France-Azerbaijan Accord Emphasizes Space Cooperation

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PARIS — The governments of France and Azerbaijan agreed June 7 to cooperate on “telecommunications and the digital economy,” an arrangement that stresses space-based collaboration.

The partnership agreement comes after Azerbaijan, for its first national telecommunications satellite, selected Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., as the manufacturer, backed by a $116.6 million loan organized by the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Honeywell International of Glendale, Ariz., and Moog Inc. of Chatsworth, Calif., are the principal subcontractors to Orbital for the satellite’s construction.

The Azersat/Africasat-1A will be launched in mid-2012 by Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium under a separate contract valued at $93 million. Azerbaijan and its bank consortium, led by BNP Paribas, is negotiating with France’s Coface export-credit agency to back the launch-services contract.

Azersat/Africasat-1A is a joint venture between Azerbaijan and satellite fleet operator Measat of Malaysia, which will be using about 40 percent of the satellite’s total capacity. Azerbaijan will use 20 percent, with the remaining capacity to be available for other customers.

The satellite will operate at 46 degrees east and will carry 24 C-band and 12 Ku-band transponders. It is expected to weigh about 3,000 kilograms at launch, meaning it could be lofted as a secondary passenger aboard Europe’s Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket, or as the sole passenger aboard the European version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket, set to begin operations from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport this fall.

French Industry Minister Eric Besson and Azeri Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister Ali Abassov signed the cooperation agreement during a June 7 meeting in Paris at which several European companies interested in providing space-based services or goods were in attendance.

The companies included Thales, a builder of satellites and telecommunications ground networks; Arianespace; and satellite fleet operator Eutelsat, whose new Ka-Sat broadband satellite includes coverage of Azerbaijan, according to a statement issued by Besson’s office.