Eutelsat fortifying jamming defenses over Middle East

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TAMPA, Fla. — Eutelsat is preparing to deploy the first of two new jamming-resistant broadcast satellites over the Middle East following signal interference in Iran.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched Eutelsat’s Hotbird 13F satellite Oct. 15 at 1:22 p.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, to geostationary transfer orbit.

After separating from the rocket about 35 minutes later, the Airbus-built satellite will use onboard electric propulsion to reach the French operator’s 13 degrees East orbital slot in the coming months.

Hotbird 13F, and its twin Hotbird 13G that SpaceX is slated to launch later this year, are due to replace three aging satellites at this orbital position to provide video services over the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa: Hotbird 13B, 13C, and 13E.

Together, these three satellites deliver 1,000 television channels to more than 160 million homes to support a broadcast business that — although gradually declining — represented 59% of the 287 million euros Eutelsat made in the three months to end of September.

On Oct. 7, Eutelsat said signals originating from within Iran have been jamming foreign broadcasts in the country from Hotbird 13C as authorities there seek to clamp down on mass protests. The company’s Eutelsat 7B satellite positioned at 7 degrees East has also been affected by jamming.

Eutelsat’s incoming Hotbird 13F and 13G are based on Airbus’ new Eurostar Neo design, which promises improvements in payload capacity, power efficiency, and thermal control systems.

Notably, they also have improved “uplink signal protection and resilience” to resist attempts to interfere with their services, according to Eutelsat.

Eutelsat declined to comment on how Hotbird 13F and 13G would guard against signal jamming for security reasons, and Airbus referred questions to Eutelsat.

The French operator has previously helped pioneer anti-jamming technology on its fleet to protect its revenues.

The Eutelsat 8 West B satellite, launched in 2015 with coverage over the Middle East, carried experimental frequency converters to protect against interference. 

Eutelsat ordered that satellite from Thales Alenia Space in 2013 after experiencing signal disruption in the region during the Arab Spring anti-government unrest earlier that decade.

Hotbird 13F is the first satellite based on Airbus’ Eurostar Neo platform, which was developed with funding from space agencies in Europe and the United Kingdom.

Airbus has sold eight satellites based on the platform in total, including a military communications spacecraft for the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence.

Hotbird 13G arrives by Beluga 

A few hours following Hotbird 13F’s launch, its twin landed at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center after traveling from France via an Airbus BelugaST.

It is the first Beluga to visit the United States since the 2009 delivery of Europe’s Tranquility module for a Space Shuttle launch to the International Space Station.

Large geostationary satellites usually travel internationally on large Ukrainian Antonov aircraft, or slower-moving boats amid the disruption caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Airbus started offering outsized freight transportation in January for customers with its fleet of five BelugaST aircraft, which until recently were dedicated to serving the manufacturer’s inter-site transportation of large aircraft sections.

These internal needs are being progressively transferred to new, larger, BelugaXL aircraft to make BelugaST available for commercial transport needs.