Ariane 5 Lofts Eutelsat 25B/Es’hail-1 and GSAT-7 Satellites

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This story was updated Aug. 30 

PARIS — Europe’s Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket placed Indian and European/Middle Eastern telecommunications satellites into orbit on Aug. 29 in the vehicle’s fourth launch of the year and its 57th consecutive success.

The launch marked the entry of Qatar into the club of nations with their own satellite telecommunications capacity. Minutes after their satellite was declared safely in orbit, Qatari officials restated their ambitions to secure more Ku-band frequencies from partner Eutelsat of Paris.

Operating from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America, the Ariane 5 ECA rocket placed the Eutelsat 25B/Es’hail-1 and Indian GSAT-7 satellites into transfer orbit.

The owners of the satellites declared their spacecraft healthy in orbit and delivering signals, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said GSAT-7 deployed its solar panels just 20 seconds after separation from the Ariane 5 ECA’s upper stage — an unusually fast deployment.

Eutelsat 25-B/Es’hail-1, which was in the upper position of the Ariane 5, weighed 6,300 kilograms at launch and will operate at the highly contested orbital slot of 25.5 degrees east. Paris-based Eutelsat and Es’hailSat of Qatar will jointly use the satellite.

Qatar-based Es’hailSat and its anchor customer, Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera, expect to use this satellite as just the first of several spacecraft to position the Qatari operator as a competitor in a region now dominated by Arabsat of Saudi Arabia, Nilesat of Egypt and Eutelsat.

Es’hailSat and Arabsat recently agreed to a Ku-band sharing agreement that should permit both companies to operate without interference, with Arabsat ceding 500 megahertz of Ku-band frequency at 26 degrees for an Es’hail-2 satellite. 

Eutelsat, Arabsat and Es’hailSat have yet to conclude an agreement on sharing of Ka-band between 25.5 degrees and Arabsat’s core orbital position just one-half a degree away, at 26 degrees.

Es’hailSat carries a Ku- and Ka-band payload. The satellite was built by Space Systems/Loral (SSL) of Palo Alto, Calif., and is SSL’s first for Eutelsat, which is the world’s third-largest fleet operator by revenue. Es’hail-1 includes an anti-jamming feature for its payload. Arabsat, Nilesat and Eutelsat have all felt the effects of politically motivated jamming of their satellites stationed over the Middle East.

Qatari Communications Minister Hessa Al-Jaber, who was attending the launch, said after the mission that Es’hailSat and Qatar now want Eutelsat to share Ku-band frequencies at the 7-8 degrees west orbital slot, which Eutelsat has developed with Nilesat into a profitable business.

Al-Jaber said Qatar wants “to persuade the French government” that such a sharing — which presumably would include Eutelsat’s cession of rights to Es’hailSat — is in both nations’ interest. Nicole Bricq, the French minister for external commerce, also attended the launch.

Al-Jaber is the former chief of ictQatar, the Qatari telecommunications regulatory authority.

Es’hailSat Chief Executive Ali Ahmed Al-Kuwari echoed Al-Jaber’s point, saying his company’s third satellite is intended to operate at 7-8 degrees west.

Eutelsat Chief Executive Michel de Rosen, speaking after the two Qataris, made no promises but did acknowledge Qatar’s interest in the 7-8 degrees west location.

GSAT-7, built for ISRO, weighed 2,650 kilograms at launch and is expected to operate for seven years in ISRO’s slot at 74 degrees east. The satellite carries a multiband payload in Ku-, C-, S- and UHF frequencies.

GSAT-7 will cover the Indian landmass and will also provide bandwidth over the surrounding seas, presumably for the Indian navy.

ISRO said the agency has 14 more telecommunications satellites in various stages of planning. India has witnessed an explosion in demand for satellite television, and despite its foreigner-unfriendly regulatory regime has been obligated to permit non-Indian satellite operators to enter the market — but only under the regulatory and pricing control of their competitor, ISRO.