SES to work with NorthStar on space situational awareness

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WASHINGTON — Satellite operator SES announced March 31 it is working with Canadian startup NorthStar Earth & Space on developing space situational awareness (SSA) data products to support its fleet of communications satellites.

The companies announced a partnership that will use data collected by NorthStar’s future fleet of spacecraft that will track objects from low Earth orbit to geostationary orbit. The companies will work together to develop SSA products “tailored to benefit SES’s satellite operations and fleet management,” they said in a statement.

SES operates more than 70 satellites, primarily large GEO communications satellites. It also operates the O3b fleet of satellites in medium Earth orbit, which will be augmented by up to 11 mPOWER satellites that will be launched starting later this year.

NorthStar has yet to launch any satellites that will collect SSA data. The startup originally had a contract with Thales Alenia Space for a series of satellites called Skylarks, but announced March 16 that it had an agreement with Spire to launch three 12-unit cubesats in 2023 with SSA sensors. Those satellites will be operated for NorthStar by Spire as part of its “space-as-a-service” business model.

Both companies said the partnership was an important element of their commitments to space sustainability. NorthStar is one of the signatories of the Net Zero Space Declaration by the Paris Peace Forum, where companies commit to take concrete actions to reduce orbital debris. SES has added space sustainability to its broader environment, social and governance (ESG) goals alongside climate, diversity and using space communications “to meet critical human needs.”

“Space sustainability is of fundamental importance to SES and to the industry,” Steve Collar, chief executive of SES, said in the statement. “The industry needs to come together quickly to protect space for future generations before it’s too late and our partnership with NorthStar is a strong step in that direction.”

“NorthStar’s high-performance SSA services combined with SES’s leading role in the industry brings a necessary focus towards the increasingly unmanageable risks we are all witnessing in space,” said Stewart Bain, chief executive of NorthStar.

He added the deal further cements the place of Montreal-based NorthStar in Luxembourg. The company opened a European headquarters in the country in December after the Luxembourg Future Fund (LFF) joined a $45 million funding round. SES is headquartered in Luxembourg and Spire, building NorthStar’s initial satellites, also has European offices in the country.

“This is a major step in NorthStar’s integration and growth within the fast-moving Luxembourg space ecosystem,” he said. “Recent investment from the LFF and support from the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy also contribute to accelerate NorthStar services in support of this important collaboration.”