Arabsat and Rival Es’hailSat Forge Strategic Partnership

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Updated Aug. 21, 11:28 a.m. EDT

PONTE VEDRA, Fla — Startup commercial satellite fleet operator Es’hailSat of Qatar and its prospective rival, the Arabsat consortium of Saudi Arabia, on Aug. 19 announced a strategic partnership under which Es’hailSat will acquire rights to 500 megahertz of Ku-band frequency at 26 degrees east for its Es’hail 2 satellite.

The agreement, signed in Qatar’s capital of Doha by the two companies’ chief executives, comes on the eve of the launch of Es’hail 1/Eutelsat 25B aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket. The launch is scheduled for Aug. 29, and the satellite is to operate at 25.5 degrees east, just half a degree away from Arabsat’s key 26 degrees east direct-broadcast television slot.

Paris-based Eutelsat teamed with Es’hailSat for Es’hailSat 1, which the Qatari company has said is just the start of an ambitious satellite development program using the Doha-based Al Jazeera television network as an anchor customer.

Arabsat and Saudi Arabia had been constrained in their frequency rights negotiations with Eutelsat and Es’hailSat by Arabsat’s agreement with the Iranian government. Under that agreement, Arabsat hosted Iranian satellite broadcasts and helped bolster Iranian claims that it had followed international frequency rules in placing into service Iran’s long-unused frequencies.

Eutelsat and Es’hailSat had said the Iranian claim was bogus, but international regulators declined to settle the dispute, asking the relevant parties to work it out on their own. This has been a slow process over the past three to four years, but earlier this year Eutelsat, Es’hailSat and Arabsat reached a frequency sharing accord that would permit the two sides to operate from 25.5 and 26 degrees without interfering with each other’s signals.

The Arabsat/Es’hailSat agreement is an extension of that. In a statement, Es’hailSat said the 500 megahertz of capacity it is acquiring will be used for Es’hail 2 at 26 degrees east, for which a prime contractor has yet to be selected.

The agreement “will significantly increase Es’hailSat’s capacity at the 25.5/26.0 East TV broadcasting hotspot, and will strengthen Es’hailSat’s in-orbit backup capability when both Es’hail 1 and Es’hail 2 are operational,” Es’hailSat said in a statement.  “Furthermore, the arrangement between Es’hailSat and ARABSAT will pave the way for enhanced operational flexibility and mutual in-orbit back-up between the two satellite fleets.”

Es’hailSat Chief Executive Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari said his company “is delighted to be able to work with Arabsat on the development of the 26 degrees east prime TV broadcasting hotspot.”

Arabsat Chief Executive Khalid Balkheyour said the partnership with Es’hailSat “will provide our customers and viewers with more alternatives … and be beneficial for both operators.”

Es’hail 1 also carries a Ka-band payload that could interfere with Arabsat’s future Badr-7 Ka-band capacity. The partnership announcement made no mention of frequency coordination in Ka-band.

Es’hailSat will be acquiring the Ku-band capacity from Saudi Arabia and Arabsat. In response to SpaceNews inquiries, Es’hailSat said Aug. 21 that “the current transaction calls for 500 MHz of ‘undisputed’ Ku-band and does not address the coordination issues in either Ku- or Ka-band that are currently pending among all the concerned parties.”

Eutelsat said in an Aug. 21 statement that negotiations between Es’hailSat and Eutelsat on the one side and Arabsat on the other with respect to Ka-band coordination are ongoing.

“There was a meeting in July with Arabsat and the next meeting is in September. There is progress,” Eutelsat said.