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Australia’s competition watchdog agency ruled out the idea of Telstra buying the National Broadband Network. Telstra created a division called InfraCo last year as a means of buying the $51 billion publicly funded communications company, which operates two satellites. Competing telecommunications providers Singtel Optus and Vodafone Australia welcomed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s stance blocking Telstra and other companies. Australian Communications Minister Paul Fletcher also rejected the idea of Telstra buying NBN, saying legislation blocks NBN ownership by a vertically integrated telco. [The Sydney Morning Herald]
Aircraft-tracking company Aireon launched a free emergency response service. The company’s Aircraft Location and Emergency Response Tracking, or ALERT, system provides the last-known location of any aircraft equipped with an ADS-B transponder. The Irish Aviation Authority, one of Aireon’s investors, is providing staff to operate the free service. Aireon uses a network of sensors hosted on Iridium satellites to track aircraft over oceans and other places beyond the reach of terrestrial radar. More than 193 customers, including airlines, air navigation service providers, and search-and-rescue agencies, are using the ALERT service, which opened for pre-registration last August. [Avionics International]
Globalstar has purchased a license from one of its suppliers for a solar-powered asset tracking device. The Louisiana-based satellite operator paid Carmanah Technologies Corporation $700,000 for a “perpetual license” to its SmartOne Solar intellectual property, along with production equipment and other assets. Globalstar and Carmanah signed a supplier agreement in August 2016, through which Carmanah designed and built the Internet-of-Things devices for Globalstar. [Globalstar]
A startup developing a line of drag sails to deorbit satellites received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from NASA. Vestigo Aerospace said it will further product development through the six-month, $125,000 study. The company will collaborate with Purdue University’s Space Flight Projects Laboratory on the project. Vestigo’s founder David Spencer is a Purdue alumnus and associate professor at Purdue’s College of Engineering. [Purdue University]
The FCC will release draft regulations this week intended to streamline the licensing of small satellites. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday, said the regulations will make licensing small satellites cheaper and faster in order to better match the cost and pace at which smallsat operators often function. Pai said the streamlined regulations, as proposed, will apply to satellites 180 kilograms or less with a maximum lifetime of six years. Industry has sought such streamlining, noting that regulations today treat smallsats the same as much larger, more expensive satellites. [SpaceNews]
Inmarsat says its contract with Airbus Defence and Space for three Inmarsat-7 satellites is open-ended, leaving the option to buy many more satellites. Peter Hadinger, Inmarsat’s chief technology officer, said the company’s plan is first to achieve global coverage with the Inmarsat-7s with three satellites, then add capacity through more satellites. “We have every expectation that we will be getting more of these spacecraft going forward,” he said. While Inmarsat and Airbus have a partnership around satellite manufacturing, Hadinger said that doesn’t mean Inmarsat will exclude other manufacturers in its purchase decisions. [SpaceNews]
Development of “self-driving” spacecraft could be more difficult than for self-driving cars. To prepare for self-driving cars, mobility companies have spent more than a decade gathering data from thousands of vehicles equipped with cameras and other sensors. No comparable database exists for companies or government agencies aiming to give spacecraft more autonomy. Artificial intelligence offers the promise of enabling spacecraft to autonomously respond to threats and share information with other satellites in a constellation, but spacecraft operators will only embrace AI when they have confidence it will not create new problems. [SpaceNews]
Amazon says it will be able to provide service with its proposed Kuiper Systems constellation after launching less than a fifth of the total system. The company’s FCC filing stated that its first wave of 578 satellites would provide internet service in two bands between 39 and 56 degrees latitude both north and south of the equator. Subsequent waves would provide service at lower latitudes. Amazon said that satellites in its planned orbits should decay naturally within 10 years if they fail, but that it would seek to deorbit satellites within a year of the end of their lives. [SpaceNews]
Companies like Amazon planning satellite megaconstellations need to follow three rules, experts say. One is to develop new technology quickly, using rapid iteration to advance key systems. Another rule is make selective use of automation in the production and operation of satellites. The final rule is to accept some degree of failure in satellite systems, particularly in the early stage of their development. [SpaceNews]
SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.