The French Syracuse 3A military telecommunications satellite is scheduled for launch Sept. 29 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket following months of delays that forced French officials to make embarrassed explanations to one of their customers, the 26-nation NATO alliance, according to officials from the French arms-procurement agency, DGA.

Syracuse 3A, which has been at the Guiana Space Center space port in French Guiana since the spring, will be orbited together with PanAmSat Holding Corp.’s Galaxy 15 telecommunications satellite. A suspect component on Galaxy 15 was the latest of many reasons why Syracuse 3A was not launched early this year, as originally scheduled.

Francois Fayard, director of DGA’s observation, telecommunications and information branch, said DGA was obliged to ease NATO officers’ concerns that Syracuse 3A would not be available when a long-term lease contract with NATO starts later this year.

“This was a concern at NATO, and it obliged us to have some uncomfortable discussions,” Fayard said here Aug. 30 during a press briefing at the satellite production site of Alcatel Alenia Space of Paris and Rome , Syracuse’s prime contractor. “No one ever doubted that we would launch the satellite, but as we moved from early 2005 to later in the year, it became a topic of conversation concerning our contract with NATO.”

France, Britain and Italy in November 2004 contracted with NATO to provide the alliance with SHF- and UHF-band satellite telecommunications capacity under a 15-year contract valued at 457 million euros ($561 million). Britain is offering capacity aboard its Skynet 4 and future Skynet 5 satellites, and Italy is contributing capacity aboard its current Sicral and future Sicral 1b spacecraft.

Syracuse 3A will be located in geostationary orbit at the French-registered slot of 47 degrees east longitude, from where it can provide telecommunications between Europe and the Middle East and Central Asia. An identical Syracuse 3B satellite, under construction here and scheduled for launch in mid-2006, will be located at France’s 5 degrees west longitude position. The aging, dual-use Telecom 2C satellite is stationed there now.

Fayard said French troops operating in Afghanistan as part of the NATO contingent there have been using commercial satellite capacity in the absence of Syracuse 3, “and this is costly, and something we would prefer to have avoided.”

French Defense Ministry officials have an option under their contract with Alcatel Alenia Space for the construction of a Syracuse 3C satellite, which like Syracuse 3B would cost about 300 million euros including launch, said Caroline Laurent, DGA Syracuse 3 program manager .

That option with Alcatel Alenia expires in mid-2006. DGA officials said they are evaluating several possibilities, including a joint civil-military broadband satellite with Italy, and will not decide on the third Syracuse 3 until the first two satellites are safely in orbit and operating.

France has been using an aging British Skynet 4 satellite and the three remaining French Telecom 2 satellites — also nearing retirement — to provide capacity while waiting for Syracuse 3A. The Telecom 2B spacecraft was retired in July 2004, and the Telecom 2A is scheduled to be retired and placed into a graveyard orbit before the end of this year — one reason why DGA is under pressure to launch Syracuse 3A.

Once the two Syracuse 3 satellites are in orbit at 47 degrees east and 5 degrees west longitude, they will operate with the Telecom 2D satellite at 8 degrees west, the youngest of the Telecom 2 fleet.

Laurent said Telecom 2C, once it is placed into an inclined orbit to save fuel, is likely to remain operational until 2009 or 2010. A satellite in inclined orbit no longer is stabilized on its north-south axis. This saves fuel but requires users to employ slightly larger ground antennas to compensate for the satellite’s movement.

The French Defense Ministry and France Telecom jointly decide on the orbital positioning of the Telecom 2 satellites. It is this kind of negotiation with a commercial operator over satellite placement that French authorities will be able to avoid with the Syracuse 3 spacecraft, which are 100 percent dedicated to defense.

“Commercial satellites are not as mobile and as reconfigurable in orbit, and do not carry as much anti-jamming functions as we would like,” Laurent said, explaining the French choice to move away from dual-use spacecraft.

Blaise Jaeger, head of Alcatel Alenia Space’s telecommunications satellites division, said commercial satellite operators are beginning to show concerns for anti-jamming and higher-level encryption, in part to appeal to military customers.

Commercial customers also are showing more interest in active, reconfigurable antennas to switch coverage areas after launch if business changes, and in digital signal processors of the kind carried by the Syracuse 3 spacecraft. Jaeger said the Syracuse 3 digital processor bears a strong resemblance to the processor on Japan’s MTSat telecommunications and navigation spacecraft, for which Alcatel Alenia built part of the electronics payload.