For the first time a Canadian satellite has been launched by China. Kepler Communications, a Toronto based startup, had its first satellite launched today as secondary payload on a Long March 11 rocket. Canadian satellites have previously flown on American, Russian and Indian launch vehicles.
This was the third launch of China’s Long March 11 (CZ-11), a four stage solid-propellant rocket reportedly derived from a Chinese ICBM. The primary payloads were two remote sensing satellites for China, Jilin-1 07 and Jilin-1 08, along with several secondary CubeSat’s from China and Kepler’s Communications 3U CubeSat.
Prior to the launch SpaceQ contacted Kepler Communications CEO, Mina Mitry, to confirm if their satellite was scheduled to launch on the Chinese launch vehicle. Mitry would not confirm the launch saying “at this time we’re not commenting on our launches to protect our commercial interests.” SpaceQ could not confirm from any reliable sources whether the satellite was indeed manifested on the Long March 11 mission. China does not publish much information prior to a launch and generally only releases video after the launch has been deemed a success.
SpaceQ had learned that Kepler signed a launch contract with the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) last summer for a launch on a Long March 11, which at the time was originally scheduled for November of 2017. However, Kepler would not confirm the launch contract.
Kepler has yet to confirm to SpaceQ it was a customer on today’s China’s Long March 11 launch, however CGWIC released a statement confirming that they had indeed launched Kepler’s satellite.
Unlike its previous launch contract for a launch on a future Indian PSLV rocket, Kepler did not announce the contract with CGWIC. Kepler reportedly used Innovative Space Logistics of the Netherlands to broker the launch.
Clyde Space of Scotland had been contracted to build Kepler’s first two satellites.
Kepler did inform SpaceQ its second satellite will be launched in the second half of this year.
Kepler Waits for the FCC
While Kepler is celebrating the launch of its first satellite, it still has hurdles to clear before its constellation of satellites is providing customers with its services. That includes getting its spectrum license approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Kepler met with the FCC on December 4, 2017 to discuss its application. Kepler noted that ISED had granted Kepler a license for its full constellation and that Kepler’s launch was imminent “in the coming weeks”. Kepler also informed the FCC “that its earth stations are on schedule to be operational within the coming weeks and that the system should be ready for commercial operation in the first quarter of 2018.”
Kepler is still waiting on the FCC’s decision.
China Wants More International Customers
In recent years China has become more aggressive in trying to capture a portion of the international commercial launch market. On January 2nd the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation announced that China plans on conducting 40 or more launches this year, almost doubling its best year in 2016 when they attempted 22 launches. Several of those launches will include foreign satellites.
China has already completed four launches this year.
With the door seemingly open for Canadian satellites to launch on Chinese launch vehicles, it probably won’t be long before another Canadian company signs up to launch with China.