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Ligado Networks passes 3GPP review for 5G plan

TAMPA, Fla. — Ligado Networks is a step closer toward using its L-band satellite spectrum for terrestrial wireless services in the U.S., after getting clearance from the 3GPP consortium that sets global communications standards for 5G.

The company said June 21 that 3GPP approved technical specifications that enable vendors to build 5G-compatible products on its spectrum.

It comes after the Federal Communications Commission granted Ligado a modification to its L-band license in April 2020, despite opposition from the Pentagon and other government agencies over GPS interference concerns.

The FCC unanimously approved Ligado’s plan to use L-band for a 5G network, following a four-year proceeding, with conditions including reduced power limits and a requirement that part of it be used as a “guard band” near adjacent operations such as GPS.

In October, Ligado said it had raised nearly $4 billion in new capital to develop a private network solution for energy, manufacturing, health care, transportation and other infrastructure sectors.

“The final major step for Ligado will involve getting chipset and radio vendors to incorporate the L-Band into their designs, paving the way for a carrier to deploy the L-Band on towers and small cells and to sell devices that contain L-Band-supporting chipsets,” New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin wrote in a report to investors.

“This final leg of the process is likely to take some time, but could be accelerated by the support of a large industry player (one of the carriers), who can more easily encourage their vendors to integrate the spectrum into their equipment.”

Ligado announced an agreement June 22 with Nokia to develop 5G base station radios that will be compatible with its spectrum in North America.

“Our partnership with an industry leader like Nokia is a significant milestone for our company and brings the deployment of L-Band spectrum in 5G mobile networks one step closer to reality,” Ligado chief technology officer Maqbool Aliani said in a statement.

“Nokia is a key partner in Ligado’s commercial efforts to develop the vendor ecosystem around this lower mid-band spectrum, and we look forward to advancing our collaboration activities to ready the L-Band for 5G network deployments.”

Ligado is also collaborating with Japan-based network operator Rakuten Mobile on its private network plans, aiming to deploy field trials over the next 12 months.

U.S.-based satellite operator Globalstar achieved 3GPP approval in March 2020 amid global ambitions to use some of its S-band spectrum for terrestrial wireless services.

Announcing financial results May 6, 2021, Globalstar executive chair Jay Monroe said the company was reviewing “several private networking opportunities of varying sizes” for the frequencies.

“We will soon be at the point where the only impediment to terrestrial deployments will be commercial negotiations,” Monroe said.

New Mexico oil dependence jeopardizes transition


This article was originally published by Searchlight New Mexico, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that seeks to empower New Mexicans to demand honest and effective public policy.


CARLSBAD, N.M. — The blue van turned onto the pitted road, and for miles the tallest objects on the horizon were the brush and yucca. Soon, signs appeared with arrows that pointed to dirt trails with curious names like “Illinois Camp Booster.” Suddenly, what looked like a hidden city appeared and the landscape was filled with warehouses, tall cylindrical gas storage tanks and, as far as the eye could see, rusted, bobbing oil pump jacks. 

Inside the van were three members of Citizens Caring for the Future, practically the lone organized resistance to the oil and gas industry in southeastern New Mexico. They were an odd bunch. At the wheel was Nick King, a Mennonite pastor and owner of a small solar company. Behind him was Joan Brown, a Catholic Franciscan nun with a grandmother’s delicate voice. And aiming a camera out the passenger window was Nathalie Eddy, a field organizer with Earthworks, a national environmental nonprofit, who’d driven from Colorado for the day’s excursion.

“This is what it’s like, 24/7,” Eddy said, pointing at the busy landscape, the trucks entering and leaving and the arms of the pumpjacks rotating.

The Permian Basin stretches from Carlsbad, New Mexico, 30 miles across the Texas border. It is 75,000 square miles of metal and tubes and spire-like pipes burning gas, all above jackrabbit scrubland. Depending on your feelings about the industry, the Permian Basin is either awe-striking or nauseating. 

An inescapable fact is that it stinks. A hard-to-place mixture of rotten eggs and the oily undercarriage of a car wafted in the wind, and it was the source of this smell — gas leaks — that Eddy’s $70,000 camera and its special lens were designed to find.  “Oh my gosh,” Brown said at one point, begging the others to close their windows. “It’s really bad here. Oh my gosh.” 

The crew’s first stop was a place that Eddy had visited at least 10 times before. Instantly, her camera lit up with a rainbow of colors — gas leaks from what seemed to be a corroded pipe. “I’ve stopped filing complaints here,” she said, “because at some point it becomes redundant.” 

With Eddy’s help, the group has already filed 130 complaints with the New Mexico Environmental Department. The task is left to them, in part, because of the insular and overwhelmingly pro-industry politics in the region, and because state regulators are stretched thin. But they’ve also taken on the work because, while oil and gas has brought untold wealth, jobs and tax money, they want to expose the hidden toll that comes with living beside one of the world’s largest oil fields. 

Oil and gas rigs dot the Permian Basin around Loco Hills, northeast of Carlsbad. Credit: Michael Benanav / Searchlight New Mexico

Last year, as the pandemic shuttered trade and brought travel to a standstill, oil prices went negative for the first time in history. By June, the lost revenue threatened to cost the state billions, prompting legislators to cut spending and tap into the government’s financial reserves. And so began an internal debate that’s repeated every time the pumpjacks slow: Is it time, finally, for New Mexico to disentangle itself from near total reliance on a single industry?

In its 2020 annual report, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association credited the industry with bringing $2.8 billion to state coffers — totaling one-third of New Mexico’s annual budget. “And that percent is just from royalties,” noted Eddy County Commissioner Ernie Carlson, a former industry accountant who wears a stockman’s brimmed cowboy hat and speaks in a matter-of-fact rural tone. “There are a lot of other industries tied to oil and gas, and if you measure that it’s about 45 percent of the state’s budget.” 

Carlson and other industry proponents argue that without oil and gas, New Mexico’s economy would dry up and blow away. They point to the fact that the industry in 2019 underwrote $1.36 billion of the state’s education costs, and are quick to suggest what might happen if regulation ever got the upper hand. As a recent ad from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association warned voters, “Our kids have had to overcome a lot this year, but now they’re facing yet another challenge — the New Mexico legislature. Proposed laws aimed at oil and gas would take billions away from public education, gutting our schools. Reading programs, sports, even school lunches — all at risk.” 

These same figures are cited by environmentalists and energy economists as evidence that New Mexico is long overdue for a weaning. They argue that the state needs to diversify its economy. 

And what better way to do it than with renewable energy, like solar and wind? 

“Just from wind, the energy potential is 20 times what the state consumes,” said Doug Howe, a board member of the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority. “To really monetize that as an economic driver, we have to turn to thinking of exporting all that energy to nearby states.”

The Hopi Substation, on the southern edge of Carlsbad, is a ten megawatt solar array that feeds power into the electrical grid. Credit: Michael Benanav / Searchlight New Mexico

New Mexico is already in a renewables race with Wyoming to build a clean-energy transmission line across the Southwest. Whoever wins that contest will become one of the largest clean-power exporters in the West. The prize is potentially so huge that a host of environmentalists, government progressives and even renewable industry proponents have joined forces, urging New Mexico to remove its eggs from the oil basket and transfer them as quickly as possible into wind and solar. 

So it came as a surprise to many back in March when the state’s Democratic governor sought to reverse President Joe Biden’s 60-day moratorium on new federal oil and gas leases.  

Biden’s moratorium so riled Gov. Michele Lujan Grisham that she sent a letter to the president, asking him to change his decision and let the oil flow. While on the Texas side of the Permian Basin much of the land is private, more than half of New Mexico’s wells are on federal land. As she wrote in her letter, “Oil and gas production remains a significant economic force in New Mexico.”

Was this the same governor who in her first month in office signed an executive order to create a climate strategy, one that would hold the industry accountable?

Energy leaders believe New Mexico faces two opposing futures: Act swiftly and become the leader of green energy, or stick with oil and gas as the rest of the nation pivots. Whichever path the state takes will be particularly consequential for Carlsbad. Not only is it rich in oil and gas, but because of the ample wind and sun in southern New Mexico it also stands to be at the epicenter of the state’s renewable-energy revolution.

The RV park/man camp SunWest Mobile City had a waiting list four pages long prior to the pandemic. Today, many of its spaces are empty. Credit: Michael Benanav / Searchlight New Mexico

Before they’d set out in the van, a few CCFF members had gathered at King’s house to discuss this future, mostly by reflecting on the past. 

“When I came here in 1986, it was a very different community,” said Gene Harbaugh, leaning back in his chair and thumbing thick blue suspenders. Now 85, the retired Presbyterian minister is one of the original founders of CCFF. Like other core members, he brings a religious mindset to the group’s mission of conservation in the Permian Basin. Like many of them, he now finds himself a pariah in a place where he was once an influential leader. 

“It was a very civically active town,” Harbaugh said, recalling a time when he oversaw a church of 300 souls. The mayor prayed with his congregation, and each year the community gathered on Thanksgiving to eat pies. 

“Gradually, things began to turn, and part of it was really a concern to try and develop the area economically,” he said. “But Carlsbad turned to the sort of industries that were really, to me at least, dead ends.” 

By that “sort of industry,” Harbaugh was referring to fracking — the technology of horizontal drilling in which wells once unreachable began yielding black gold. For Carlsbad, it meant a boom unlike any other. Lines of tanker trucks travel U.S. Route 285 through town, stretching from the new Lowe’s at the north end to the southside IHOP. Accidents increased 70 percent, giving 285 the nomer “the highway of death.” Local hotels, which now charge upwards of $419 a night, filled with transient oil workers. Crime increased. And at any RV park, it wasn’t unusual to find cops and teachers hanging laundry from lines because their salary couldn’t afford them a house. 

When Kayley Shoup returned to Carlsbad three years ago after graduating college, she was shocked by how much had changed. Two of her high school friends had just been diagnosed with rare cancers, and though she recognized that there was no clear case of cause and effect, the coincidence was enough to get her involved. She joined CCFF and, at 28, is the group’s youngest member.  

Shoup worries about methane, a greenhouse gas that the Permian Basin releases more of than any other site in the nation, emitting one million tons per year, or the equivalent of 22 coal-fired power plants. This is especially problematic for the climate, given that methane is 25 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Kayley Shoup, the newest member of Citizens Caring for the Future leadership team. Credit: Michael Benanav / Searchlight New

Drilling operations also release benzene, a carcinogen, and hydrogen sulfide, which is known to drop birds from trees and can, even in low concentrations, cause nausea, headaches and respiratory problems; long-term exposure is linked to neurological damage. 

Residents near drilling sites have suffered mysterious nose bleeds. Rigs have exploded and showered noxious fracking chemicals onto people and their land. Southeastern New Mexico, and Eddy County in particular, has the worst rates of asthma in the state. And Eddy is one of only two rural counties in the country to make the list for worst air quality, a fact attributed to the oil and gas boom. 

What Harbaugh finds most troubling is what he calls a psychic shift in the community. Carlsbad had always been a fairly poor area, with most jobs in mining or agriculture. So community institutions stepped up and people relied on one another, he said. And while he can’t totally blame the oil boom for the dwindling of his former congregation, Harbaugh said the industry, by nature, breeds a mentality of total self-reliance. Success is what can be pulled from the ground by one man or one company. “Individual freedoms are what now seem to be paramount,” Harbaugh lamented. “People are supposed to do whatever they want as long as it benefits them.”

And political leaders focus on profits over health, said Shoup. “For the government here it’s all about the economics.” 

No long-term health studies have been conducted in Carlsbad, so CCFF is trying to commission its own study — though where they’d find the funds to do so is a big question. It’s a tall order for such a small group, and is yet another thing that has made the activists unpopular. Members say they are unwelcome at certain restaurants and given the cold shoulder in the grocery store. 

“It has created a divide,” Shoup said. “I don’t usually tell lots of people my thoughts on the industry, because I’ll be shunned.”


When oil prices rise, so does the population of Carlsbad. More people means more jobs, which means more businesses and investment, which means more tax growth, which means streets get repaired and schools renovated, and finally there’s enough money to hire more police officers. Then there’s Carlsbad’s tangential oil and gas economy. The Blake’s Lotaburger is an endless line of new trucks paid for by oil money, packed with workers grabbing a quick meal. The grocery stores are filled with sunburned faces browsing the frozen meal sections. 

The oil and gas industry employs some 134,000 workers in the state, and it’s not likely that any one industry will ever replace it. At the moment, wind and solar account for about 5,000 New Mexico jobs, and even the brightest projections allow for just 13,700 long-term renewable energy jobs in the next decade.

Gas and oil workers Daniel Roberson (left) and Brandon Moss, both of whom had been laid off for six to seven months during the pandemic. “Hiring has started again,” Moss said. “It’s always up and down in this business.” Credit: Michael Benanav / Searchlight New Mexico

“Common business sense tells you that when you have a number one product as we do in oil and gas, that we ought to be studying how to enhance the industry so we can make more money,” said Eddy County Commissioner Carlson. “But what’s happening today is that every year we have to fight bills that would curtail the oil and gas industry. When those bills get introduced, even if they don’t pass, they send a message that this is not a favorable place for the industry to be.” 

What often gets lost in all the arguments is that energy production is not a zero-sum game. As James Peach, a retired economy professor at New Mexico State University, points out, the rise of one industry — renewables or oil and gas — doesn’t necessarily diminish the other. The Permian Basin will yield more oil for a long time, possibly generations. Whether or not New Mexico decides to invest significantly in clean energy both to power the state and export to others should not be viewed as competition, but rather a separate opportunity; one that would surely serve New Mexico’s best interest. 

“I looked this morning and the active rig count in the Permian is at 70, which was what it was before the moratorium,” Peach said, meaning that the federal pause on leases hadn’t affected the region at all.  

But if the state fails to invest in wind and solar, the renewable-energy prize will go to Wyoming, leaving New Mexico with its decades-long single-minded reliance on oil and gas. 

To wean itself off oil and gas requires attracting other industries — an uphill battle for a state that lags behind in so many basic categories. “If we’re going to compete in this modern world, we need people to be able to work from anywhere,” Peach said, noting that New Mexico is one of the least wired states in the country. “We need to put more money into our state parks, the museums, the kinds of things that make this an attractive place to live.” 


As the blue van jostled to a stop, the Mennonite pastor, the Catholic Franciscan nun, and the Colorado-based environmental activist stepped out and stared at a set of tanks in the near distance. Each was two stories tall. The stench of rotting eggs hung in the air.

Nathalie Eddy aimed her camera and, sure enough, the screen showed leaking gas. 

The three climbed back into the van, silent as they drove away, surveying the vastness of the oil fields. But before they turned to go home, Eddy had one last place in mind, a site she’d visited two years earlier with New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands, Stephanie Garcia Richard. Eddy was sure she could find it again, and as the van dipped into an arroyo she recalled to the other passengers about how Garcia Richards and her staff had gathered around the tank when a worker rushed over. He quickly climbed to the top, telling them that he just needed to “burp the cap.” 

As he toyed with levers and pipes to relieve the pressure inside, oil began to gush. And as he frantically fumbled atop, more and more oil spilled onto the ground. Eddy remembered that Garcia Richard turned to walk away and yelled, “How do I shut that site down?” 

Now, as the van pulled up, the site looked abandoned. Eddy seemed relieved. That is, until she pointed her camera at the tank. 

“Look,” she said, motioning to the others toward her camera’s screen. 

Dormant fumes were still escaping from the top, drifting into the air, blowing over the town of Carlsbad.

Find the latest news on the coronavirus crisis and help getting through whatever comes next. Sent twice a week.

The dangerous Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading so quickly in the United States that it’s likely the mutant strain will become predominant in the U.S. within weeks, according to a new analysis.

The variant, first identified in India, is the most contagious yet and, among those not yet vaccinated, may trigger serious illness in more people than other variants do, say scientists tracking the spread of infection.

The Delta variant apparently already accounts for at least 14% of all new infections, according to the research analysis posted online Monday of more than 242,000 infections nationwide over the last six months.

Another reason to get vaccinated

“It definitely is of concern,” says William Lee, the vice president of science at Helix, which is under contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help track the variants.

“Just the fact that it’s so transmissible means that it’s it’s dangerous,” Lee says, “and so I think you’ll see outbreaks of Delta around the country and more people will get sick from it.”

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CORONAVIRUS UPDATES
The Highly Contagious Delta Variant Is On The Rise In The U.S.

Helix launched the study when researchers spotted a drop in the prevalence of the Alpha variant, a contagious strain first spotted in the U.K. that had quickly become the dominant variant in that country and the U.S.

The researchers discovered the drop in relative frequency of the Alpha variant in their spot checks of strains circulating in the U.S. was due to a rapid increase in two other variants: the Gamma variant, first spotted in Brazil; and the Delta variant. The Gamma variant may be slightly better than the original strain at outmaneuvering the vaccines, researchers say.

“It looks like both of them are going to slowly push out Alpha,” says Lee, whose study has not yet been peer-reviewed but has been posted on a pre-print server.

How Delta could prompt another U.S. COVID-19 surge

All the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. appear, in general, to provide powerful protection against all the variants, including Delta. But the rapid spread of the variants is still raising concern because of the large number of people who remain unvaccinated.

“There still are big portions of the country where the rates of vaccination are quite low,” notes Dr. Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “And, in fact, the Helix paper shows that this Delta variant is increasing in frequency — the speed at which it’s increasing in frequency is greatest in those areas where vaccination rates are lowest.”

The Delta variant could trigger yet another moderate surge of infections through many parts of the U.S. because of these pockets of unvaccinated people, according to a recent set of projections from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, which is helping the CDC plot the future course of the pandemic.

The projections indicate that infections could start to rise again as soon as some time in July, especially if the vaccination campaign continues to stall.

“For the most part, it’s a moderate resurgence,” says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who is helping coordinate the hub.

“We’re not having massive epidemics at a national level, but we have this kind of continuation of the virus just sticking around and keeping us on our toes,” Lessler says. “And in specific places, there could be substantial epidemics still.”

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Just the fact that it’s so transmissible means that it’s it’s dangerous,” Lee says, “and so I think you’ll see outbreaks

The dangerous Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading so quickly in the United States that it’s likely the mutant strain will become predominant in the U.S. within weeks, according to a new analysis.

The variant, first identified in India, is the most contagious yet and, among those not yet vaccinated, may trigger serious illness in more people than other variants do, say scientists tracking the spread of infection.

The Delta variant apparently already accounts for at least 14% of all new infections, according to the research analysis posted online Monday of more than 242,000 infections nationwide over the last six months.

Another reason to get vaccinated

“It definitely is of concern,” says William Lee, the vice president of science at Helix, which is under contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help track the variants.

“Just the fact that it’s so transmissible means that it’s it’s dangerous,” Lee says, “and so I think you’ll see outbreaks of Delta around the country and more people will get sick from it.”

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The Highly Contagious Delta Variant Is On The Rise In The U.S.

Helix launched the study when researchers spotted a drop in the prevalence of the Alpha variant, a contagious strain first spotted in the U.K. that had quickly become the dominant variant in that country and the U.S.

The researchers discovered the drop in relative frequency of the Alpha variant in their spot checks of strains circulating in the U.S. was due to a rapid increase in two other variants: the Gamma variant, first spotted in Brazil; and the Delta variant. The Gamma variant may be slightly better than the original strain at outmaneuvering the vaccines, researchers say.

“It looks like both of them are going to slowly push out Alpha,” says Lee, whose study has not yet been peer-reviewed but has been posted on a pre-print server.

How Delta could prompt another U.S. COVID-19 surge

All the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. appear, in general, to provide powerful protection against all the variants, including Delta. But the rapid spread of the variants is still raising concern because of the large number of people who remain unvaccinated.

“There still are big portions of the country where the rates of vaccination are quite low,” notes Dr. Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “And, in fact, the Helix paper shows that this Delta variant is increasing in frequency — the speed at which it’s increasing in frequency is greatest in those areas where vaccination rates are lowest.”

The Delta variant could trigger yet another moderate surge of infections through many parts of the U.S. because of these pockets of unvaccinated people, according to a recent set of projections from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, which is helping the CDC plot the future course of the pandemic.

The projections indicate that infections could start to rise again as soon as some time in July, especially if the vaccination campaign continues to stall.

“For the most part, it’s a moderate resurgence,” says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who is helping coordinate the hub.

“We’re not having massive epidemics at a national level, but we have this kind of continuation of the virus just sticking around and keeping us on our toes,” Lessler says. “And in specific places, there could be substantial epidemics still.”

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likely the mutant strain will become predominant in the U.S. within weeks, according to a new analysis.

The dangerous Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading so quickly in the United States that it’s likely the mutant strain will become predominant in the U.S. within weeks, according to a new analysis.

The variant, first identified in India, is the most contagious yet and, among those not yet vaccinated, may trigger serious illness in more people than other variants do, say scientists tracking the spread of infection.

The Delta variant apparently already accounts for at least 14% of all new infections, according to the research analysis posted online Monday of more than 242,000 infections nationwide over the last six months.

Another reason to get vaccinated

“It definitely is of concern,” says William Lee, the vice president of science at Helix, which is under contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help track the variants.

“Just the fact that it’s so transmissible means that it’s it’s dangerous,” Lee says, “and so I think you’ll see outbreaks of Delta around the country and more people will get sick from it.”

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The Highly Contagious Delta Variant Is On The Rise In The U.S.

Helix launched the study when researchers spotted a drop in the prevalence of the Alpha variant, a contagious strain first spotted in the U.K. that had quickly become the dominant variant in that country and the U.S.

The researchers discovered the drop in relative frequency of the Alpha variant in their spot checks of strains circulating in the U.S. was due to a rapid increase in two other variants: the Gamma variant, first spotted in Brazil; and the Delta variant. The Gamma variant may be slightly better than the original strain at outmaneuvering the vaccines, researchers say.

“It looks like both of them are going to slowly push out Alpha,” says Lee, whose study has not yet been peer-reviewed but has been posted on a pre-print server.

How Delta could prompt another U.S. COVID-19 surge

All the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. appear, in general, to provide powerful protection against all the variants, including Delta. But the rapid spread of the variants is still raising concern because of the large number of people who remain unvaccinated.

“There still are big portions of the country where the rates of vaccination are quite low,” notes Dr. Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “And, in fact, the Helix paper shows that this Delta variant is increasing in frequency — the speed at which it’s increasing in frequency is greatest in those areas where vaccination rates are lowest.”

The Delta variant could trigger yet another moderate surge of infections through many parts of the U.S. because of these pockets of unvaccinated people, according to a recent set of projections from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, which is helping the CDC plot the future course of the pandemic.

The projections indicate that infections could start to rise again as soon as some time in July, especially if the vaccination campaign continues to stall.

“For the most part, it’s a moderate resurgence,” says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who is helping coordinate the hub.

“We’re not having massive epidemics at a national level, but we have this kind of continuation of the virus just sticking around and keeping us on our toes,” Lessler says. “And in specific places, there could be substantial epidemics still.”

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Seraphim Capital’s investment trust details $250 million public listing

TAMPA, Fla. — Space startup investor Seraphim Capital’s investment trust aims to raise up to 180 million British pounds ($250 million) by listing shares on the London Stock Exchange.

The initial public offer (IPO) for retail investors will close July 9 at the latest, Seraphim Space Investment Trust said June 22 in its offering prospectus.

The company plans to use proceeds to buy stakes in space technology startups worldwide, including the investments Seraphim Capital has made in 19 ventures. 

It aims to initially buy 15 of those seed assets — investments in startups including space-based cellular network operator AST Space Mobile — soon after a successful IPO this summer.

Stakes in the remaining four ventures — satellite data specialist Spire Global, quantum encryption firm Arqit, Earth imaging operator Iceye and space logistics firm D-orbit — are set to be acquired by Dec. 31, depending on the outcome of their ongoing fundraising activity.

Buying the remaining four seed assets will increase the potential value of its portfolio by 70 million British pounds to 100 million British pounds, according to the company.

It said trading on the public market gives more investors the opportunity to invest in the space industry, which it predicts will grow from about 3,700 in-orbit satellites to more than 100,000 over the next decade. 

The economics of space have changed with the costs of building and launching a satellite having fallen by a factor of more than 100x since 2010,” it said in the prospectus. 

“This paradigm shift is leading to the space sector being central to some of the megatrends that will reshape our world, helping to address some of the world’s most pressing problems and in the process helping to unlock US$ trillions of value.”

It will issue up to 180 million shares through the IPO at 100 pence each.

Seraphim Capital unveiled plans June 11 for the world’s first listed space technology fund.

Its definition of space technology businesses includes electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) companies and others that address, are derived initially from or potentially benefit the space sector.


Dropping power levels threaten InSight mission

WASHINGTON — Dust accumulation on the solar panels of NASA’s InSight Mars lander is reducing the power to the spacecraft and could force the mission to end within a year.

At a June 21 meeting of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator for the InSight mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said dust accumulating on the lander’s two solar panels has drastically reduced the amount of power they produce, requiring some instruments to be turned off at least temporarily.

“The dust accumulation on the solar arrays has been considerable. We have about 80% obscuration of the arrays,” he said. The amount of energy available to the lander per Martian day, or sol, has dropped from nearly 5,000 watt-hours shortly after its November 2018 landing to less than 700 watt-hours now, according to data Banerdt presented at the meeting.

The decline in energy was expected, and the mission was designed to have enough power for its prime mission, which lasted one Martian year or 687 days. The continued decline in power, though, is becoming an issue as InSight operates in an extended mission funded through the end of 2022 to collect additional seismic data.

Banerdt said the mission had hoped for “cleaning events” where winds remove some of the dust, allowing the panels to generate more power. Such cleaning events allowed the solar-powered Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to operate for years, far longer than expected.

Those cleaning events have not taken place for InSight, though, and other attempts to remove the dust, such as shaking the panels, have failed. More recently, the mission tried a novel approach for cleaning the panels: using the lander’s robotic arm to scoop up regolith and then release it near the panels. Winds allowed some particles to bounce off the panels, in the process removing dust, a process known as saltation.

“We had some success with that,” he said. The first attempt at saltation increased energy output by 25 to 30 watt-hours, he said. A second attempt, though, provided only a temporary increase in energy, and a third attempt last weekend offered “a little bit of an increase.”

“This has bought us a little bit of headroom that we didn’t have before,” he said. Energy levels are dropping because of both the increased dust accumulation as well as Mars nearing aphelion, or the farthest point in its orbit from the sun. Mars will reach aphelion in about two months, after which sunlight, and thus power levels, should increase slightly.

Banerdt said the mission is closely monitoring power levels to determine what systems may need to be turned off as aphelion approaches. “It’s going to be extremely challenging to operate through that, especially with the instruments,” he said.

Some sensors, such as for collecting weather and magnetic field data, have already been turned off, or used only sporadically. “We hope to get some of these instruments up to at least do periodic measurements after aphelion,” he said.

InSight’s main instrument, a seismometer, has remained in operation. Banerdt, though, did not rule out having to turn it off near aphelion. “We may have to power off the entire payload for some period around aphelion,” he said. “There may be a month or two of time where we might have to turn off the seismometer, but we’re trying to tighten our belts and sharpen our pencils to see whether we can operate straight through.”

InSight will get a respite after aphelion as sunlight levels increase, but Banerdt warned it will be temporary. By April 2022, energy levels will decrease further, which he said was due to increased dust accumulation on the panels, more dust in the atmosphere and changes in orbital geometry. In a chart he showed, those power levels fell to the “survival energy” line below which the lander cannot operate.

“Unless we get a fairly significant increase in our solar array output, we’re likely to end our mission sometime around that time next year,” he said.

Ex-Im Bank finances SpaceX launch deal

WASHINGTON — The Export-Import Bank of the United States has arranged financing for the SpaceX launch of a Hispasat satellite, the first space deal the bank has done in six years.

Ex-Im announced June 21 that it approved $80.7 million in financing for a Falcon 9 launch of a Hispasat satellite, Amazonas Nexus, as well as launch and initial in-orbit insurance. The bank said the financing will be in the form of either a direct loan or a loan guarantee.

The Spanish operator announced in early 2020 it ordered Amazonas Nexus from Thales Alenia Space. The 4,500-kilogram satellite will replace Amazonas-2 at 61 degrees west in geostationary orbit. At the time of the contract announcement, Hispasat said it expected to launch the satellite in the second half of 2022. Bpifrance, France’s export credit agency, is financing the construction of the satellite.

The deal was notable because it was the first space industry deal financed by Ex-Im since 2015. The export credit agency was sidelined for several years by a lapse in its authorization and then a lack of a quorum on its board, which prevented it from approving deals larger than $10 million.

The Senate restored that quorum by confirming three nominees for the board in May 2019. An omnibus spending bill signed into law in December 2019 authorized the bank for seven years, the longest reauthorization in the bank’s history.

“This transaction signals the return of Ex-Im in support of the U.S. satellite-related industry,” said James Cruse, acting first vice president and chairman of the bank, in a statement. “The need for export credit agency support is well-established in this industry, and the availability of Ex-Im’s financing enables SpaceX and other U.S. exporters to remain competitive.”

The industry, though, has changed significantly since 2015. Up until that time, Ex-Im primarily financed GEO satellite and launch deals, supporting satellite manufacturers such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences, as well as SpaceX launches, with a total value of about $5 billion. However, demand for GEO satellites dropped precipitously in the latter half of the decade, and has only modestly recovered, as industry interest shifts to low Earth orbit megaconstellations.

That did not stop Ex-Im officials from promoting their role, even if they overplayed it. “During the present contraction in financial markets, Ex-Im continues to carry out its mission by providing financing when private lenders lack the capacity to do so,” Spencer Bachus, a member of the bank’s board, said in the statement. “In addition, one very positive outcome of the action we took today will be the preservation of approximately 500 U.S.-based jobs.”

It is unlikely jobs at SpaceX were in jeopardy had this deal not closed. Commercial GEO satellite launches represent a small fraction of SpaceX’s overall launch activity, which is dominated by its own Starlink constellation as well as U.S. government business.

Ex-Im officials said last November they were evaluating nearly $2 billion in applications for financing in the space industry, acknowledging that the market had changed since 2015. They said they were looking at deals beyond traditional GEO satellite manufacturing and launch contracts, but said any new technologies had to be proven and demonstrate a “commercial viability” to ensure repayment of the financing the bank underwrites.

Space Force, DoD agencies planning multi-orbit sensor network to track hypersonic missiles

Millennium Space and Raytheon are developing space sensors for medium orbits could be added to the U.S. layered missile defense system

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force last month selected Millennium Space Systems and Raytheon to design sensors that can track hypersonic missiles from medium Earth orbit.  

If successful, sensors in medium orbits could become a new addition to the United States’ layered missile defense system that currently includes ground, sea-based and space sensors. 

A multi-orbit network of space sensors that can detect and track both ballistic and hypersonic missiles is a goal now being pursued by the U.S. Space Force, the Defense Department’s Space Development Agency and Missile Defense Agency. 

Some pieces of the network already are in place or in development. 

The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) of geostationary missile warning satellites has been in operation for a decade. In addition, the Space Force is investing billions of dollars in a new constellation of Next-Generation Overhead Infrared (OPIR) geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites — made by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, respectively — to provide global early warning of missile launches. 

The Space Development Agency (SDA) and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) are developing sensor satellites closer to Earth in low orbits to detect and track maneuvering hypersonic glide vehicles and other advanced weapons that could evade current early warning satellites, ship and ground-based radar sensors. 

L3Harris and SpaceX are making wide-field-of-view missile tracking satellites for SDA. Northrop Grumman and L3Harris are working on medium-field-of-view tracking satellites for MDA. The MDA’s lower orbit tracking satellites would provide so-called “fire control” data needed to be able to target an interceptor weapon to shoot down the hypersonic missile.

The medium orbit sensors that Millennium Space and Raytheon will design over the next 18 months could eventually be added to the mix depending on how they perform in future tests.

The Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center decided to rely on digital designs for the initial studies before it commits to buying satellites. The models will “support U.S. Space Force architecture analysis by providing realistic cost, schedule, and performance predictions, essentially enabling a digital ‘try it before you buy it’ approach,” SMC said in a statement. 

After evaluating the digital prototypes, the Space Force could recommend trades in the architecture. For example, it could suggest replacing geostationary or low Earth orbit satellites with sensors in medium orbits.

Millennium Space, which is owned by Boeing, and Raytheon are working under cost-sharing contracts awarded by SMC’s Space Enterprise Consortium. The contracts are for digital payload designs but include options for SMC to buy up to three actual satellites if the prototypes pass their design reviews.

Jason Kim, CEO of Millennium Space, said the company is taking advantage of Boeing’s expertise in digital engineering to develop the missile tracking prototype sensors.

“It’s important that we have digital models to help SMC and the broader community evaluate next-generation OPIR sensors and integrate them with weapons systems,” Kim said in an interview. 

With sensors in multiple orbits, the Space Force could make trades based on what provides the most capability for the cost, he said. 

Compared to sensors in geostationary satellites, sensors in medium orbits provide better sensitivity, he said. And they can track a wider area than satellites in low Earth orbit. “You see a larger swath of the Earth, the horizon does’t get in the way as in low Earth orbit,” Kim said. “With fewer numbers of satellites you’re able to track ballistic and hypersonic missiles.”

“It’s about having a robust architecture. MEO gives you added resiliency,” he said.

Rob Aalseth, Raytheon’s mission area director for missile warning, said having digital missile tracking prototypes will help the Space Force demonstrate a new approach to buying sensors and satellites.

“This is a demonstration to provide a digital twin,” Aalseth told SpaceNews. “It will help the Space Force deliver a digital engineering environment and give them detailed real models they can work with.”

In a digital missile defense architecture, the Space Force will be able to see how warning satellites interact with tracking sensors, he explained. “It’s a very detailed digital twin so they can look at the architecture and how it works with other systems, and make trades in real time.”

“Missile warning satellites are the global eyes in the eyes, the bell ringers,” said Aalseth. The tracking satellites receive cues from the warning satellites and can monitor the target through all phases of flight, he said.

For hypersonic missile defense, it’s important to have global tracking from space and preferably at different altitudes, Aalseth added. “Radars on the ground are limited. In low Earth orbit, you need a large number of satellites, maybe hundreds. In medium Earth orbit with a smaller  number of satellites you can get global coverage and more sensitivity to see objects.”

Illinois coal plants closing even as energy bill stalls


Dulce Ortiz teared up during a virtual press conference as she recalled the family dinners and birthday celebrations she’s missed because of her dedication to the seemingly endless campaign to close the coal-fired power plant in Waukegan, Illinois. 

The surprise announcement on June 17 that the plant will close in 2022 was bittersweet for Ortiz and other members of the group Clean Power Lake County. It came the day after a sweeping state energy bill yet again failed to pass, leaving in doubt “just transition” provisions that Waukegan residents say are desperately needed to help their town economically weather the closure and begin to mitigate the environmental injustice they say the plant has caused. 

The bill was widely expected to pass last week as the legislature had reconvened for a special session to consider it. But the Senate decided not to vote on the bill, reportedly because of opposition related to the impact on a $1.3 billion natural gas-fired plant under construction in downstate Grundy County. 

The latest version of the bill was spearheaded by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and hashed out over many months by a wide range of stakeholders. It demands coal plants close by 2035 and gas plants by 2045, ratcheting down emissions on the way. It also increases funding for renewables at a level meant to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050 and 40% by 2030. 

J.C. Kibbey, senior policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the last-minute stalemate yet another “11th hour” roadblock put up by fossil fuel interests. The bill had previously been expected to pass during the final stretch of the state legislature’s regular session in May, but it stalled in the final stretch because of opposition from backers of the Prairie State Energy Campus, Illinois’ largest coal plant. The revised bill allows Prairie State to remain open if it can capture and sequester 90% of its carbon emissions by 2034.

“This was the first anyone heard of it,” Kibbey said of the opposition related to the gas plant. “As bill drafts were out for months or years, [fossil fuel closure plans] should not have been a surprise to anyone. Whoever was raising that concern either didn’t understand the way the bill was structured or was trying to create a disruption.” 

After the gas plant-related opposition arose, legislators clarified that the declining emissions caps would be aggregate, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency could decide to let some gas plants keep emitting more carbon while forcing others, especially in environmental justice communities, to ratchet down sooner. Kibbey and others said they are hopeful that given these measures, the legislature will reconvene again in the coming weeks and pass the bill. Kibbey said the Clean Jobs Coalition, which his organization is part of, backs the governor’s bill. However, he said he has questions about the economics and doesn’t want to see too much concession around emissions reduction plans. 

“We should have zero emissions in 2045, but not all roads to zero emissions are created equal,” he said. 

Complaints and concessions 

For much of the spring legislative session, the main opposition to the bill proposed by Pritzker came from Exelon, owner of the state’s nuclear fleet, and labor unions that represent nuclear workers. Pritzker’s bill ultimately promised $694 million over five years to the nuclear plants, a lesser amount than Exelon wanted but enough to keep the plants open, according to a high-profile study by consultants Synapse. 

“That could have been the end of it,” state Sen. Christian Mitchell said in remarks for the June 15 committee hearing that was ultimately adjourned without action.

Mitchell’s testimony went on to describe the concessions made to Prairie State and gas plants. “We’ve come a long way. We have moved substantially. The other side has not moved much. Everything we were told was necessary for an agreement — including a carbon capture exemption that gives both the Governor and environmentalists heartburn — is now present. And at some point a progressive climate bill is no longer a climate bill, and going further than this is the tipping point.”

The bill calls for a task force to explore ways to reduce the debt burden that Prairie State has created for hundreds of municipally owned utilities and cooperatives across eight states that committed to buy power from and pay for the ballooning costs of the coal plant. 

Sandy Buchanan is executive director of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, which has published many studies and critiques of Prairie State. Buchanan has long advocated measures to reduce the debt on municipal utilities and co-ops, and she fears a foray into carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS, will only add a bigger burden with little chance of success. 

“The idea of studying CCS has now been around for decades, multi multi millions have been spent on it, and the only beneficiaries have been the people doing the studying,” Buchanan said. “For coal it has not turned out to be a practical solution. The problem with this plant is it’s locked these communities into expensive power for decades, and the only thing CCS will do is make the power more expensive.”

The only large-scale carbon capture plant that has operated in the U.S. is NRG’s Petra Nova in Texas, and that $1 billion project has been considered unsuccessful — only about 7% of carbon emissions have ultimately been captured and falling oil prices have meant selling carbon to help squeeze more oil out of reserves has stalled. Kibbey said that based on the cost of Petra Nova and another carbon capture project in Canada, experts estimate capturing 90% of carbon at Prairie State would cost between $72 million and $500 million a year just for the Illinois part of the project. 

Critics of Prairie State say that rather than keeping an unnecessary plant open, lawmakers should focus on a just transition for the employees of the plant and Lively Grove mine that supplies it, and for the municipalities already drastically impacted by the debt they’ve taken on for Prairie State. 

Demanding a just transition  

Ortiz said that while her community is celebrating the closure of the Waukegan plant, they know the fight for a just transition is far from over. 

For years they have been asking plant owner NRG to inform them about closing plans or projections and work with them on transition provisions, with little response. Hence Waukegan residents and others say legislation is necessary to protect communities where coal plants are likely to close — because of market forces regardless of governmental mandates. 

NRG also announced it would close its Romeoville plant outside Chicago, where the group Citizens Against Ruining the Environment has for years fought for environmental protection and a just transition. Both plants are part of the fleet NRG bought from Midwest Generation, including two coal plants that closed in Chicago in 2012 after extensive grassroots campaigns and declining profitability. 

The proposed legislation contains ambitious just transition and equity components, based in large part on the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which the Waukegan group and others have long supported. This includes workforce training hubs concentrated in environmental justice communities; retraining, education and support for employees and communities of closing fossil fuel plants; and programs and incentives to ensure that solar, electric vehicles and other renewable sectors specifically benefit communities and those harmed by fossil fuels. 

Ortiz noted her 20-year-old son grew up inhaling pollution from the coal plant, and the fight to close the plant characterized the family’s life during his teenage years. Ortiz also has a 3-year-old and 7-month-old, and she hopes the coal plant’s closing represents a healthier and greener future for their generation, especially in environmental justice communities like Waukegan. But before that can happen, residents want to see the site thoroughly cleaned up, including a coal ash impoundment that has been the cause of much concern in the past. They want sustainable jobs created for residents who have so long borne the brunt of the pollution, and they want the lakefront site turned into an asset rather than a liability for the community. 

“I’m hoping and praying that I will no longer have to sacrifice my children to make sure we have clean air, water and soil,” Ortiz said. “It’s time once and for all for legislators to pass a comprehensive bill that cites equity.”

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