Hosted Navigation Payload on SES-5 Falling Short of Expectations

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PARIS — The European Commission has refused to accept a navigation payload aboard a commercial telecommunications satellite launched in July, saying it does not meet performance requirements, according to European industry officials.

Officials expressed guarded optimism that the performance of the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) payload on the SES-5 satellite will be judged acceptable by the commission once the full new-generation EGNOS ground infrastructure is in place in 2013.

But for the moment, they said, the commission has declined to certify the SES-5 EGNOS payload as meeting the agreed-to criteria, and declined to begin making scheduled payments to satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg, which owns SES-5.

EGNOS is designed to provide verification, from geostationary orbit, of the accuracy of GPS positioning, navigation and timing signals generated by the U.S. constellation of GPS satellites in medium Earth orbit. The system design is similar to what is operational over North America and Japan. Russia has developed such a service for its Glonass system.

EGNOS is part of an elaborate network that includes 38 reliability and integrity monitoring stations, four satellite control and processing centers and six stations to receive the validated signal, beam it back to the satellite and then disseminate it as a GPS signal.

Two officials said the problem on SES-5 appears to be the proximity of one of the EGNOS terminals to one or more of the satellite’s main broadcast antennas. SES-5 carries 36 Ku-band and 24 C-band transponders for television, broadband and other telecommunications applications in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The officials said the interference means only one of the EGNOS frequencies — the GPS L1 — is functioning as required. The E5 frequency, however, is not within contract specifications.

Temporary or not, the glitch is not the way European governments wished to showcase one of their first hosted payload missions. SES is also under contract to provide an EGNOS payload on the Astra 5B telecommunications satellite, to be launched in 2013 and operated at 31.5 degrees east. SES-5 is stationed at 5 degrees east.

SES spokesman Yves Feltes said the company would have no comment on SES-5 beyond what was said in an SES conference call with investors held Nov. 9. During that call, SES Chief Executive Romain Bausch said SES-5, which was built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and entered service in mid-September and is otherwise operating as expected, had not yet begun to provide service to the European Commission.

European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP) of Toulouse, France, a company made up of European air-navigation authorities that was created to manage EGNOS, said in a statement that SES-5 is not scheduled to enter its test phase until mid-2013, and to enter full operational status in 2015.

Carlo Corazza, spokesman for European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, who oversees Europe’s satellite navigation program, said in a Nov. 16 statement: “We will not comment on the performance of the EGNOS payload on-board the SES-5 satellite while the acceptance tests are still being conducted and before [the commission] has had an opportunity to analyze the results.”

The European Commission, which owns EGNOS and Europe’s Galileo constellation, now deployed in medium Earth orbit, did not respond to requests for comment on SES-5.

The European Commission contracted with SES to provide EGNOS service for 12 years from SES-5. The contract is valued at 75 million euros ($98 million), with a similar contract signed for the Astra 5B satellite’s EGNOS hardware. Payments are to be made during the life of the contract, so long as the signals are up to specification.

EGNOS currently operates with first-generation Egnos payloads on two mobile communications satellites owned by Inmarsat of London, with a backup payload on the European Space Agency’s Artemis data-relay satellite, all in geostationary orbit.

SES-5’s EGNOS payload is scheduled to replace the Inmarsat 3F2 service in 2015.

One official said the SES-5 EGNOS payload would be able to provide all the services operated today by the Inmarsat and Artemis satellites. These satellites do not carry the E5 signal.

The commission contracted with Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy in April 2011 to upgrade the EGNOS ground network so that it can take full advantage of the new satellite capacity. Valued at 54.5 million euros, the contract called for the new network to be operational by mid-2013.

 

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