SpaceX Starts Public-Private Partnership

Photo Courtesy: NASA

Michael Weinhoffer/Staff Reporter

On Jan. 31, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from the newly renovated Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The second SpaceX launch of the year placed the GovSat-1 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit for GovSat; a new public-private partnership between the government of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES. The government of Luxembourg is quite the unique customer for SpaceX, but Luxembourg has been becoming a louder voice in the space industry, and this launch was a good step forward in their global emergence as an industry power.

Luxembourg has a few characteristics that make it attractive to the space industry. The country has one the world’s highest GDP per capita and a prosperous telecommunications industry. Intelsat and SES, two of the world’s largest communication satellite operators, have taken advantage of the developed economy of Luxembourg and have transformed the technological industry there to match that of the United States. In recent years, the government of Luxembourg saw the writing on the walls that asteroid mining was a viable industry and a new source of income for the nation and accordingly joined the United States in passing legislation that legally permits asteroid mining and the selling of asteroid resources. Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, the major asteroid mining companies in the United States, have both partnered with the government of Luxembourg to transform legislation into real economic benefits for the nation and for the world. Overall, the small country of Luxembourg has quickly become a dominant force in the industry and perfect partner for a public-private partnership.

SES S.A. is the other partner of the GovSat venture, and as the world’s largest satellite operator, has quite the reputation. SES operates more than 50 satellites in Geostationary Earth Orbit and 12 satellites in Medium Earth Orbit, primarily providing video to TVs worldwide. SES provides these services to every continent of the world except Antarctica and is pioneering Ultra HD video technology, which results in crisper and more colorful TV images for homes around the world. SES also enables in-flight entertainment and monitors airplane and ship movements with the help of satellites. SES has developed some of the most advanced satellites in the world and has consistently relied on the European launch provider Arianespace to launch the birds safely. Recently, SES has established an excellent relationship with SpaceX and launched one of their satellites on a reused Falcon 9 booster for the first time in history last year. SES S.A. is the model satellite operator, and a strong partnership with Luxembourg only seems appropriate.

The GovSat partnership was formed last year and entails SES providing communication services for governments and institutions in the eastern hemisphere. The lovechild of the partnership, GovSat-1, has advanced security capabilities that will help prevent jamming of its transponder while it is providing services. The joint GovSat mission operations center in Luxembourg operates the satellite. Several officials from Luxembourg and SES commented on the partnership, such as Patrick Biewer, the CEO of GovSat, who said, “The launch of GovSat-1 opens up a new era of secure satellite connectivity for governments and institutions.” Xavier Bettel, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, noted that “The launch of GovSat-1 is the beginning of a new space experience for Luxembourg, after the foundation of SES in 1985 and the launch of the first SES satellite nearly 30 years ago. GovSat and the launch of GovSat-1 is another step towards strengthening the position of Luxembourg as a key player in the aerospace sector and contributes to a diversification of our economy.”

We can expect more GovSat launches in the future and improved connectivity services for governments around the world. Although public-private partnerships are nothing new, this one feels particularly special because it underscores the improvements satellites can make in our everyday lives and how they can provide significant economic benefits to countries who need them the most or help developed nations refine their services to serve those less fortunate.