PARIS — A Eutelsat satellite over the Middle East that has been at the center of a conflict between the Paris-based fleet operator and the 21-nation Arabsat has been subjected to high-power interference that has knocked out a half-dozen transponders, Eutelsat and the French National Frequencies Agency said July 20.

The French agency, which is the French government representative to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said in a July 20 statement that it had transmitted Eutelsat’s complaint to the ITU and to the government of Saudi Arabia, where Arabsat is headquartered.

One industry official familiar with the issue said the interference, in the form of digital video broadcast transmissions, is either intentional or an extraordinary antenna-pointing error by Riyadh-based Arabsat in aiming programming at the Eutelsat satellite.

Arabsat officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about their dispute with Eutelsat, and it remained unclear whether the signal jamming was done with the knowledge of the Saudi government. The industry official said Eutelsat had been able to move the affected customers elsewhere, but that the loss of capacity due to the interference was ongoing.

Eutelsat said the interference began July 14.

In a July 19 message to customers of the Eutelsat 25A satellite, Eutelsat said the interference “consists of three unauthorized DVB television transmissions. All three are directed at Eutelsat 25A using either high power and/or bad polarizations which, in addition to the primary interference, is also causing secondary interference-related effects.”

The message suggests that Eutelsat has been able to pinpoint the source of the interference, saying the operator “will immediately be sending a detailed complaint to the ITU … including all transmission parameters, screenshots and geo-location information that we have recorded from the interfering carriers.”

Eutelsat 25A is operated at 25.5 degrees east longitude in geostationary orbit. It is just one-half a degree away from an Arabsat satellite that hosts an Iranian telecommunications service.

Eutelsat has been battling Arabsat and Iran for more than two years over Ku-band frequency rights at that orbital position. Multiple attempts at mediation by orbital slot and broadcast frequency regulators at the ITU have been unable to resolve the dispute, despite the fact that Eutelsat, with the government of Qatar as a partner, plans to launch an even larger satellite into the 25.5-degree slot in less than a year.

Iran has said its signals are being interfered with by the Eutelsat 25A satellite; Eutelsat insists it, and not Arabsat or Iran, has rights to the Ku-band frequencies at that orbital location. Eutelsat and Arabsat agree that neither can fully operate satellites there in the current situation.

The interference, if it is determined to be coming from an Arabsat facility, raises the conflict level at a time when the two veteran fleet operators appeared to be nearing a solution.

The ITU’s latest attempt at mediation occurred July 4 in Geneva and included representatives of Eutelsat, Arabsat, the Iranian government, the French government and the government of Qatar.

Two officials said a settlement was floated that had at least provisional backing from both satellite operators. The agreement would divide in half the available Ku-band frequencies at the 25.5-26-degree location, with Arabsat and Eutelsat each getting the equivalent of 12 36-megahertz Ku-band transponders to operate in the Middle East and North Africa.

But being limited to 12 transponders would likely deal a blow to the Eutelsat satellite being built with the Qatar Satellite Co., Es’hailSat, called Eutelsat 25B/Es’hail 1.

Eutelsat asked Arabsat to include in the 50-50 split an agreement that Eutelsat would “lease” four transponders on the Arabsat satellite at 26 degrees east. One official said that in all likelihood, this transaction would be only a face-saving gesture, and that Eutelsat in fact would be using four additional transponders on its own satellite.

This official said Eutelsat nonetheless appeared to agree that it would provide some service or payment to Arabsat in exchange for the four additional transponders.

Another official said the large Iranian delegation at the meeting, frustrated that Arabsat and Saudi Arabia appeared to be negotiating with Eutelsat without Iranian input, protested that it did not support the proposed compromise.

The Iranian delegation had a second reason to be in foul humor. A six-month attempt by Iran to purchase or lease an in-orbit satellite to preserve Iran’s rights to 34 degrees east had failed to secure a spacecraft by the July 14 deadline. Iran had been given the six-month deadline following the most recent meeting of the World Radiocommunication Conference, a quadrennial assembly of ITU member nations.

Iran’s rights to 34 degrees east will now be erased, and the associated broadcast frequencies will be returned to the general ITU pool, an official said.

The July 4 ITU meeting on the Arabsat-Eutelsat dispute adjourned late the same day. Ten days later, the signal jamming began.



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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.