Eutelsat Chief Unapologetic About Use of Chinese Launch Services

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  Space News Business

Eutelsat Chief Unapologetic About Use of Chinese Launch Services

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 17 March 2009
04:10 pm ET






PARIS
— Satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat has no regrets about agreeing to launch one of its satellites aboard
China
‘s Long March rocket and will do it again if the Chinese vehicle meets Eutelsat’s schedule, technical and financial requirements, Eutelsat Chief Executive Giuliano Berretta said.

It may occur sooner rather than later. A satellite Eutelsat is ordering in the coming weeks, called W3C, will be compatible with the Chinese launcher and is a clone of Eutelsat’s W3B satellite to be launched by the Chinese in mid-2010. Eutelsat’s board approved the W3C satellite’s construction March 10.

In a March 12 interview, Berretta said he is well aware of an effort in
France
to get the French government to stop Eutelsat from using the Chinese vehicle and, more generally, to stick with
Europe
‘s Arianespace consortium as the launch provider of choice for Eutelsat spacecraft.

“I answer to a board of directors and this company respects the law everywhere it operates, and certainly in France where we are headquartered,” Berretta said. “Our company has spent 5.5 billion euros ($6.96 billion) with
Europe
‘s space industry. We are not turning away from it. In many ways,
Europe
‘s satellite builders can thank Eutelsat for their commercial success worldwide. So far as I know, we are not about to be nationalized by the French government. We operate as a business on behalf of our shareholders and we will continue to do so.”

Berretta said he knew of, but had not seen, a March 5 letter from Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall to French President Nicolas Sarkozy in which Le Gall portrays Eutelsat’s use of non-European rockets as an act that “throws into question [France’s] entire space policy … especially since Eutelsat uses [French government-licensed] orbital positions.”

“If Eutelsat’s choice is confirmed,” the letter says, “it would lead to a considerable weakening of our commercial position while giving credibility to Chinese rockets, with an obvious risk of technology transfer that the United States has tried to prevent with its ITAR rules,” said the Arianespace letter, a copy of which was obtained by Space News.

ITAR, or the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, governs exports of defense-related technology and is the enforcement mechanism for a
U.S.
policy that for the past decade has barred satellites with
U.S.
components from being launched aboard Chinese rockets.
U.S.
commercial satellites were made subject to ITAR rules in 1999 amid allegations that
China
was improving its missile capabilities via launches of U.S.-built commercial satellites

In the years since, an increasing number of political and aerospace industry officials have said the ITAR rules have hampered
U.S.
space exports and international collaboration without having the intended effect of slowing
China
‘s missile development.

But the Arianespace letter says Eutelsat’s decision to use
China
‘s rocket has “provoked a strong reaction in the
United States
such as to undermine the privileged relations with our ally, which permits us each year to launch more than half of
U.S.
commercial satellites.”

Arianespace said the letter was sent at the request of the French president’s office, which was seeking further information about the subject.

Berretta said he sought and was granted a meeting with Sarkozy’s advisers at the
Elysee
Palace
to explain Eutelsat’s policy. He said he did not leave the meeting with the impression that
France
was about to change its policy one way or another.

Eutelsat
in February 2008 signed a contract with ThalesAlenia Space of
Cannes
,
France
, to build and launch a 5,400-kilogram telecommunications satellite called W2B in mid-2010. The contract was for the in-orbit delivery of the satellite, meaning ThalesAlenia Space bundled a rocket launch – in this case,
China
‘s Long March vehicle – into its bid.

Eutelsat
did not announce at the time that the ThalesAlenia Space contract included
China
‘s rocket. It was not until April 2008, when Eutelsat sought a broad insurance package for seven satellites, that the Chinese selection was made public.

But Berretta insisted that “I am not embarrassed by the selection. The Chinese rocket’s recent record is excellent, and they have guaranteed us that they will clear their [launch manifest] to assure that our satellite is launched on time. That kind of guarantee I cannot get from Arianespace.”

One French official said Eutelsat is paying about $70 million for the launch, a figure that includes some $10 million in fees for ThalesAlenia Space to prepare the satellite at
China
‘s launch base. Berretta declined to confirm this figure but did say
China
‘s vehicle is less expensive.

The Arianespace letter to the French president says Eutelsat, with its recent launch contracts with Sea Launch Co. of Long Beach,
Calif.
, and International Launch Services of Reston, Va., which use Russian and Ukrainian rocket hardware, has turned its back on
‘s launch-services supplier.

Berretta strongly denied this, saying Eutelsat has purchased Ariane launches for more than 20 of its satellites. He said the company had to wait some four months to launch one of its satellites with Arianespace because of delays related to finding a compatible co-passenger for the Ariane 5 rocket, and due to a labor strike at
Europe
‘s
Guiana
Space
Center
spaceport in
French Guiana
.

“Some people seem not to understand how important schedule is to us,” Berretta said. “It is absolutely crucial.” He said that for the Chinese rocket already selected, he ordered ThalesAlenia Space to secure a backup option in the event that a launch failure or other event were to make it impossible for the W3B to be launched on time by China.