Luxembourg Asks ITU To Deny License for U.K. Firm’s Just-launched Satellite

by

PARIS — The government of Luxembourg has asked international regulators to deny an operating license for Avanti Communications’ Hylas 2 Ka-band satellite launched in August, saying Avanti’s rights to the orbital position expired in May and that Hylas 2 will interfere with an SES satellite scheduled for launch in 2013.

The British government, which is London-based Avanti’s regulatory sponsor for Hylas 2, has rejected the Luxembourg claims with arguments that include the fact that Avanti’s Hylas 1, launched in November 2010, had reserved Hylas 2’s place in orbit by stopping at the Hylas 2 slot for 16 days before moving to its own allocated position.

Britain has told regulators that Luxembourg’s proposal would cause “disastrous … consequences” for Avanti.

The Luxembourg and British governments presented their written arguments Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, respectively, in advance of a weeklong meeting of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Radio Regulations Board scheduled for the week of Sept. 10 in Geneva.

The ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, a lower body that recommends courses of action to the board, has sided with the British position, saying that while Hylas 2 did not arrive in orbit until three months after its slot and frequency reservation had expired, Avanti had made a good-faith effort to meet the deadline.

The bureau nonetheless recommended, with British consent, that Avanti’s reservation of a slot at 61.5 east be canceled. It too had expired in May. The ITU said that the British government sent written notification of the cancellation of the 61.5-degree slot July 20.

The British Office of Communications, Ofcom, which is that nation’s telecommunications regulator, had argued on behalf of Avanti’s Hylas 2 at the monthlong meeting of ITU governments that ended earlier this year.

That meeting endorsed an ITU proposal obliging satellite operators to station spacecraft at a given slot for at least 90 days before the slot is considered registered. The idea was to avoid abuses of the reservation system in which a single satellite is used to “bring into use,” in ITU language, multiple orbital positions, thus denying their use to other operators.

Hylas 1 did not meet that test when it stopped at 31 degrees east in early 2011 for 16 days. But that maneuver occurred before ITU governments firmly embedded the 90-day minimum into the regulatory language.

Further, the ITU had said it would permit regulators to use judgment when deciding whether to grant operators that miss the deadlines a bit more time.

In its argument, the British government said there was never any doubt that Hylas 2, a Ka-band satellite built by Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., was a genuine project that was fully financed and moving toward completion.

The British statement also said Hylas 2 was several months late in being launched, in part because the builder of its Ka-band traveling wave tube amplifiers “had experienced very severe problems in the manufacture and test” of these components in the past couple of years.

Luxembourg also argued that Avanti has been inconsistent in its listing of the frequencies used by Hylas 1, meaning the satellite could not have registered Hylas 2 frequencies because it did not broadcast in those frequencies.

Britain responded that this is not the case, and that Hylas 1, which was financed in part by the European Space Agency to demonstrate a flexible payload developed under ESA contract, is capable of switching between the military and civil Ka-band frequencies.

Avanti now operates Hylas 1 at 33.5 degrees west longitude and has won contracts from the NATO alliance and from Paradigm Services of Britain on behalf of the British Defence Ministry, as well as from commercial broadband customers.

Luxembourg’s move against Hylas 2 is designed in part to protect Luxembourg-based SES, whose Astra 5B satellite is under construction and scheduled for launch in 2013. Astra 5B, which will operate just one-half a degree away from Hylas 2 at 31.5 degrees, is mainly a replacement for an SES Ku-band direct-broadcast television satellite.

But Astra 5B also has a secondary payload in Ka-band that it may use to migrate its current consumer broadband business from Ku-band.

The British and Luxembourg governments said SES and Avanti have been in negotiations over Ka-band rights at the two positions. Those talks continue but have not resulted in a resolution.

Luxembourg has proposed that Avanti’s Hylas 2 rights be suspended pending a resolution of the two companies’ negotiations, an idea that Britain rejected, saying the two companies should be able to tailor their use of the frequencies to avoid interference.