WASHINGTON — Major satellite fleet operators continue to bend the rules to safeguard orbital slots to which they have no legitimate rights, a situation that will not help the satellite industry as it prepares to battle terrestrial wireless operators for radio-spectrum rights, a senior international regulator said March 11.
In an address to the Satellite 2014 conference in Washington, Yvon Henri, chief of the space services department at the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Radiocommunication Bureau, said he was surprised to hear satellite executives brag about their prowess in playing fast and loose with the rules.
ITU governments in 2012 agreed to tighten regulations with respect to “bringing into use” a satellite network, which is ITU lingo for validating a slot reservation within a certain deadline.
Under the new rules, a satellite needs to remain at a given orbital position, and broadcast in the frequencies reserved for the network, for three months.
It has become commonplace in the industry for satellite operators to lease aging spacecraft to other operators for the express purpose of validating an orbital position for three months before being returned to their original owners. Some companies in the past have sought to “bring into use” several orbital positions by moving a satellite from slot to slot.
Once validated, an orbital slot and the associated broadcast frequencies cannot be used by anyone else without negotiations that favor the operator that has the original reservation in ITU’s first-come, first-served system.
“Leaving a satellite at a slot for three months and one day before moving it does not violate the letter of the law but it is certainly not in keeping with its spirit,” Henri said.
Several developing nations have protested that only the larger fleet operators have sufficient in-orbit assets to be able to play with the “bringing into use” regulations by sending nonessential satellite from one spot to another.
The satellite industry is preparing for what is expected to be a rough battle at the ITU’s next World Radiocommunication Conference, in 2015, to protect radio spectrum reserved for satellites from terrestrial wireless companies that claim they need more spectrum to expand.
Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes