Arabsat plans to order two new telecommunications satellites in 2006 as part of its effort to retain its market share in the Middle East and weigh an expansion into areas including Iran and Africa, Arabsat Chief Executive Khalid Balkheyour said.

Arabsat operates two satellites of its own and two others that it leases from PanAmSat and Eutelsat. It has two satellites, Arabsat 4A and 4B, on order and set for launch this year, the first in early March and the second this summer.

Balkheyour said two more satellites, Arabsat 5A and 5B — whose specifications he declined to disclose — would be the subject of requests for proposal to be issued to satellite manufacturers in the coming weeks, with a contract to be signed by the end of the year. He said the Arabsat organization, which is owned by Arab governments but is increasingly operating as a private business, wants the satellites to be launched by 2009.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat needs the two new spacecraft to replace its aging capacity and prepare for high-definition television (HDTV) broadcasts in its home region. HDTV trials in Lebanon began in late 2005.

Arabsat is also in discussions with SES Global’s SES Astra division in Luxembourg concerning a partnership in Africa under which the companies could share orbital slots and satellite capacity, Balkheyour said.

Alexander Oudendijk, SES Astra’s chief commercial officer, said his company and Arabsat are in discussions over sharing orbital slots over the Middle East as well.

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