Effort To Exempt Satellites from Russia Sanctions Complicated by Latest from U.S. State Dept.

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PARIS — The U.S. State Department on April 28 said it would deny requests to export defense hardware and services — categories that under the U.S. Munitions List include satellites and satellite components — to Russia as part of expanded U.S. sanctions aimed at reversing Russia’s incursion into Ukraine if the exports “contribute to Russia’s military capabilities.”

The new policy would appear to complicate a major lobbying effort that U.S. companies had been preparing to exclude at least some civil and commercial satellites from being denied a launch on Russian rockets.

Industry officials have said requests to ship commercial satellites to Russian-managed launch pads in recent weeks have been met with a nonresponse by the U.S. State Department as the U.S. government adjusts its policy in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“They are sympathetic to our problem, but not forthcoming” with license approvals, one satellite industry official said.

Owners of several commercial satellites being prepared for launch aboard Proton rockets from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan are awaiting word on their status.

Two other satellites are at different Russian-run launch operations centers undergoing preparations for launch. The Eutelsat 3B telecommunications spacecraft built for Paris-based Eutelsat by Airbus Defence and Space of Europe is in Long Beach, Calif., preparing for a launch aboard a Sea Launch rocket. Sea Launch is owned by Russian interests.

Airbus telecommunications satellites contain U.S. parts covered by the U.S. Munitions List. Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said April 25 that the satellite has received all necessary licenses to launch aboard Sea Launch.

The Airbus-built Express AM4R telecommunications satellite, owned by the Russian Satellite Communications Co. of Moscow, has arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in preparation for a May launch. 

Both these satellites appeared beyond the reach of sanctions until the April 28 announcement, which said the State Department will now move to revoke existing licenses if they are deemed to help Russia’s military. It was not immediately clear whether the fact of launching a U.S. satellite or satellite components on a Russian rocket is, by itself, viewed as helping Russia’s military.

Satellites built for SES of Luxembourg, Turksat of Turkey and Inmarsat of London — all with U.S. components — are scheduled for Russian Proton launch arranged by International Launch Services of Reston, Va., this summer. All will need shipping licenses before being sent to the Baikonur facility.

One U.S. industry official said before the latest step-up in sanctions that owners and builders of satellites with U.S. parts would have difficulty discussing technical features of their satellites with Russian launch providers.

The April 28 State Department policy announcement reads in part:

“Effective immediately, the Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) will deny pending applications for export or re-export of any high technology defense article or services regulated under the U.S. Munitions List to Russia or occupied Crimea that contribute to Russia’s military capabilities.

“In addition, the Department is taking action to revoke any existing export licenses which meet these conditions. All other pending applications and existing licenses will receive a case-by-case evaluation to determine their contribution to Russia’s military capabilities.”

 

Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes


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