French defense authorities, eager to place into service a telecommunications satellite that is two years behind schedule, said they would push prime contractor Alcatel Alenia Space to complete initial in-orbit checkout of the Syracuse 3A satellite in time to start limited communications with French troops in Afghanistan in November.

Speaking Oct. 13 after the successful launch of Syracuse 3 and its companion payload, PanAmSat’s Galaxy 15 cable-television broadcast satellite, officials from France’s arms procurement agency, DGA, said Syracuse 3A must be fully operational by Jan. 1.

“French defense forces are expecting this satellite and so is NATO,” said Francois Fayard, head of DGA’s space division. “We need the in-orbit testing to finish on Dec. 31 and not one day later. We have 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan that want access to Syracuse 3A services.”

Alcatel Alenia Space President Pascale Sourisse said the company would do whatever it takes to make the Jan. 1 deadline.

The satellites were placed into geostationary transfer orbit aboard an Ariane 5G rocket operated by Arianespace of Evry, France. Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said the company, whose planned 2005 launch schedule has been complicated by satellite-arrival delays and by minor launch-vehicle issues, said two more Ariane 5 launches will be conducted this year.

DirecTV Group’s Spaceway 2 Ka-band high-definition television satellite is scheduled to be launched on the new Ariane 5 ECA variant Nov. 9, alongside the smaller Telkom-2 telecommunications spacecraft owned by PT Telkom of Indonesia. It will be the second qualification flight of the ECA version of the Ariane 5, the rocket Arianespace wants to use exclusively because of its bigger payload-carrying capacity.

A standard-version Ariane 5 G is scheduled to launch the MSG-2 meteorological satellite for Europe’s Eumetsat organization and India’s Insat 4A telecommunications satellite in December, Le Gall said.

Syracuse 3A, carrying nine super-high frequency (SHF) channels and six extremely high frequency (EHF) channels, will be operated from 47 degrees east longitude, a position that permits full coverage of Afghanistan.

As numerous satellite- and Ariane 5-related delays accumulated, French defense authorities were forced to delay the start of their portion of a 15-year NATO contract that includes France’s Syracuse 3 system, Britain’s Skynet 4 and Skynet 5 satellites, and Italy’s Sicral spacecraft.

Under a contract valued at 450 million euros ($545 million), France, Britain and Italy are providing satellite capacity to NATO between 2005 and 2019.

The French share, equivalent to three or four transponders, is valued at 120 million euros over the 15-year period, Fayard said. But because Syracuse 3A was not in service in early 2005, France will receive a reduced NATO payment.

The NATO contract is for ultra high frequency (UHF) and SHF capacity, with Italy responsible for the UHF portion. NATO also is expected to award a contract, valued at around 190 million euros, for EHF transmissions. U.S. bidders are considered the favorite for this second contract given the U.S. Air Force experience with EHF, but France also is competing via its Syracuse 3 EHF payload.

The German government is scheduled to lease one or two Syracuse 3 transponders as it awaits the arrival of Germany’s Satcom Bw system, which will not be in service before 2009.

Alcatel Alenia Space in December 2000 signed a contract with DGA for the delivery of up to three Syracuse 3 satellites, plus launch services, for up to 1.4 billion euros. Since the contract was signed, DGA exercised an option for a second Syracuse 3. That satellite is scheduled for launch on an Ariane 5 vehicle sometime between May and July 2006.

A separate DGA contract, with Thales Group of France, covers the gradual rollout of around 600 Syracuse 3A voice, data and video terminals for deployed French forces. This contract, valued at 1.3 billion euros, also includes maintenance services.

Alcatel and DGA officials said that once the Ariane 5 ECA vehicle has conducted a second qualification flight, they will be willing to use it for Syracuse 3B. The reason has to do with insurance: As the purchaser of the launch vehicle, Alcatel Alenia Space could not have assembled an affordable insurance package for Syracuse 3A if it had used the Ariane 5 ECA version, company officials said.

PanAmSat’s Galaxy 15 satellite, which was built by Orbital Science Corp. of Dulles, Va., carries 28 C-band transponders to beam video programming to cable operators in the 50 U.S. states.

Galaxy 15 also carries an L-band payload for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. It will be integrated into a U.S. system that augments the performance of the U.S. GPS satellite navigation system. The satellite will be at PanAmSat’s 133 degrees west orbital position.