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NASA pays out millions for future space communications

Six satellite ventures — including SpaceX’s Starlink network and Amazon’s Project Kuiper — are due to receive a total of $278.5 million in NASA funding to demonstrate next-generation space communication services in Earth orbit.

The Communications Services Project is intended to smooth the transition from NASA’s constellation of dedicated communication satellites, known as Tracking and Data Relay Satellites or TDRS, to a commercially operated network that draws upon multiple providers.

NASA has turned to similar public-private models for space services including cargo resupply and crew transportation to the International Space Station, as well as the future delivery of scientific experiments and astronauts to the lunar surface.

“By using funded Space Act Agreements, we’re able to stimulate industry to demonstrate end-to-end capability leading to operational service,” Eli Naffah, project manager for the Communications Services Project at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, said today in a news release. “The flight demonstrations are risk reduction activities that will develop multiple capabilities and will provide operational concepts, performance validation and acquisition models needed to plan the future acquisition of commercial services for each class of NASA missions.”

SpaceX’s satellites are manufactured at the company’s facilities in Redmond, Wash., not far from the complex where Amazon’s Project Kuiper is developing its broadband satellites.

In addition to SpaceX and Project Kuiper, the contractors include U.S.-based ventures representing Inmarsat, SES, Telesat and Viasat. Each venture will be required to complete technology development and in-space demonstrations by 2025 to prove that its system can deliver robust, reliable and cost-effective services — including the ability for new high-rate and high-capacity two-way links.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 sends telecom satellite into orbit

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sent the SES-12 telecommunications satellite into orbit tonight in a no-drama night launch. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida came at 12:45 a.m. ET May 4 (9:45 p.m. PT May 3). The Airbus-built satellite, which relies on electric propulsion, will boost SES’ video and data services in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.

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Boeing to build broadband satellites for O3b

Boeing-built O3B mPower satellits
The O3b mPOWER satellites will be built using electronics from Boeing’s flight-proven 702 satellite platform. (Boeing Illustration)

Boeing Satellite Systems International has signed up to build a fleet of seven satellites that will provide broadband internet connectivity from medium Earth orbit for SES’ O3b network.

O3b was set up a decade ago to provide internet access to the “Other 3 Billion” in the world who have been left out because they’re too remote or too poor to get connected. Last year, SES took over majority ownership of O3b Networks, which currently has 12 first-generation satellites in a 5,000-mile-high orbit.

Eight more of the first-generation satellites, also built by Boeing, are to be launched in 2018 and 2019 on Russian-built Soyuz rockets by the European Arianespace consortium. Boeing’s next-generation O3b mPower satellites are due to go into orbit starting in 2021.

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