitional satellite between the aging Skynet-5 fleet and the future Skynet-6 satellites. [C4ISRNet]

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The Spanish division of Thales Alenia Space is leading a team of companies in designing all-European satellite chipsets. Under the three-year Programmable Mixed Signal Electronics, or PROMISE, program, Thales Alenia Space and the small businesses Menta of France and Integrated Systems Development of Greece will work with European research institutions to create Application-Specific Integrated Circuits. PROMISE is a 2.9 million-euro ($3.2 million) program organized by the European Commission. Thales Alenia Space said Europe’s aerospace industry often depends on chipsets from the U.S. and other countries. The EC’s PROMISE program will result in fully European-built satellites, according to Eduardo Bellido, CEO of Thales Alenia Space Spain. [Thales Alenia Space]

Shareholders in German spacecraft and rocket hardware builder OHB voted May 26 to skip an annual dividend for the first time in 16 years, citing the coronavirus pandemic. OHB said in March that it may face project delays because of the pandemic, but didn’t expect to lose revenues. In April, the company said the “effects of the Covid-19 crisis cannot yet be estimated with sufficient accuracy.” The dividend would have issued 7.5 million euros to shareholders. [OHB]

A Russian satellite operator plans to acquire four satellites to provide coverage over arctic regions. Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) wants to have the satellites in highly elliptical orbits by 2024 to provide Ku-band coverage to Russia’s Far North, a vast region beyond the reach of the state-owned satellite operator’s 10 geostationary satellites. RSCC will consider bids from Russian and international manufacturers, though most of the operator’s fleet has been domestically built. [SpaceNews]

Intelsat expects to have virtually no service interruption with the Intelsat-10-02 satellite when it starts using a second Mission Extension Vehicle. Northrop Grumman’s MEV-2 is scheduled to launch July 28 on an Ariane 5 rocket with the BSat-4b and Galaxy-30 satellites. In contrast to MEV-1, Intelsat plans to dock the MEV-2 servicer directly with Intelsat-10-02 in the geosynchronous arc. Rhys Morgan, Intelsat’s regional vice president for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa sales, said Intelsat anticipates “no interruption other than some minimal switching breaks as the two spacecraft come together.” [BroadbandTVNews]

The U.S. Army signed an agreement with SpaceX to test the company’s Starlink broadband constellation. The Army and SpaceX finalized a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, earlier this month, allowing the Army to test Starlink over the next three years. CRADAs are commonly used by the military to evaluate technologies and services from the private sector before it commits to buying them. The Army will seek answers to key questions such as what ground equipment it will need to use Starlink and how much systems integration work could be required. [SpaceNews]

The U.K. Space Agency is offering 1 million pounds ($1.2 million) in new funding for organizations to make new ways to monitor objects in low Earth Orbit or to make better use of existing orbital data using artificial intelligence. Bidders will be eligible to receive up to 250,000 pounds to develop their space surveillance and tracking ideas. “Space debris is a global problem and this funding will enable UK companies to develop new methods to help tackle the issue,” said Alice Bunn, the U.K. Space Agency international director. “Growing our space surveillance and tracking capabilities will be crucial for UK space businesses to innovate safely and sustainably in the future.” [UK Space Agency]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.