PARIS — Arabsat has set a Sept. 23 deadline for contractor proposals to build two next-generation telecommunications satellites, Arabsat 5A and 5B, with an option for a third.
Arabsat Chief Executive Khalid Balkheyour said Arabsat has not ruled out selecting a U.S. satellite builder despite technology export-control rules that in the past have put U.S. bidders at a disadvantage compared to their non-U.S. counterparts.
In an interview, Balkheyour said Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat is recovering from the February loss of its first fourth-generation satellite, Arabsat 4A, in a launch failure. The Arabsat 4B is scheduled for launch on an International Launch Services Proton-M rocket in November.
The company, whose existing satellites are nearing capacity, has used the crisis caused by the launch failure to cleanse its customer base of non-paying companies.
In a region where there is growing competition Arabsat reported revenues of $157 million in 2005 and, in part because of the capacity shortage caused by the loss of Arabsat 4A, it expects revenues in 2006 to drop slightly, to about $150 million, Balkheyour said.
“We have not lost customers because of the failure,” Balkheyour said. “In fact, we have been able to provide additional capacity for some customers by moving off our satellites those that, let’s say, had some difficulties in making their scheduled payments. We have also been able to make use of some compression technologies to place a higher number of customers on our satellites.”
Immediately following the February failure, Arabsat placed an order with EADS Astrium for a replacement satellite, called Arabsat 4AR — it will be named Badr-6 once in orbit — and is scheduled for launch in early 2008 aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket.
The two fifth-generation satellites, whose contractor will be selected before the end of this year, will be launched as early as possible — late 2008 or early 2009, Balkheyour said.
To shore up its capacity short-term, Arabsat has extended its lease of capacity on Eutelsat‘s Eurobird-2 satellite at 25.8 degrees east longitude. The contract now is for six transponders to be used by Arabsat until March, by which time the Arabsat 4B is expected to be operational.
Arabsat and Paris-based Eutelsat are eyeing each other warily in the Middle East market. Eutelsat is providing capacity to Arabsat competitors Nilesat of Egypt and Noorsat of Bahrain and Jordan, a company that was founded by a former Arabsat manager.
Eutelsat Deputy Chief Executive Jean-Paul Brillaud has said Eutelsat remains on good terms with Arabsat and remains ready to step in to provide additional capacity on a spare Eutelsat satellite if Arabsat wishes. Eutelsat recently has offered its Hot Bird 3 direct-broadcast television satellite for lease by Arabsat, according to Brillaud.
Balkheyour has not closed the door to the possible use of Hot Bird 3, but he declined to detail the company’s alternatives if one of its future satellites should be delayed. “Hot Bird 3 uses BSS [broadcast satellite service] frequencies and we think using it would interfere with our future spacecraft,” Balkheyour said. “But it is clear that, given Eutelsat’s strategy in the area, we need to coordinate interference and other issues.”
Arabsat’s plans to lease Ku-band capacity aboard the PanAmSat PAS-5 satellite recently were blocked when Eutelsat claimed the satellite would interfere with Eutelsat spacecraft operating nearby or soon to arrive there. Arabsat has been using PAS-5’s C-band capacity from Arabsat’s 26.2 degree east longitude orbital slot for more than three years and continues to do so, but it will need to coordinate with Eutelsat before operating PAS-5’s Ku-band payload.