An agreement between Thales Alenia Space and the Nepal Telecommunications Authority moves Nepal closer to developing a domestic satellite communications capability. Thales Alenia Space built Bangladesh's first satellite, Bangabandhu-1 (shown here), demonstrating the company's experience working with new entrants. Credit: Thales Alenia Space.

WASHINGTON — Thales Alenia Space expects to sign a contract in upcoming months to build a communications satellite for Nepal, a Himalayan nation of 30 million with no domestic satellite operator.

The Franco-Italian satellite manufacturer said it signed an agreement with the Nepal Telecommunications Authority on March 11, one week after a meeting between Nepali and French government officials yielded a letter of intent regarding Nepal’s desire for a national communications satellite.

“There is no firm contract so far, only an agreement but we hope to sign it in the upcoming months,” Thales Alenia Space spokesperson Sandrine Bielecki said by email.

Nepal has reserved an orbital slot with the International Telecommunication Union for a C- and Ku-band satellite that would launch in 2022 and operate from 123.3 degrees East, Thales Alenia Space said.

In a statement released by Thales Alenia Space, Nepal’s minister of Communication and Information Technology, Gokul Prasad Baskota, emphasized Nepal’s desire to connect its population with broadband.

“To successfully compete with other countries, to give high speed internet to all our citizens and to be recognized regionally, we want Nepal to accelerate its pace on the way to digitization,” he said. “No one must be left behind on this path. Our National Satellite will help us jump into a better future.”

Several regional satellite operators, including Thaicom of Thailand, Hong Kong-based AsiaSat, Malaysia-based Measat and Sky Perfect JSAT of Japan currently have C- and/or Ku-band coverage of Nepal. Global fleet operators Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat all cover Nepal as well.

A satellite order would add Nepal to a crowded list of new entrants in the Asia-Pacific, a market where fragmented regulatory access and an increasing number of national satellite operators makes for what many satellite operators describe as a challenging business environment.

Recent national entrants include Laos, which launched its first satellite in 2015, and Bangladesh in 2018. New private satellite operators are also preparing spacecraft, such as Kacific, whose Kacific-1 condosat launches this year, and Thai startup Mu Space, which issued a request for proposals last June for a satellite it hopes to launch in 2021.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...