Eutelsat W2A’s S-band Antenna Malfunctions

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KOUROU, French Guiana — The 12-meter-diameter S-band antenna aboard the Eutelsat W2A satellite launched April 4 has suffered an anomaly that may reduce its ability to provide service across Europe as required by its regulatory license, one of two granted May 14, according to industry officials.

The antenna, built by Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., was successfully deployed in orbit April 9. But in-orbit tests in the last four weeks have turned up a hardware glitch whose consequences are not yet known, according to Solaris Mobile, a joint venture that was formed to sell S-band satellite services to government and commercial users in Europe.

Dublin, Ireland-based Solaris, owned by Europe’s two biggest satellite operators, SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris, said in a May 14 statement that it “remains confident of its ability to meet the commitments made” in a competition for S-band spectrum organized by the European Union’s executive commission.

In a coincidence of the calendar, the Brussels, Belgium-based European Commission on May 14 announced that it had selected the S-band proposals made by Solaris and Inmarsat of London as winners of the competition. Bids by TerreStar Networks of Reston, Va., and ICO Global Communications, also of Reston, were rejected.

Industry officials said the Harris antenna could be coaxed into full service by the orbital equivalent of “shaking” the satellite in an attempt to correct the faulty hardware, which they declined to identify.

Harris officials did not immediately return calls requesting comment on the Solaris antenna, and whether the issue will delay the scheduled June 24 launch here of TerreStar’s TerreStar-1 satellite, intended to provide S-band mobile communications in North America. TerreStar-1 was built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and carries an 18-meter-diameter Harris-built antenna.

Industry officials said Harris and Loral have determined to their satisfaction, and that of their customer, that TerreStar-1’s antenna, whose development has caused launch delays, is free of the issue affecting the Solaris antenna. TerreStar-1 is scheduled to arrive at Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport here May 15.

The Solaris antenna is flying aboard Eutetlsat’s W2A satellite, whose conventional telecommunications payload is not affected by the anomaly. The satellite was built by Thales Alenia Space.

The European Commission’s selection of Inmarsat and Solaris as the S-band license winners, meanwhile, means the companies will now divide 30 megahertz of uplink and 30 megahertz of downlink capacity in S-band over the 27-nation European Union.

The commission reiterated that the two winners were to have satellites in orbit within 24 months of the May 14 license date. How the commission will react to a Solaris service that is unable to reach all 27 European Union nations is unclear. Also unclear is whether Inmarsat, which has selected Thales Alenia Space as its S-band satellite prime contractor but has yet to approve any substantial metal-cutting on the satellite, will be able to meet the commission’s May 2011 deadline.