International Business

Government exploring space options

  • Opportunities above: an artist’s illustration of EchoStar VI, the satellite that operates on the BermudaSat-1 network. Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, has met with consultants to discuss space industry opportunities for Bermuda

Diversifying Bermuda’s economy through the space industry is one of the routes being explored by the Government of Bermuda.

It is a sector that has been pursued for a number of years, and the impetus will continue, according to Walter Roban, Minister of Transport and Regulatory Affairs.

“Bermuda is seeking to expand and diversify its economy, and next steps with respect to the satellite and space industry are of critical importance,” he told MPs in Parliament on Friday.

“Now that Bermuda has secured its orbital slots and the Space Industry Bill is presently before the UK Parliament — the next step in regulating space flight activities — Bermuda must consider its options and what it has to offer.”

Mr Roban was speaking about his visit to London in September, where he attended London International Shipping Week conferences and took part in meetings relating to shipping, investment, and transport.

Beyond the shipping conference, the space industry was a topic of conversation with consultants, and the Deputy Premier said he had “fruitful discussions” that continued in Bermuda after he returned from Britain. He added: “I will have more to report on this in due course.”

Bermuda has four orbital slots for satellites, one is occupied by the EchoStar VI satellite operated by the company Satellite Ventures (Bermuda) Ltd, which is a joint venture of SES Satellites (Bermuda) Ltd, and EchoStar Ltd.

The satellite operates on the BermudaSat-1 network at 96.2°WL, and its potential markets include commercial, leisure and government consumers.

However, a US-imposed moratorium that has been in place since 2005 has prevented access to the highly valued US market by all new licensed satellite networks, including Bermuda’s.

The EchoStar VI satellite was launched in 2000 and brought into service on the BermudaSat-1 network in 2013. In March of last year, in a report to Parliament, it was stated that no commercial agreements had yet been made for the satellite, although SES continued to be “optimistic about the commercial prospects of BermudaSat-1”.

In December, Grant Gibbons, who at the time was the Minister of Economic Development, spoke about meetings he had with Nasa officials in Washington DC. The discussions included the issue of the moratorium and suggestions on how Bermuda might proceed.

Afterwards, Dr Gibbons said work was bring done with consultants “to consider various options and provide me with a recommendation as to the best course of action to put us into a position to finally maximise the commercial potential of our premier satellite orbital resource”.

Bermuda’s involvement with the space industry stretches back to some the earliest days of Nasa’s space programme, with the agency operating a tracking station at Cooper’s Island from 1960 until 1997.

This year, the island has hosted portable satellite tracking facilities operated by Nasa, the European Space Agency, and SpaceX.

In London last month, Mr Roban was part of a Bermuda delegation that included representatives from the Bermuda Shipping and Maritime Authority, the Bermuda Business Development Agency, and a number of Bermudian-based companies.

He said the group had promoted “Bermuda’s ‘blue-chip’ advantages to the international shipping sector”.

Mr Roban also met with Transport for London to talk about technology and travel products.

He said: “These included, for example, ‘pay as you go’ or pre-loaded cards such as the Oyster card, contactless payment — which requires a chip and PIN technology not yet widely available in Bermuda, ticket vending machines, biodegradable smart cards and travel apps.”