Mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat is working with satellite builder Thales Alenia Space to develop a satellite that would
provide S-band mobile-television services in Europe,
making Inmarsat the fourth company likely to compete for the limited amount of S-band spectrum available over Europe, according to Inmarsat and industry officials.
London-based Inmarsat, which presented a preliminary outline of its S-band plans to investors here Sept. 25, has not yet signed a contract with Thales Alenia but must commit at least some resources to the project by year’s end as it presents its case to European Commission regulators.
Inmarsat spokesman Chris McLaughlin said Sept. 26 that Inmarsat has made “a commitment” to work with Thales Alenia Space but has yet to secure the strategic partners – notably video content providers – that will be needed to help finance the project.
A half-dozen companies in the United States, Europe, South Korea, Japan and China have invested in satellite-delivered mobile video projects. EchoStar Communications Corp. of Littleton, Colo., which has yet to join any of the U.S.-based mobile-video projects, is investing in similar businesses in China and South Korea.
In addition to building and launching at least one satellite, providing mobile television in Europe, or anywhere else, would require the installation of thousands of ground-based signal-relay stations to assure service continuity in areas that are hard for satellite signals to reach.
The European Commission ultimately will select two or three companies to share the 30 megahertz of S-band spectrum – 15 megahertz in uplink spectrum and 15 megahertz in downlink spectrum – after a review of the competing proposals. Industry officials say the spectrum available could support two competitors, but probably not a third.
TerreStar Corp., which is building an S-band two-way communications system in the United States, has established a legal presence in Austria and recently signed a study contract with Astrium Satellites of Europe to perform a preliminary satellite design. But here too, no satellite construction contract has been signed. TerreStar’s service is aimed at two-way communications for government services and in rural areas.
Europe’s two principal satellite-fleet operators, SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris, have created a joint venture, called Solaris, to operate an S-band satellite providing mobile television service. The S-band payload will be carried on Eutelsat’s W2A satellite to be launched in 2009. Thales Alenia Space is building the spacecraft and construction has begun.
ICO Global, which in 2001 launched a satellite in medium
Earth orbit that was supposed to be a precursor to a constellation providing two-way communications in S-band, has urged European regulators to give ICO a priority based on the launch of this single satellite. To date, the European Commission has been unwilling to give ICO a favored treatment. ICO officials have nonetheless insisted they will operate a system in Europe in addition to the single-satellite system now under construction for the United States.
The European Commission’s procedures are “relatively vague,” ICO Chief Executive Tim Bryan said during a Sept. 10 investor conference in New York organized by Jeffries & Co. “They failed to address ICO’s legacy system. I’m here to tell you: ICO is not going away in the international arena. It’s just not going to happen.”
ICO is investing nearly $500 million in a single geostationary-orbit satellite, which currently is under construction at Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif., and scheduled for launch in early 2008 aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket.
To meet its U.S. regulatory commitments, ICO will need to have a spare satellite available on the ground within one year of launching its commercial mobile-video service in the United States using a network of ground-based signal boosters called Ancillary
Terrestrial Components. Bryan said that would mean having the spare completed by late 2009. “We think there’s plenty of time to build it,” he said. ICO has not yet ordered the second satellite.
Despite its existing financial obligations, ICO expects to prove to European authorities that it is serious about completing its medium
Earth constellation. The company has 10 satellites in various stages of completion and in storage following a now
ed contract with Boeing Satellite Systems International of El Segundo, Calif.
ICO and Boeing are suing each other over this contract and it is unclear whether the Boeing-built satellites will be available to ICO. In any event, Bryan said, ICO will complete its constellation.
“If [the Boeing satellites] don’t come out of the litigation, or we decide we’re not going to launch them or can’t launch them, we’ve already signed an agreement with Loral so that Loral can build MEO [medium
Earth orbit] satellites that will work equally well with our ICO MEO system,” Bryan said. “In addition, we have a deal with [commercial launch
service provider] International Launch Services to configure a Proton rocket in a way it can take up to three MEO satellites.”