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Britain Backpedals on Privatized Milcom Satellites

Britain Backpedals on Privatized Milcom Satellites
All Skynet assets will become the property of the British government as of August 2022 unless the contract with Airbus Defence and Space is renewed.

LONDON — Twelve years ago, the British government revolutionized the process of purchasing military satellite telecommunications by outsourcing it all to the private sector. Now Britain appears about to return to conventional procurement for its follow-on satellites as a way to put off a longer-term decision, British government and industry officials said.

All Skynet assets will become the property of the British government as of August 2022 unless the contract with Airbus Defence and Space is renewed.
All Skynet assets will become the property of the British government as of August 2022 unless the contract with Airbus Defence and Space is renewed.

The government’s decision, now being refined, appears to be leaning toward a more-limited commitment to gapfiller satellites to succeed the current Skynet 5 X- and UHF-band satellites.

Under a contract that many thought would set a precedent for other governments but never did, the British Defence Ministry in 2003 contracted with what is now Airbus Defence and Space for the Skynet 5 system of  nuclear-hardened, encrypted military satellites.

Under the contract, valued at 3.6 billion British pounds ($5.6 billion) to mid-2022, Airbus operates the four Skynet 5 satellites that it paid for and launched, in addition to four older Skynet 4 spacecraft that were transferred to it from the British Defence Ministry.

British defense officials over the years have said they were happy with the contract, with enables the government to benefit from regular technology-refresh, as provided in the contract, without having to budget for a large capital expenditure that would accompany satellite purchases.

The Skynet 5 contract ends in August 2022, a date that is increasingly on the minds of both the British defense authorities and Airbus officials. Over the years, Airbus has gradually taken over so much of what was a government operation that extricating the company from the system will be no easy task.

The ability to do exactly that is one reason why the contract included the provision that all the Skynet assets will become the property of the British government as of August 2022 unless the contract is renewed.

Airbus officials have been urging the government to renew the contract sooner than that to give the company time to start work on a Skynet 6 constellation.

The last Skynet 5, the Skynet 5D, was launched in 2012 as part of a contract extension that at the time was viewed as government endorsement of the service contract’s value. The first three were launched in 2007 and 2008.

British Defence Ministry officials attending the Global Milsatcom conference here Nov. 3-5 said they are nearing a decision on what to do when the current contract ends.

They said no decision had been made, but that one of the options being considered is the procurement of one satellite, to be followed by another a couple of years later in a second procurement.

Air Commodore John Philliban, head of the Joint User group at the British Defence Ministry’s Joint Forces Command, said the government’s Future Beyond Line of Sight policy is being crafted now and would be the subject of an interim assessment by the end of this year.

A more formal report would be issued by mid-2016.

Philliban said a simple continuation of the contract, or the replacement of Airbus by another company operating under similar terms, remains an option. But he stressed the advantages to the government of buying a satellite of its own around 2019.

Philliban said this satellite, which could be launched in 2021 or 2022, would extend the Skynet 5 constellation’s in-orbit life by several years given that the in-orbit health of the newer Skynet 5 spacecraft. A second satellite would be procured a year or two later, this one likely carrying enhanced features including a possible Ka-band payload.

A second option is to conclude a service-provision agreement with a commercial company, either Airbus or a replacement. The depth of Airbus’s integration with British defense forces that has occurred during the Skynet 5 contract means any divorce between Airbus and its customer was going to be complicated.

Philliban said the ministry’s assessment of life after August 2022 “has increased our confidence that it is indeed feasible for a competitor to bid for this contract.”

But he also conceded the difficulties. “The entire Skynet system reverts to MoD ownership, and this will present different challenges to the existing contracting relationship,” he said. “The existing Skynet 5 satellites would be provided as government-furnished equipment to the new service provider.”

Philliban did not suggest that the ministry has become disenchanted with the Skynet 5 relationship between the service provider and its customer – a model that has been much debated in other European nations, especially France.

French government officials have said British authorities are paying too much for the Skynet 5 service. British officials and Airbus have responded that France and other governments do not realize how much they are paying by maintaining government staffs on the payroll to manage these nations’ military telecommunications service given how dispersed the cost base is in their bureaucracies.

Philliban hinted that one reason favoring a decision to purchase two satellites in a conventional government procurement process is to buy time before deciding what the government wants over the long term.

“The ability to give us that out-of-service date extension, and perhaps to have a look at emerging capabilities, is more acceptable,” he said. “It gives us additional breathing room.”

Source: Space News

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NASA Delays Award of Commercial Cargo Contracts Again, Drops Boeing

NASA Delays Award of Commercial Cargo Contracts Again, Drops Boeing
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WASHINGTON — NASA has once again delayed the award of contracts to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station, this time not only pushing the announcement of contracts until as late as the end of January 2016 but also dropping one of the companies from the competition.

In a brief statement posted to the procurement website for the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract Nov. 5, the previous date offered by NASA for a contract announcement, the agency said it was postponing the award to no later than Jan. 30 “to allow additional time for the Government to assess proposals.”

“CRS-2 is a complex procurement,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot said Nov. 5. The delay until late January, he said, will “allow time to complete a thorough proposal evaluation and selection.”

Huot added there was little more that the agency could say about the competition at this time, citing “a procurement communications blackout.”

However, one of the companies that submitted a proposal says it’s been notified it is no longer part of the competition. Boeing spokeswoman Kelly Kaplan said Nov. 5 that NASA informed the company shortly before announcing the award delay that it was no longer considering the company for a contract. NASA did not give a reason for the delay, she said. Boeing has requested a debrief from NASA, which may not take place until after the contracts are finally awarded.

Boeing CST-100
Boeing’s commercial crew capsule CST-100. Credit: Boeing

Boeing offered to NASA a version of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that the company is developing for NASA’s commercial crew program. The loss of the award would not have an immediate impact on the company, Kaplan said, because of its commercial crew work.

The latest delay is the third time that NASA has pushed back the award of the CRS-2 contracts since proposals were submitted in early December 2014. In April, NASA delayed the contract awards from June to September. In August, NASA delayed the awards again, this time to Nov. 5. In both cases, NASA said it needed additional time to evaluate proposals.

NASA previously tried to allay concerns about another delay. “Cargo resupply continues to be a high priority for the ISS Program and the Agency,” NASA said in a Sept. 10 statement on the procurement website. “Evaluation of the proposals continues and NASA remains on schedule to support the November 5th award date.”

At least five companies submitted CRS-2 proposals. In additional to Orbital ATK and SpaceX, which have cargo contracts under the existing CRS program, Boeing, Lockeed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corp. all stated they submitted CRS-2 proposals. Industry sources said earlier this year that NASA has since dropped Lockheed Martin from consideration, but there has been no formal notice of a downselect by NASA or Lockheed.

Sierra Nevada Corp. spokeswoman Krystal Scordo said Nov. 5 that the company has been notified by NASA that it is still being considered for a contract. NASA, she said, “has decided to re-open discussions with offerors in the competitive range for NASA’s CRS-2 contract,” and that Sierra Nevada was “selected to re-open discussions regarding its CRS-2 proposal.”

Orbital ATK spokeswoman Sean Wilson said Nov. 5 that the company was still in the CRS-2 competition, but declined to discuss any details about the delay in awards. Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Allison Rakes said the company had no information beyond NASA’s announcement of the delay. SpaceX spokesman John Taylor declined to comment, citing company practice not to discuss ongoing procurements.

A delay in contract awards until perhaps late January would also span the predicted return to flight of Orbital’s Cygnus and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, which have both been sidelined after launch failures. Cygnus is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 Dec. 3 on the first mission for that cargo spacecraft since an Antares launch failure in October 2014.

Sam Scimemi, ISS director at NASA Headquarters, told a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration and operations committee Nov. 5 that preparations for that mission are going well. He added that the launch could be moved up “a day or so” depending on ULA’s ability to get the Atlas ready.

SpaceX, meanwhile, is scheduled to launch its first Dragon mission since a June 28 Falcon 9 launch failure in January, Scimemi said. A schedule he presented at the meeting showed that launch slated for Jan. 3, but he noted it would take place after commercial missions SpaceX is planning for December.

That schedule is also dependent on SpaceX completing its launch failure investigation. “They’re nearing completion, as I understand it, of their accident investigation” and making unspecified modifications to the launch vehicle to support a return to flight, Scimemi said. “We’re continuing to do all of the processing that is necessary to meet the January launch date, and things are going well with that.”

Source: Space News

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NOAA To Trickle Out Commercial Weather Standards

NOAA To Trickle Out Commercial Weather Standards
Aurora australis dancing over an LED illuminated igloo giving a blue tinge to the color of snow.
Credit: SpaceNews Graphic. Photo courtesy NOAA/Ross Burgener and SpaceNews

WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will not publish quality standards for commercial weather data until at least the end of the year, a senior NOAA official said here Nov. 4.

Even then, the weather agency will not spell out every standard for every sort of measurement it might purchase, Deputy Administrator Manson Brown said after a speech at a Washington Space Business Roundtable luncheon.

Instead, NOAA will trickle out quality standards as part of a so-called procedural guide it will publish in December. The guide will formalize the rules of engagement between NOAA and aspiring commercial weather companies, which according to the draft Commercial Space Policy NOAA released Sept. 1, will interface with the agency through its Office of Space Commercialization.

“One of the things we’ve been thinking about doing, because we know that there’s a lot of anxiety out there about what those standards are … is perhaps giving an example or two in the procedural guide, so that people can see the context of what we’re talking about” Brown said. “That discussion continues within NOAA.”

The procedural guide is slated to appear in draft form in the federal register by the end of the year, Brown said.

Meanwhile, NOAA will issue its finalized Commercial Space Policy “in the coming weeks,” Brown said.

The policy got a chilly reception from lawmakers on Capitol Hill who want to see data from the private sector folded into NOAA weather forecast models as soon as possible.

In September, Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), who respectively chair the House Science Committee and its environment subcommittee, complained in a joint letter to NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan that the policy did not include data buy standards.

Some in industry were also unhappy with the draft policy.

Anne Miglarese, president and chief executive of aspiring commercial weather satellite operator Planet IQ, Bethesda, Maryland, panned the draft policy, writing in a formal comment that it “focuses more on the concerns of foreign stakeholders than on making the agency’s capabilities more resilient and robust.”

In a hearing this summer before Bridenstine’s environment subcommittee, Brown told lawmakers NOAA must share any global weather data it collects with international space agencies, under the 20 year-old World Meteorological Organization Resolution 40. The World Meteorological Organization is part of the United Nations.

Brown said during that hearing there is no getting around that obligation by any means — a notion Bridenstine and Planet IQ have challenged.

Brown said Nov. 4 that NOAA’s final Commercial Space Policy would include “appropriate adjustments” based on the comments the agency received on its draft.

The next chance would-be commercial data providers will get to bend NOAA’s ear on policy matters will be during a yet-to-be-scheduled conference similar to a gathering the agency hosted in April for users of its various satellites.

NOAA has yet to set time or a venue for that conference. Brown said the gathering would happen within 90 days of Nov. 4.

Source: Space News

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