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Published on February 15, 2021 by Holly Porter

What’s been happening in the commercial world this week? Read on to find out!

The New Space Race

2021 has seen further investment into the commercial aspects of using space. The new aim is to connect the last billion people, who have so far lived without broadband access, using satellites. There are currently between 2000-3000 active satellites in orbit, a lot of which belong to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. In total, SpaceX is planning the launch of 12,000 satellites in its Starlink programme.

However, SpaceX is not the only entity attempting to establish a mobile terrestrial network. Here are some of its competitors:

  • Virgin Orbit – successfully deployed 10 CubeSats in January this year. This is part of a $34m contract for 3 launches of 44 CubeSats expected throughout 2021.
  • Amazon – last year, the FCC approved Amazon’s plan to launch 3226 satellites as part of Project Kuiper to build a mega constellation. At least half of these must be launched by 2026, and the rest by 2029.
  • OneWeb – last July, the UK government invested £400m into the London start-up. In December, OneWeb sent its third batch of 36 satellites into space. Find out more about the government’s role.
  • Telesat – in 2020, the Canadian satellite communications company confirmed its plan of an LEO constellation consisting of 1600 satellites.

Since 2011, government investment in space has waned. 75% of the space industry, now worth £285bn, is owned by 7 firms. However,  some governments have continued to launch their own initiatives including the US, China, the EU and Russia, separate from any billionaire or corporate ventures.

Talking points: What do you think has triggered the move from government investment to companies seeking to commercialise space? What are the legal threats of establishing internet service providers in space? 


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CMA Issues Warning to Lastminute.com

Online travel and leisure retailer Lastminute.com may face legal action. In December 2020, Which? reported that the company had failed to refund customers for COVID-19-impacted holidays. This led to a Competition and Market Authority (CMA) investigation in December 2020, which instructed Lastminute.com to pay £7m to customers by 31st January 2021. Last week, it was announced that the company still has outstanding payments of £1m to over 2,600 customers. The CMA has issued a statement allowing Lastminute.com 7 days to pay this amount, otherwise, it would face legal action in court.

Rival Loveholidays is in a similar position. In December 2020, the CMA discovered the travel firm owed £18m to 44,000 customers. Loveholidays claimed they had already refunded more than £205m to 180,000 people so far that year. The remaining 44,000 were told they would be given a refund pending receipt of their own money back from airlines. This, as affirmed by the CMA under the Package Travel Regulations, is not allowed. Online travel agents are legally bound to refund customers for package holidays cancelled due to COVID-19, regardless of whether the agent has received money back from suppliers such as airlines.

Talking point: What is the future of travel firms?

Coca-Cola Trials Paper Bottles

As the trend in developing more environmentally-friendly business continues, American soft drinks company Coca-Cola has announced two goals of producing zero waste by 2030 and eliminating plastic from its packaging. The news comes after charity group Break Free from Plastic announced Coca-Cola as the world’s largest plastic polluter. The survey found Coca-Cola bottles to be the most commonly left item on beaches, parks and rivers in 51 out of the 55 countries that took part. Rivals Pepsi and Nestle followed closely behind.

Step one entails a test of 2,000 paper bottles which each have a thin plastic liner. For approval, the new shell needs to prevent gas from escaping the carbonated drinks, that no fibres flake into the liquid and that there is no risk of the flavour of the drink being altered. The trial will be carried out in Hungary using Coca-Cola’s fruit drink Adez.

Coca-Cola is not the only company to be trialling paper-based packaging. Swedish vodka brand Absolut and Danish beer brewer Carlsberg are both building their own prototypes.

A key question remains over the paper-fibre-based material and whether such cartons can be transported safely without breaking. If so, the industry then faces a huge overhaul over an engrained plastic-bottle using society. Scaling up to replace such infrastructure is a mammoth challenge.

Talking point: What other initiatives are companies employing to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly? 

Read more about Tesco and Ikea’s initiatives 

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