PARIS — Satellite-fleet operators Intelsat and Eutelsat bumped into each other in the rush to provide emergency capacity to the Arabsat organization of Saudi Arabia, whose fleet-replacement schedule was upended in February following the destruction of the Arabsat 4A satellite in a launch failure.
PanAmSat, which was recently purchased by Washington-based Intelsat, had agreed to provide Arabsat with Ku-band capacity on its PAS-5 satellite, which for two years has been positioned in an Arabsat orbital slot providing C-band capacity to the Riyadh-based company.
But Intelsat’s plans to offer Ku-band capacity to offset the loss of the Arabsat 4A drew opposition from Paris-based Eutelsat, which has several satellites either already in the area or headed there shortly. Eutelsat said that two of its satellites around the 26 degrees east longitude position would face signal interference from PAS-5.
The issue has since been resolved by Intelsat’s decision to withdraw its request for U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval to switch on PAS-5’s Ku-band payload for Arabsat. Intelsat officials said they had not been aware of the extent of Eutelsat’s plans for that already crowded area of the orbital arc and did not contest that Eutelsat has regulatory priority at the orbital slots in question.
The incident reflects the central role Eutelsat is playing in the thriving Middle East satellite market, whose direct-broadcast television market is growing.
Eutelsat is now responsible for a substantial part of the capacity offered or planned by Arabsat, its competitor Nilesat of Egypt and the start-up Noorsat of Bahrain and Jordan, which is leasing capacity from both Nilesat and Eutelsat.
The three competitors’ lack of in-house satellite capacity has made Eutelsat the de-facto primary or backup supplier for all of them. The situation should ease somewhat by early 2007, when Arabsat’s next satellite, Arabsat 4B, is expected to be operational. It is scheduled for launch late this year aboard an International Launch Services Proton-M rocket.
Eutelsat’s latest satellite maneuver involves the aging Hot Bird-1 satellite. Eutelsat ground teams in August began guiding the satellite eastward across the geostationary arc from its 13 degrees east position toward 25.5 degrees east longitude, from where it could back up Eutelsat’s Eurobird-2 satellite.
Eutelsat’s Eurobird-2 satellite has been assisting Arabsat from 25.8 degrees east longitude under a contract that expired in July. At that point Eutelsat was to move the satellite to 25.5 degrees east longitude to provide capacity for Noorsat of Bahrain and Jordan, a new company established by former Arabsat manager Omar Shoter.
But when the Arabsat 4A failed, Arabsat asked Eutelsat to keep Eurobird-2 at its current location until March 2007 and the arrival of the new Arabsat spacecraft. Eutelsat agreed, but said its contract obligations to Noorsat meant that only six transponders on Eurobird-2 could be provided to Arabsat.
Eutelsat Deputy Chief Executive Jean-Paul Brillaud said Aug. 31 that Eutelsat is uncertain how much fuel remains on Hot Bird-1, and that the satellite in fact may not be stationed alongside Eurobird-2 at 25.5 degrees.
Brillaud said Hot Bird-1 might need to be deorbited sooner than planned depending on a final fuel-level assessment, and that in any event the satellite, launched in March 1995, does not have more than a year’s life left.
The addition of other new capacity has permitted Eutelsat to free up another of its satellites, Hot Bird-3, which Brillaud said was offered to Arabsat but was refused. Hot Bird-3’s new position is likely to be 9.8 degrees or 10 degrees east longitude, Brillaud said. “We remain prepared to cooperate with Arabsat on this but so far a response to our [Hot Bird-3] offer has not materialized,” Brillaud said.
Eutelsat’s arrangement with Nilesat also has been made possible following successful Eutelsat launches. Eutelsat’s Hot Bird-4 satellite, renamed Atlantic Bird-4, has been moved to 7 degrees west. It will operate alongside the Nilesat spacecraft and add 18 television channels to Nilesat’s existing 300-channel offering.
Noorsat also is debuting its service aboard Atlantic Bird-4.