Via Satellite presents a group of six nominees for the prestigious Satellite Executive of the Year award, which honors an executive that has led a company to great financial success or executed an innovative project — a leader that has had significant impact on the industry. Last year, Steve Collar, CEO of SES, took home the award, and the list of previous winners includes Matt Desch, Stéphane Israël, and Michel de Rosen.
The winner of Satellite Executive of the Year will be determined by a combination of votes from Via Satellite readers and the Via Satellite editorial board. Online voting begins on February 22 and ends at noon ET on March 31. The winner will be announced on April 5 during a digital awards ceremony hosted by SATELLITE 2021. All SATELLITE registrants can access the digital program by registering for SATELLITE 2021.
This year’s nominees come from all corners of the world, from North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Not only are the nominees geographically diverse, but they also represent different aspects of the industry from operators, launch, a start-up, and space sustainability. These six candidates were nominated by our readers and the editorial board. Here, we present the nominees.
Several large space corporations have attempted to launch on-orbit servicing spin-off businesses throughout the years to combat the rapid acceleration of space congestion. Despite good intentions, many tried and nearly all have failed. Just seven years after Nobu Okada founded Astroscale in 2013, the privately owned Japanese sustainable space technology company finds itself leading the pack and looking back at a truly stellar year packed with remarkable accomplishments on a global scale.
Its 2020 financial achievements include becoming the world’s most funded on-orbit services and logistics company in history – raising a total of $191 million in funding following a successful Series E campaign. The company also received its first major civil space contract when it was selected as a commercial partner for Phase I of JAXA’s first debris removal project. In June, the company acquired Effective Space Solutions, adding satellite life extension to its services and making Astroscale the world’s only company solely dedicated to on-orbit services across multiple orbits.
As an executive leader, Okada’s professional achievements during the year include receiving the Japanese Minister of Science and Technology Policy Award at Japan Venture Awards, and being elected vice president of the International Astronautical Federation. Okada is now preparing his company for the pivotal launch of its first orbital debris removal demonstration, ELSA-d, scheduled for later this year.
There is consensus in the industry that debris removal, life-extension, and on-orbit services will be critical to the longevity of commercial space activity. In a remarkably short amount of time, Okada has established lucrative business opportunities for Astroscale to provide an array of sustainability solutions for nearly every customer and every orbit.
Two years ago, Masood M. Sharif Mahmood led Yahsat’s enormously successful acquisition of mobile satellite services operator, Thuraya, creating a Ka- and L-band powerhouse serving the Middle East, Africa, and Brazil. In 2020, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Masood turned crisis into opportunity, adapted Yahsat’s business strategy, and reached record profitability levels.
Yahsat made its biggest announcement of 2020 in August, when it launched a program to upgrade Thuraya’s network, coverage and service capabilities, backed by $500 million in investment capital. The program includes the development and launch of the Thuraya 4-NGS next generation telecommunications system, which will be operational in 2024. Yahsat also launched its Falcon Eye 2 satellite in December, and made a full financial recovery from the Al Yah 3 satellite that Arianespace launched to the wrong orbit in 2018 due to a data input anomaly.
But what is most impressive about Yahsat’s 2020 performance under Masood’s leadership is the way the way the operator conceived and implemented a crisis management framework that limited its exposure to the COVID-19 crisis, while tapping into the benefits of satellite backhauling and increased broadband usage for teleworking, e-learning and other mass-market requirements that competing terrestrial telecom operators failed to meet.
As the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) primary satellite services provider, Yahsat augmented the nation’s domestic communication network to counter emergencies. It activated a remote connectivity project for the UAE Ministry of Education and the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge, providing free satellite Wi-Fi connectivity to hundreds of students requiring reliable internet service to continue their education. The operator also entered into an agreement with South Africa’s Department of Telecommunication & Digital Technologies through its YahClick service to supply broadband connections to over 480 remote healthcare centers in the country.
Yahsat serves as an example of how satellites can serve as a powerful economic tool during times of prosperity and crisis. During Masood’s term as CEO, the once-considered regional operator has grown into the world’s eighth-largest fixed satellite operator by revenue. Its fleet of five satellites now reaches more than 80 percent of the world’s population on five different continents.
Gwynne Shotwell could technically, be credited with the executive leadership of two separate record-shattering businesses in the same year. SpaceX is both the world’s most active launch service and largest Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity provider. They have arguably both changed and dominated the industry in a decade’s time. Shotwell won Via Satellite’s Executive of the Year Award in 2017 and was recognized for the company’s ground-breaking achievements in reusable rocket technology. She wraps up 2020 with an even better performance in every metric.
Let’s start with the launch business. SpaceX broke its single year launch record in 2020 with 26 missions, which included both its 100th successful Falcon 9 rocket launch and its 100th successful space mission. The company launched the first two crewed missions to the International Space Station to lift off from the United States since the retirement of the NASA Space Shuttle in 2011. The launch on May 30 captured the world’s attention and rejuvenated the public’s investment in space exploration.
It almost flies under the radar that SpaceX shattered its reusable rocket recovery record in 2020. During the year, it successfully landed 23 boosters (compared to 15 in 2019), for a remarkable 88.5 percent booster recovery rate. The company also hit a single booster re-use record of seven missions for a single booster (up from four in the previous year).
Now, let’s talk about Starlink, SpaceX’s LEO constellation of more than 1,000 satellites. Of SpaceX’s 26 successful 2020 launch missions, 14 of those sent batches of Starlink satellites to Low-Earth Orbit. In December, Starlink won more than $885 million in federal subsidies from the FCC to serve U.S. households on the other side of the digital divide. Starlink is essentially following the development path of its sister launch business – secure a substantial government investment and long-term stability that provides the foundation for a strong commercial business.
Starlink now drives nearly all of the industry’s conversation about the future of commercial satellite connectivity. Every internet satellite service provider, regardless of orbit or region, must now compete with or prepare to compete with SpaceX.
Some may ask why Gwynne Shotwell, and not SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk, is being considered for this award. Musk has made it clear that he considers himself more the technological leader of SpaceX rather than the financial executive. He prefers to be known as SpaceX’s chief engineer and admits that Shotwell provides the financial leadership. Regardless, Shotwell is not a quiet, behind-the-scenes presence. She is one of the United States’ most influential businesswomen and commercial space advocates and enjoyed tremendous success in 2020.
AXESS Networks was created through the merger of Axesat and CETel in order to create an enterprise satellite service company on a global scale. Mauricio Segovia, who previously served as the CEO of AxeSat, was tapped to lead the newly merged entity at the end of 2019 and has since hit the ground sprinting. In just his first year, he has been able to accomplish more with AXESS Networks than most would be able to over the course of three years.
In March, AXESS signed a joint venture with Middle East Telecommunications (METelecom) to provide end-to-end managed satellite communications solutions for customers operating in Saudi Arabia. In August, the company closed a 36 million euro investment deal with Spanish development finance company COFIDES and private debt fund ALANTRA, which gave AXESS the capital it needed to accelerate its international growth and acquisition strategy.
On top of this, it won a slew of cellular backhaul contracts in Central and South America. In Colombia, AXESS won backhaul deals with telcos WOM and TIGO and a uniquely history satellite mobile solutions deal with the UNE Civil Registry, representing the first technology implementation of its type in Latin America. The company won a connectivity deal with Peruvian Navy for the PIAS (Itinerant Platforms of Social Action) program.
AXESS also scored two major backhaul deals in Mexico — one with TELCEL, and a second with ALTÁN Redes. AXESS’ project with ALTÁN involves the assignment of more than 1,000 satellite backhaul sites. With these deals, AXESS will cover at least 70 percent of Mexico by January 2022, and reach 92 percent in January 2024.
Under Segovia’s leadership, AXESS has very quickly become the main provider of cellular backhaul satellite solutions in Latin America, helping to close social access and connectivity gaps.
Blake Larson has led Northrop Grumman’s Space Systems division through the COVID-19 pandemic on a simple, winning strategy – capitalize on high-dollar value, long-term government contracts. In 2020, Northrop Grumman enjoyed steady, double-digit increases in space and satellite technology sales. Each of its reported financial quarterlies included noteworthy gains. On the whole, the satellite industry’s government sector did very well in 2020, but Northrop Grumman’s performance stands out.
Northrop Grumman’s Space Systems division led the company in sales increases for both the Fourth Quarter (Q4) of 2020, and for the full year. In Q4, Space Systems reported $2.6 billion in sales, a 31% increase over the same quarter in 2019. Overall, Space Systems reported $8.7 billion in sales in 2020, an 18% increase over 2019.
In May, Northrop Grumman was awarded a massive $2.3 billion contract for early hardware procurement to build two satellites for missile warning in polar orbits under the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) program. In November, Northrop Grumman was awarded another massive contract - a follow-on under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract-2 (CRS-2), which will see the company deliver a combined total of approximately 16,500 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
Northrop Grumman also won contracts from both Intelsat and SES to build C-band reallocation satellites – making it the only manufacturer to win deals from both operators. Other contract wins include a $13.3 billion contract for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program; and a U.S. Space Force contract for the rapid prototyping phase of the Evolved Strategic SATCOM (ESS) program.
The start-up nod on our Executive of the Year list goes to Vytenis Buzas, whose Lithuanian-based company quickly and quietly established strong small satellite manufacturing market footholds in the United States and India. In August, the company reported a year-over-year revenue increase of 300 percent during the prior 12 months, due to strong contract volume and increased operational efficiencies following the company’s expansion.
NanoAvionics’ aggressive expansion into U.S. markets kicked off when it invested in two manufacturing facilities in Midland, Texas, and Columbia, Illinois. Buzas hired industry veteran Franklin Brent Abbott (previously of AAC/Clyde Space North America and Surrey Satellite Technologies) to lead its U.S. subsidiary. NanoAvionics entered the notoriously elusive Indian market, after signing an agreement with Ananth Technologies to distribute NanoAvionics products and services.
Promoting speed, innovation, and flexibility as the cornerstone of its approach to assembly line manufacturing, NanoAvionics has attracted lucrative contracts and partnerships with NASA, ESA, MIT, Thales Alenia Space for the Omnispace constellation, and Lacuna Space’s Internet of Things (IoT) Space Gateway. NanoAvionics’ M6P preconfigured nanosatellite bus uses a modular software approach designed to serve both commercial and government needs.
The company has also won contracts with Dutch-Norwegian Military forces for two radar signal-mapping nanosatellites, as well as the Mexican Space Agency to introduce a nanosatellite pilot project for future space missions, and Singapore’s National Institute of Education (an autonomous institute of Nanyang Technological University) for a “CaLeMPSat” 12U nanosatellite.
NanoAvionics is not only a small satellite manufacturer, but also a registration, insurance, and launch brokerage service. Buzas states that 90 percent of the company’s customers buy into the full suite of services. Under his leadership, the small satellite manufacturer completed more 75 satellite missions and commercial projects and generated massive growth in the most challenging economic environment possible. It is a remarkable feat, for which Buzas deserves a nomination for Executive of the Year. VS