FIRST UP Satcom | Intelsat invests in AMN • Iridium gets $44 million DISA contract extension • NSR finds slow growth in satellite operator revenues

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Intelsat invested in Africa Mobile Networks (AMN), a U.K.-headquartered group of companies with telecom infrastructure in Africa, to reach “ultra-rural” parts of the sub-Saharan side of the continent. Intelsat did not disclose the size of the investment. AMN seeks to fund, build and operate telecom networks for cellular operators that have struggled to reach isolated regions. AMN says it has a low-cost, solar-powered small-cell solution that can be set up in under six hours. As part of its agreement with Intelsat, AMN will use Intelsat satellite capacity for connectivity. Intelsat has 23 wide-beam satellites covering Africa, as well as high-throughput spot-beam coverage from Intelsat Epic. [Intelsat/AMN]

Iridium received a $44 million contract extension from the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency, adding six months to a contract from 2013. Through the Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services (EMSS) contract, Iridium is tasked with providing unlimited global secure and unsecure voice, along with data and other services, for an unlimited number of Defense Department and other federal government subscribers. The five-year, $400 million EMSS contract was due to expire this month, but now extends to April. Iridium officials had suggested an extension was likely as the company negotiates a new contract. [Via Satellite]

Fixed satellite services operator revenues are growing slightly, but backlogs are thinning out as customers opt for shorter contracts, according to a report from Northern Sky Research. Analysts measured a 0.5 percent increase in aggregate operator revenues in 2017, but a 4 percent decrease in annual backlog growth rates. Satellite operators increased their fleet fill rates by 7 to 10 percent, thanks largely to growth from data customers and the transition to high-throughput satellites. [NSR]

MORE STORIES

A startup satellite operator has ordered a Falcon Heavy launch from SpaceX. Swedish company Ovzon said Tuesday it signed a contract with SpaceX for a Falcon Heavy launch of its first satellite no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2020. Ovzon is in the “final stage” of ordering that satellite, and paid Eutelsat $1.6 million earlier this year to move one of its satellites to an unspecified Ovzon orbital slot to preserve spectrum rights there. Ovzon joins several other companies and the U.S. Air Force as customers for SpaceX’s heavy-lift rocket, which performed its first and, to date, only launch in February. [SpaceNews]

Hispasat and Gilat have started a satellite broadband effort aimed at residential and corporate customers in Brazil. Hispamar, the Brazilian arm of Spain-based Hispasat, will use spot-beam capacity on Hispasat’s Amazonas-3 and Amazonas-5 satellites, which together cover roughly three-quarters of Brazil’s population, representing more than 145 million people and 48 million homes. Israel-based Gilat has installed its Sky Edge 2-c platform at Hispamar’s Caxias do Sul teleport, and is providing user terminals for the business initiative. [Hispasat]

The former CEO of OneWeb has left the company a month after a demotion. Eric Béranger has left OneWeb to “pursue new opportunities,” a company spokesperson said. Béranger, named CEO of the broadband constellation company in 2016, was reassigned to the roles of president and chief operating officer last month when the company hired Adrian Steckel as its new CEO. [SpaceNews]

OHB Italia will launch a satellite it is building for the Luxembourg government on an Arianespace rocket. OHB Italia, through a turnkey contract with Luxembourg’s Directorate of Defence, will launch the National Advanced Optical System (NAOS) satellite on a Vega or a Vega C rocket in 2022. NAOS is a 600-kilogram satellite under construction to last for seven years in a 500-kilometer orbit. Luxembourg intends to use the satellite project to increase its participation with European and North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense efforts. [Arianespace]

Another antenna company is joining the race to develop systems to support broadband constellations. ThinKom tested a phased-array antenna with the O3b constellation operated by SES in August and also announced plans to work with Telesat and the demonstration satellite currently in orbit for its planned broadband constellation. The company is hoping to secure business with planned satellite constellations, competing with startups like Kymeta and Phasor to offer the affordable ground systems needed for those constellations to be successful. [SpaceNews]

Aviation giant Rockwell Collins is offering space-based flight tracking through Aireon’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance — Broadcast (ADS-B) network. Aireon’s network of hosted payloads is launching aboard the Iridium Next constellation, of which 65 of 66 operational satellites are in orbit. The final launch, carrying the last operational satellite and nine spares, is planned for later this year. “Rockwell Collins customers benefit from the certainty of their aircraft’s position, even over oceans, polar regions, deserts, or jungles — all places where frequent position accuracy has historically been difficult to achieve,” said Bob Richard, Rockwell Collins senior director for ARINCDirect. [Rockwell Collins]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.

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