SES, Intelsat Asking Lawmakers to Rethink Launch Ban on China, India

by












  Space News Business

SES, Intelsat Asking Lawmakers to Rethink Launch Ban on China, India

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 04 August 2009
02:32 pm ET






PARIS
— The world’s two largest commercial satellite fleet operators, Intelsat and SES, have joined forces to try to persuade
Washington
policymakers that
China
and
India
should be permitted to launch
U.S.
commercial satellites, according to officials from both companies.

The two companies have secured the full support, if not the active involvement, of the largest
U.S.
builder of commercial telecommunications spacecraft, Space Systems/Loral, said Patrick DeWitt, Loral’s president.

The three companies believe their businesses risk severe launch-supply bottlenecks in a market that, if the struggling Sea Launch Co. does not recover from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, would be reduced essentially to two main vehicles:
Europe
‘s Ariane 5 and
Russia
‘s Proton.

“There are really only two
U.S.
rockets – the Delta vehicle, which is not available for commercial launches, and the Atlas, which uses a Russian engine as its main stage,” said Kalpak Gude, deputy general counsel of Washington-based, Bermuda-headquartered Intelsat. “Sea Launch is Russian and Ukrainian. So our first effort is just to get people to understand what the situation is now: This is an industry that has been left to [
] and to the Russians.”

In a July 23 interview, Gude conceded that any thought of permitting
China
to launch
U.S.
satellites has been dead on arrival in
for the past decade following allegations that
China
was able to perfect its missile launch capability by developing a commercial space launch industry.

The ban on Indian launches of
U.S.
commercial satellites originally was put into effect following
India
‘s nuclear weapons tests. The ban – the U.S. State Department calls it “a presumption of denial” of licenses to send
U.S.
satellites to
India
– was reiterated July 20 by the U.S. State Department following a U.S.-India agreement that opened the way for broader bilateral cooperation in defense and technology trade. The
United States
and
India
did sign a technical safeguards agreement opening the door to the launch of
U.S.
hardware from
India
, but that deal applies only to noncommercial programs.

Gude
said Intelsat believes the time is right to start laying the groundwork for a reassessment in
Washington
of the commercial-launch ban for both
China
and
India
.
India
expects to enhance its current launcher product line to be able to carry larger commercial satellites.
China
already has that capacity.

“We as an industry have not spent a lot of time on [Capitol] Hill for awhile,” Gude said of the effort to relax current launch restrictions. “We are not marching up to Capitol Hill to ask that
China
or
India
be permitted to launch our satellites tomorrow. This is not a short-term effort. It is a gradual effort to get people to see where we sit in the world.”

“Other satellite operators are with us on this,” Gude said.

Romain
Bausch, chief executive of SES of Luxembourg, said July 31 that SES agrees with Intelsat’s analysis of the global launcher landscape.

“Our effort is, in general, to lobby
U.S.
policymakers to make sure there is good access to space,” Bausch said during a press briefing on the company’s financial results. “
China
is part of the issue, but there are also discussions of the availability of
U.S.
launch vehicles. For us it is disappointing that [United Launch Alliance] only offers Atlas and Delta rockets for government satellites.”

Denver-based United Launch Alliance is the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture that builds Atlas and Delta vehicles.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Loral has concluded that its business is especially vulnerable to a constriction in the launcher market because Loral specializes in heavy spacecraft, DeWitt said.

DeWitt said that given the launch rate and track record of the Chinese Long March rockets in recent years, the
U.S.
government’s belief that a de facto ban on Chinese access to the commercial market would halt rocket development “didn’t prove to be right. We haven’t accomplished anything.”

Chinese Long March rockets have sustained their activity mainly through Chinese domestic demand.

DeWitt agreed with Gude that “all our [commercially available] rockets, except for the French, are dependent on Russian or Ukrainian hardware. We certainly hope Sea Launch recovers, but what happens if it doesn’t? We are in deep trouble.”

DeWitt said
‘s Ariane 5 and
Russia
‘s Proton could handle perhaps 12-15 launches per year of large telecommunications satellites. The global demand, he said, is likely to remain at 20-25 spacecraft.

“Who is going to fill that gap? If we can’t get all of our satellites launched because there are only two rockets, the entire industry will suffer. This could seriously impact the space industry’s competitiveness with respect to fiber.”

Industry sources said the satellite industry group had briefed a number of lawmakers, including Rep.
C.A.
“Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-Md.).

Heather Moeder Molino, a spokeswoman for Ruppersberger, was unable to confirm the congressman had been briefed by the companies. However, she said Ruppersberger supports reform of the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a suite of rules governing the export of commercial communications satellites.

“The congressman believes we need to relax the rules but at the same time protect our satellites and our secrets while allowing companies to sell unclassified technologies overseas,” Molino said.

Congressional sources familiar with the effort said even if the lobbying push is ultimately successful, it could have a counterproductive near-term effect on Capitol Hill, where legislation to ease export licensing restrictions on U.S. commercial communications satellites and components passed the House in June.


Staff Writer Amy Klamper contributed to this report from

Washington
.