Investing in Space: From Paris, with satellites

A Starship prototype stands on the company’s launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas on March 16, 2022.

SpaceX

CNBC’s Investing in Space newsletter offers a view into the business of space exploration and privatization, delivered straight to your inbox. CNBC’s Michael Sheetz reports and curates the latest news, investor updates and exclusive interviews on the most important companies reaching new heights. Sign up to receive future editions.

Welcome to the first edition of CNBC’s Investing in Space newsletter!

I’m Michael Sheetz, CNBC’s space reporter. I’m thrilled to launch this weekly newsletter, building on my coverage of the business of space. I’ve covered the industry at CNBC for the past several years – tracking everyone from billionaire-backed disruptors to satellite communications giants to space-explorative startups. 

Overview: From Paris, with Satellites

This week I’m reporting from Paris for the 2022 editions of World Satellite Business Week and International Astronautical Congress. The pair of conferences together attract thousands from across the global industry.

Today is the second-to-last day of the WSBW program, where much of the conversation has centered around satcom consolidation and constellations. A shift is underway in the satellite communications market – which has long been the industry’s money maker – from video broadcast to data services. Already, two major mergers are in the works, as Eutelsat moves to join with OneWeb and ViaSat looks to buy Inmarsat. A third tie-up is possible, with reported discussions between SES and Intelsat. And beyond the M&A of it all, partnerships abound, as the low Earth orbit broadband networks being built by SpaceX, Amazon and more create new possibilities for high-speed connections anywhere in the world.

The seemingly insatiable demand for data, and the already critical role of satellite services to support the global economy, are expected to spur growth and drive the sector’s revenue past $1 trillion annually by the end of this decade, according to analyst forecasts.

I’ll be relocating shortly to the Paris Convention Centre — after a quick pit stop to tour a French rocket factory — in time for IAC 2022 to get into full swing this weekend.

Thank you for reading and subscribing, and special thanks to CNBC Deputy Business Editor Sara Salinas for helping make the idea of this newsletter a reality, as well as the many others who contributed insight and advice along the way.

Please forward, share and stay tuned, and read on below for more from the last week in space.

What’s up

  • Northrop Grumman executive praises the potential of SpaceX’s Starship, but warns that the rocket “is not there yet.” Rob Hauge, president of Northrop Grumman’s SpaceLogistics, said at WSBW that “Starship is going to be an awesome capability,” but told CNBC that the industry should temper expectations until SpaceX hits key development milestones. – CNBC
  • Steve Collar, CEO of European satellite company SES, breaks down the changing broadband market. Speaking with CNBC at WSBW, Collar talked about how SES’s target market is different than the likes of SpaceX’s Starlink, and how he sees the flurry of M&A among his competitors. – CNBC
  • SpaceX seeks to appeal the Federal Communication Commission’s rural subsidies decision, filing a request with the regulator after the FCC last month overturned a decision to grant the company $885.5 million won under the Rural Digital Opportunities. In its filing, the company called the denial “flawed as a matter of both law and policy.” – FCC
  • Blue Origin’s uncrewed cargo flight suffered a dramatic mid-launch problem, with the NS-23 mission aborting after an apparent engine failure. The company’s reusable New Shepard rocket booster was on its ninth launch to date. While the capsule on top of the rocket successfully fired its emergency escape system, the company and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the rocket issue, with the regulator needing to sign off before Blue Origin resumes either cargo or crew New Shepard missions. – Blue Origin
  • Satellite-to-smartphone company AST SpaceMobile has its first demonstration satellite in orbit. Called BlueWalker 3, the satellite launched on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday. The company announced the satellite is communicating with its mission control operators. – AST SpaceMobile
  • European Space Agency director general Josef Aschbacher says his agency has to be “faster” and “more dynamic.” Speaking at WSBW, the agency chief called for Europe to match the pace of investing and innovation in space companies in the U.S., noting that ESA’s next funding package will include “several billions” that is “purely focused on commercialization.” – Read More
  • FCC outlines new rules for debris in orbit, with the regulator releasing a draft order that would reduce the amount of time satellite operators have to re-enter a spacecraft into the Earth’s atmosphere, from 25 years to five years. – FCC

Industry maneuvers

  • CEOs of Eutelsat and OneWeb talk merger, with the former’s Eva Berneke and the latter’s Neil Masterson speaking together at WSBW. They expect the proposed merger to move quickly, and emphasized the potential of the companies’ combined satellite networks. The tie-up would see Eutelsat’s existing fleet of geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites paired up with OneWeb’s developing constellation of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.- SpaceNews
  • Astra hires former Blue Origin senior director Doug Kunzman. The small rocket builder brought on Kunzman as Vice President for Test and Launch Engineering and Operations. He previously served as senior director of Blue Origin’s New Shepard program until September 2021, which followed a near 40-year career in the U.S. Navy. – Astra
  • Satellite communications venture Rivada Space Network builds out leadership team, including the addition of longtime satellite executive Mark Rigolle as COO and acting CFO. – Rivada
  • Lunar company Astrobotic confirms acquisition of bankrupt Masten Space, saying operations will continue at the latter’s facility in Mojave. Development of the Xogdor rocket will also continue. – Astrobotic

Market movers

  • Planet Labs stock is up 32% week-to-date, after reporting fiscal second quarter results on Monday. The satellite imagery and data company delivered quarterly revenue of $48.5 million, up nearly 60% year over year, and with an adjusted EBITDA loss of $10.5 million. Planet increased its revenue outlook for the rest of its fiscal year and now expects annual revenue between $182 million to $190 million. – Planet

On the horizon

  • Sept. 15 – SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is launching 54 Starlink satellites from Florida. The company is targeting 9:27 p.m. ET for the mission, having delayed the day prior due to weather. 
  • Sept. 19/20 – Firefly Aerospace is due for a second attempt at an Alpha rocket launch from California. After postponing attempts on Sept. 11 and 12, the company aims to reach orbit for the first time with potential opportunities on Monday and Tuesday.