ABS puts 15 unused orbital slots on the market

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SINGAPORE — Satellite feet operator ABS says it has more orbital slots than it can use and is willing to sell the extras to other satellite operators.

“We have 15 unpopulated slots that we are looking for partners with,” Jim Simpson, ABS’s CEO, said June 25 at the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum here.

Not every orbital slot is of the same value. Simpson said some are only a year or two away from expiring, per International Telecommunication Union rules. That limited time means preserving such a slot would likely require using an existing satellite as a placeholder until a new satellite could be built and launched.

The usefulness of each slot also depends on its position above the Earth and the associated spectrum rights.

Bermuda-based ABS, which operates six satellites, accumulated its surplus orbital slots through a variety of sources, one being the Moscow-based consortium Intersputnik. In 2014, Intersputnik undertook a similar effort to give purpose to unused orbital slots.

“Unfortunately we don’t have infinity money, so we can’t just populate every different slot,” Simpson said.

ABS is willing to provide orbital slots to “nontraditional” owners such as tech giants or satellite manufacturers, Simpson said. As a former Boeing satellite executive, Simpson said such arrangements would have been unprecedented from a manufacturer’s perspective.

“When I was on the manufacturing side, the greedy satellite owner-operators would never give up any of their potential revenue streams to a manufacturer, but things change,” he said. “This is an area where, yes, you may be giving up some of your upside, but you are creating additional space in the market.”

One satellite operator, APT Satellite of Hong Kong, signalled interest in obtaining new orbital slots.

“We are also actively looking at achievable or usable orbital slots,” Huang Baozhong, executive vice president at APT Satellite, said during a panel discussion that included ABS and other operators. “Those are hard to acquire. We have fully utilized our available orbital slots, so if there are opportunities I think we are very keen to explore those.”

APT Satellite has ambitions to field a global system of geostationary high-throughput satellites, but lacks the orbital slots to fulfill that vision, Baozhong said.

“We launch Apstar-6D next year, and it will cover one third of the globe starting from Asia, and we are still actively looking for partners or suitable orbital slots to further extend to other parts of the world,” he said.

Apstar-6D is a Ku-band high-throughput satellite from China Great Wall Industry Corp., and is slated to launch on a Chinese Long March 3B rocket.