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Surrey Satellite Technology Limited has appointed a new managing director. Phil Brownnett, currently the managing director of Airbus Defence and Space’s U.K. Geo Intelligence business, will take over as head of the smallsat manufacturer Feb. 1. Brownnett succeeds Sarah Parker, who SSTL said is stepping down to “pursue new challenges.” Brownnett has worked at Airbus Defence and Space for more than 15 years, holding several responsibilities in the Earth observation business. “SSTL pioneered the small sat revolution and now we need to retain our position by adapting and ‘Doing Space Differently’,” Brownnett said. [SSTL]

Elbit Systems, an Israeli defense electronics company, said it Dec. 18 that launched a cubesat on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle mission. The 5-kilogram cubesat, called Nanova, has a high frequency communications payload that can support voice, data and text messaging. Elbit Systems developed the satellite with an unnamed U.S. company. It is planned as part of a commercial constellation. [Reuters]

Japanese startup InfoStellar is adding ground stations in Australia to its network of partner facilities. Capricorn Space, a startup that opened a facility in Western Australia near Mingenew Dec. 10, signed an agreement allowing InfoStellar customers to use its ground stations. Capricorn Space has two ground stations, allowing satellite operators to communicate with their spacecraft as they pass over Australia. InfoStellar pools ground station capacity so satellite operators can tap into stations around the world to talk with their satellites. [InfoStellar]


Gilat successfully beamed Wi-Fi to an airplane using an advanced electronically steered antenna. The company said Dec. 17 that the demonstration marks the first time an electronically steered antenna operated on a commercial aircraft. Gilat conducted the test using Honeywell’s Boeing 757 test aircraft, and high-throughput Ka-band capacity from Telesat Canada’s Telstar 19 Vantage satellite. Gilat said the antenna has no moving parts and can connect with satellites in any Earth-orbit. [Gilat]

Airbus has matured photonics payload technology that could make satellites lighter and more powerful. The company built a proof of concept demonstrator to Technology Readiness Level 6, using funding from the European Union’s OPTIMA Horizon 2020 program. TRL-7 requires testing the technology in orbit. Photonics payloads use light to transfer signals instead of radio-frequency waves, enabling lighter, more powerful payloads. Airbus led the OPTIMA program from its Stevenage, U.K. facility, with partners Das Photonics in Spain, Cordon Electronics in Italy, Sodern in France, Huber+Suhner Polatis in the U.K., and imec in Belgium. [Airbus]

The government of Kazakhstan says it will spend $233 million to upgrade a launch facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Askar Zhumagaliev, the Kazakh government minister responsible for aerospace, announced Wednesday the government would commit that funding for the Baiterek project. That effort will modernize existing Zenit launch facilities for use by the new Soyuz-5 medium-class rocket. Baiterek is scheduled to be completed by 2023. The project dates back to 2004, originally to host launches of the Angara rocket. [TASS]

SpaceX successfully launched a communications satellite Monday that will serve two customers. A Falcon 9 lifted off at 7:10 p.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and 33 minutes later placed the JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit. JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 is a 6,800-kilogram “condosat” built by Boeing, with payloads for Japanese operator Sky Perfect JSAT and Singaporean startup Kacific. The Falcon 9’s first stage, making its third flight, landed on a droneship downrange, but two other ships were unable to catch the rocket’s payload fairing. [SpaceNews]

The Japanese space agency JAXA has selected startup Space BD to broker rideshares for smallsats on the Japanese H-2A and upcoming H3 rockets. JAXA deploys cubesats from the Kibo module of the International Space Station, and has launched some smallsats from rockets as secondary payloads, but mainly for Japanese institutions. Space BD is targeting a wider range of customers and destinations, including lunar orbit and beyond. [Space Tech Asia]

The customer for the first launch of Northrop Grumman’s OmegA rocket is looking for a customer of its own. Saturn Satellite Networks announced last week it would launch one or two of its NationSat small GEO satellites on the first OmegA launch in 2021. Saturn doesn’t have customers for the satellites that would fly on that mission, but said the launch agreement allows it to offer delivery-in-orbit options for potential customers. Saturn’s first NationSat satellite, for Moscow-based Intersputnik, is slated to launch on a shared SpaceX Falcon 9 mission that has slipped from 2020 to 2021. [SpaceNews]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...