PARIS — The government of Italy has agreed to assume control of a UHF-band military payload on board theIS-27 satellite scheduled for launch in early 2013 following Intelsat’s failure to enlist U.S. Defense Department interest, according to industry officials.
In a move that further illustrates the continued scattershot nature of Europe’s procurement of military satellite communications capabilities, Italy will be the licensing administration for IS-27, now scheduled to be launched in February into an Intelsat orbital slot at 55.5 degrees west longitude.
Italy’s decision, which officials said is not yet a formal contract with Intelsat, comes after the recent conclusion by Norway and Spain that, despite two years of work, their proposed joint HisNorSat X- and Ka-band military telecommunications satellite will not be built for lack of a market.
IS-27, under construction by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif., has a UHF-band payload similar to the one Intelsat operates on the IS-22 satellite, which was launched in March and operates at 72.1 degrees east.
Capacity from IS-22’s UHF payload was leased by Australia’s defense force before the satellite was launched. Australian authorities at first purchased only half the UHF capacity before modifying their contract with Washington- and Luxembourg-based Intelsat to include the entire military payload. Australia is paying $269 million for the capacity.
Australia subsequently sold a piece of the IS-22 capacity to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Seeing what it believed was a market opportunity, Intelsat added a UHF payload to IS-27 without having a guaranteed customer for the capacity. In late 2011, industry officials said, Intelsat gave up on trying to obtain a U.S. license for the UHF payload and began searching elsewhere.
Among allied governments, Italy has perhaps the most interest in UHF capacity with the possible exception of Australia. Italy’s Sicral 1B military satellite program is UHF-enabled, and the Franco-Italian Sicral 2, set for launch in late 2013, features an Italian UHF payload alongside a French SHF payload.
The long-term satellite telecommunications contract with the 28-nation NATO alliance signed by the governments of France, Britain and Italy gives Italy much of the responsibility for provision of UHF bandwidth.
Italy’s first chore will be to file registrations for the IS-27 UHF payload with the International Telecommunication Union of Geneva, the United Nations affiliate that regulates wireless spectrum and satellite orbital positions.
One official said Italy and Intelsat could be constrained in their early use of the IS-27 UHF payload because of a nearby U.S. UHF satellite that has higher regulatory priority. One official said this satellite is nearing retirement.
The U.S. Navy operates a global constellation of narrowband UHF Follow-on satellites, and in February launched the first of a new generation of satellites.
Intelsat declined to comment on the matter, as did Telespazio of Rome, Italy’s principal satellite services provider, which markets a portion of Italy’s current UHF bandwidth under an agreement with the Italian Ministry of Defense. The Italian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Italy’s decision to take control of IS-27’s 20 UHF channels is sure to raise eyebrows in Brussels, where European Union officials have been trying, with little measurable success, to stitch together a pan-European next-generation military satellite system in the interest of saving taxpayer money.
Currently Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Germany all operate separate military satellite telecommunications systems.
The Spanish government, despite having difficulty booking sales of its own Xtar capacity, which is marketed to allies through a company majority-owned by Loral Space and Communications of New York, in 2010 agreed to join Norway in HisNorSat.
Norway’s commitment was part of a broader military equipment deal with Spain and hinged on Spain’s provision of an orbital slot at 29 degrees east. Norway had agreed to spend some $200 million on its share of the satellite, which was to have been built under Spanish leadership.
Norway had planned to purchase, as part of the HisNorSat program, several hundred airborne, maritime and land-based terminals, which would complement the nation’s existing leases of L-band capacity.
After two years of work, the Spanish and Norwegian ministries of defense on Sept. 28 announced that they had “agreed to end the present HisNorSat investment program.”
The two nations said they had “revisited the assumptions and prerequisites for the program. The expected decrease in demand in the market for satellite communications capacity will increase the risk to the program’s business plan.”