PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat on July 28 said it was ordering a large satellite from Europe’s Astrium Satellites to be placed into an orbital slot now being held for Eutelsat by a Chinese satellite the Paris-based operator leased in April.

Eutelsat said the Chinese Sinosat 3 satellite has been moved to 3 degrees east longitude and renamed Eutelsat 3A. U.S. government satellite tracking data show the satellite was moved to its current position, at 3.1 degrees east, in mid-July after having spent nearly three months at 1.6 degrees east.

Releasing its annual financial results, Eutelsat said Astrium Satellites will build a Eutelsat 3B satellite, carrying a mixed C-, Ku- and Ka-band payload, to be launched in early 2014 into the 3 degrees east slot. Eutelsat said the new spacecraft will expand the company’s business in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South America.

The company said Eutelsat 3A has sufficient capacity to provide “powerful coverage of Europe and North Africa for services that include GSM backhaul, data networks, IP backbone connectivity and maritime applications.”

Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa |O’Connor said July 28 the company is using seven C-band transponders on the former Sinosat 3 satellite, which was launched in May 2007 for China’s Sinosat operator, since taken over by China Satcom. It remains unclear whether additional C-band, or Ku-band, capacity is available on the satellite.

In a July 29 conference call on Eutelsat’s financial results, Chief Financial Officer Catherine Guillouard said Eutelsat is paying 15 million euros ($21.5 million) to lease the satellite, plus a finance charge of less than 1 million euros.

Eutelsat Deputy Chief Executive Jean-Paul Brillaud said during the call that if Eutelsat finds a way to increase its capacity from 3 degrees east in the near term beyond seven transponders, whether from Sinosat 3/Eutelsat 3A or some other spacecraft, “we will do it. But [seven transponders] is what we are able to say today to the market.”

Industry and regulatory officials had suspected in April that Eutelsat’s placement of the Chinese satellite at 1.6 degrees east was only a temporary move to secure Eutelsat’s rights to that orbital slot before it was moved to 3 degrees east.

Astrium Satellites said the Eutelsat 3B satellite, using Astrium’s Eurostar E3000 platform, will carry a total of 51 transponders and will permit Eutelsat to switch power among different, steerable Ka-band beams to adapt to demand. It is expected to weigh 6,000 kilograms at launch.

Eutelsat said the Ku-band payload will include up to 30 transponders for wide-beam transmissions in Europe and East Africa. A steerable beam will permit coverage of South America and specific regions of Africa, the company said.

The C-band payload, of up to 12 transponders, will connect to a pan-Asian beam, while the Ka-band payload, including nine transponders, will connect to steerable beams for Africa and South America for corporate networks and Internet access.

Eutelsat will have to coordinate its broadcasts with a satellite operated by the Rascom consortium of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The Rascom-QAF 1R satellite is located at 2.85 degrees east.

It remains unclear whether Eutelsat will attempt to declare the temporary placement of Sinosat 3/Eutelsat 3A at 1.6 degrees east as sufficient to secure its rights to that position. One official familiar with International Telecommunication Union (ITU) rules said that placing the satellite there for less than three months may be viewed as insufficient to qualify as “bringing into use” a satellite network under ITU regulations.



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