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Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, a Chinese automotive giant owned by billionaire Li Shufu, has started building a production and testing center for commercial low-orbit satellites, with plans to launch them by the end of the year. The announcement makes Geely the first known Chinese automaker with designs on space. (Bloomberg)

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Talking point: The move follows similar activity from Silicon Valley tycoons looking to launch satellites into an increasingly crowded low-Earth orbit. Elon Musk, the billionaire boss of Tesla and SpaceX, is spearheading Starlink, a project set to launch a constellation of thousands of satellites that could bring internet connectivity to remote parts of the world (and could possibly outnumber the 9,000 stars visible to the naked human eye). Jeff Bezos’s Amazon is also eyeing satellite launches, announcing plans last year to send over 3,000 satellites into orbit. Geely has ambitious plans to dominate the auto industry. Last year, the company spent ¥20 billion on research and development of self-driving cars and flying taxis. Li also became the biggest shareholder of Daimler AG in 2018.

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Military satellite Poppy VII-B and space telescope Infrared Astronomical Satellite passed within a predicted 47 metres of one another on Wednesday night. The incident occurred at an altitude of 900 kilometres, in orbit over western Pennsylvania. (NASASpaceFlight.com)

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Talking point: Entire satellites rarely collide, and Wednesday’s incident would not have endangered the people of Earth if they had hit each other. But the accrual of aging, broken-down objects in orbit—the two involved in this near-miss have been inactive for nearly four decades—has created more risk for crashes; meanwhile, several firms plan to launch new constellations of thousands of satellites, albeit in lower orbits than many of those sent up in previous decades. Montreal’s NorthStar is among the companies hoping to build a business out of space scavenging; it is building a system to track defunct satellites and other space debris, a venture for which it’s received significant government backing.

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Apple has “a secret team” of engineers working on creating its own constellation of satellites, as well as next-generation wireless tech, as a way to bypass carriers and beam internet and other data directly to iPhones. (Bloomberg)

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Talking point: The details of the project—which Apple CEO Tim Cook has reportedly made a company priority—are murky. According to Bloomberg, the company hasn’t set a clear direction for how the satellites will be used and deployed, and what infrastructure it will use to send and receive data. And the project could yet be abandoned, sources said. Apple has begun hiring engineers for the new team, which is being led by John Fenwick and Michael Trela, two former Google executives who led that company’s satellite and spacecraft operations. Should it succeed, Apple would join SpaceX and Amazon, both of which are working on their own satellite networks to deploy internet.

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The satellites will deliver broadband internet to tens of millions. The project will cost the company billions of dollars, according to CEO Jeff Bezos, and is separate from Blue Origin, the space company he personally funds. (Bloomberg)

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Talking point: Amazon’s satellite plans open up a new front in the space rivalry between Bezos and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX is one step ahead. It secured FCC approval for 11,943 low-Earth-orbit satellites in April, and launched the first 60 in May, although at the end of June, it said it had lost contact with three of them. Blue Origin and SpaceX are competing to become one of the U.S. Air Force’s two primary launch providers which will carry out national security missions for the military. On that front, Blue Origin may have an advantage—it has received US$500 million from the military to develop new rockets.

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The Radarsat constellation replaces Radarsat-2, which has been in orbit since 2007. The satellites will orbit Earth every 96 minutes. While predecessor Radarsat-2 was owned by MDA—which builds satellites, space robotics and defence solutions—this constellation is owned by the federal government. It will feed surveillance data to the Canadian Armed Forces and help with emergency planning for natural disasters. (CBC)

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Talking point: The satellites are a big improvement from early iterations of Radarsat; the constellation is expected to generate 250,000 images per year, 50 times more than the first generation. A key purpose of the constellation is to monitor the Arctic. The government said that land security in the region will be significantly increased with the constellation. It’s a region that’s been a source of tension between Russia, China and the U.S. and, in May 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Canada’s claim to the Northwest Passage—an area above Canada that is increasingly becoming a possible shipping route due to melting sea ice—“illegitimate.”

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On Friday morning, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that all of the satellites are now “online.” It was its third attempt to launch after two postponements last week. The network of satellites is meant to offer internet anywhere on Earth. (New York Times)

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Talking point: Existing satellite internet companies cover limited areas, and their crafts are usually deployed much farther from the surface that SpaceX’s Starlinks satellites will orbit much lower in order to provide greater stability in the service. Musk sees the venture as a way for the company to generate the big revenues it requires to fund other ambitious projects, such as sending people to Mars. But Musk won’t have the space all to himself. Amazon plans to launch 3,236 satellites, while SoftBank-backed OneWeb plans to put up 650 and Ottawa-based Telesat plans to launch 300.

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The satellites are intended to provide greater connectivity to areas with poor or no internet access. Amazon filed for three sets of approvals in March with the International Telecommunications Union and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). (CNBC)

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Talking point: In November 2018, Elon Musk’s SpaceX won FCC approval to put 7,000 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit, almost double the size of Amazon’s initiative. Amazon is facing stiff competition in the satellite internet space. In March 2018, SoftBank-backed OneWeb raised US$1.25 billion to launch 650 satellites. Ottawa-based Telesat has been also been granted FCC approval and plans to launch 300 satellites. Lofty proposals on satellite-based internet don’t always work out. In 2015, Facebook proposed launching a satellite in space to provide connectivity in Africa, but to save costs, it instead leased Spacecom’s broadband on-board AMOS-6 satellite, which was later destroyed in a space explosion.

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The Series A investment will help the Waterloo-based startup boost its efforts to make satellite images more accessible; the company’s software currently serves about 100 customers in over a dozen different industries. (Financial Post)

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Talking point: The space economy has long been the subject of hype, but there are signs it will boom this year, and satellites in particular have been the subject of a lot of recent attention. On Monday, Canadian investors agreed to a $1-billion deal to buy back the homegrown aerospace company MDA from Colorado-based Maxar. A report last month said Apple had “a secret team” of engineers working on creating its own constellation of satellites to provide internet. Amazon is looking for real estate to start building its own constellation of low-orbit satellites for the same purpose. The U.K. is also turning to satellite technology to combat climate change. The attention is driving down prices of satellite-related products, according to SkyWatch co-founder James Slifierz.