Ariane 5 Picked To Launch Satellite to Disputed Slot

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WASHINGTON — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat of Paris and its partner, Es’hailSat, the Qatar Satellite Co., will launch the Eutelsat 25B/Es’hail 1 telecommunications satellite aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket in mid-2013 under a contract the companies announced March 12.

The satellite is under construction by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and will carry Ku- and Ka-band capacity intended for the Eutelsat/Qatari orbital position at 25.5 degrees east. It is expected to weigh more than 6,000 kilograms at launch.

The contract announcement made no mention of the fact that Eutelsat, represented by the French government, is on a collision course with Saudi Arabia and Iran over rights to that orbital position.

Iran has claimed to international satellite regulators at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that the Iranian Zohreh-2 satellite network is operating at 26 degrees east — just one-half a degree away from the planned Eutelsat position — aboard a satellite owned and operated by the Arabsat consortium of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Zohreh-2 and Eutelsat 25B/Es’hail 1 cannot both operate without compromising their use of broadcast frequencies around 26 degrees east.

The dispute has tested the ITU’s authority to resolve disputes in which one government’s word is directly challenged by other governments — in this case France and the United States. Among its other claims, Iran has told the ITU that Zohreh-2 had been in service aboard a U.S.-registered satellite owned by Intelsat of Washington and Luxembourg. France has claimed that Iran has missed deadlines for maintaining uninterrupted use of its satellite network and should lose its rights to the slot under ITU rules.

A recent meeting of more than 150 ITU members during the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva did not address the Zohreh-2 issue, but did readmit Iran’s Zohreh-1 satellite system, at another orbital position, into the permitted list of satellite networks despite Zohreh-1’s expiration under ITU deadlines.

The ITU has repeatedly asked Iran, France, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to resolve frequency coordination issues around 26 degrees east on their own — with no success so far.