Middle East Demand for Satellite Services Continues to Grow

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  Space News Business

Middle East Demand for Satellite Services Continues to Grow

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 19 December 2006
01:33 pm ET


PARIS — Satellite orders expected from existing and start-up operators in the Middle East in 2007, coupled with the decision by the Turkish government to develop its own satellite manufacturing capacity, are the latest signs of continued growth in a region where demand for satellite telecommunication services continues to grow.

The start-up company Al Yahsat Communications Co., owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, appears ready to order one mid-size telecommunications satellite in 2007 after more than two years of indecision.

Industry officials say the company has set a Dec. 31 deadline for proposals from satellite manufacturers for one satellite and an option for another. The spacecraft will be placed into the 52.5 degrees east orbital slot.

Egypt’s Nilesat, whose two orbiting satellites are nearly filled to capacity , is leasing a Eutelsat direct-broadcast satellite, which Eutelsat agreed to move to 7 degrees west. Nilesat has announced, and then withdrawn, plans for a new spacecraft on several occasions in the past three years.

Established fleet operator Arabsat of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, aware of the increased competition in the region, is considering bids for two, and possibly three, satellites to be ordered in 2007.

Badr-4, the first of Arabsat’s fourth-generation satellites, was launched in November into Arabsat’s 26 degrees east orbital slot, and will be followed in 2008 by Badr-6, which is being built by Europe’s Astrium Satellites. Badr-6 also will be stationed at the 26 degrees east slot.

Industry officials said it remains unclear whether Arabsat will order two satellites simultaneously, with a third on option, or limit itself to one firm order at a time.

Nabil A. Shanti, director of sales at Arabsat, said Arabsat expects to sign a contract for at least one satellite in the first three months of 2007. This satellite, which Arabsat refers to as Arabsat 5A, will replace the Arabsat 2B spacecraft that now operates at Arabsat’s second orbital position, 30.5 degrees east longitude.

Shanti said the two other next-generation satellites, currently known as Arabsat 5B and 5C, will be located at 26 degrees east and 20 degrees east, respectively. The 20-degrees east slot is a new one for Arabsat.

In a Nov. 23 presentation in Istanbul to the Broadcast, Cable and Satellite Eurasia conference, Shanti sought to position Arabsat as a partner for Turksat, Turkey’s government-owned satellite operator, for future business in Central Asia and North Africa.

Shanti said Arabsat and Turksat already have begun active discussions on how the two operators might work together, saying one of Arabsat’s advantages is “full political independence from any countries.”

In addition to operating Turkey’s satellites, Turksat has been given government authority to oversee the creation of a Turkish space agency and the development of a domestic Turkish satellite-production capability.

Some two-dozen Turkish engineers are now in France as part of a Turksat contract with manufacturer Alcatel Alenia Space to build the Turksat 3A satellite, to be launched in late 2007 or early 2008 into Turksat’s prime orbital slot at 42 degrees east. Turksat 3A will replace the Turksat 1C satellite there now, which is expected to be retired in 2007.

In addition to operating telecommunications satellites, Turksat’s role is being expanded with the addition of the Center of Turkish National Applied Satellite and Space Technologies, which will oversee broader space-development activities.

Yusuf S. Hascicek, the center’s director, said Turkey should be able to build its next telecommunications satellite, Turksat 4A, mainly in Turkey even if some expertise will need to be imported. That satellite should be launched in 2010, Hascicek told the Istanbul conference.

The Turkish space center and Turkey’s military forces are weighing bids for an optical Earth observation satellite that European industry officials say should be contracted in 2007, with a launch in 2009. Here too, Turkey will send personnel to the selected prime contractor’s plant to be trained in production techniques.

Turkish officials have specified that the Earth observation satellite should have a ground resolution of 60 centimeters in black-and-white mode and 4 meters in color. In addition to the main image-reception center in Ankara, five other stations are expected to be deployed in other nations, Hascicek said.

A similar plan is being prepared for a Turkish radar observation satellite, tentatively planned for launch in 2010.