PARIS — Satellite builder Thales Alenia Space and ground-services provider Telespazio will build the Sicral 2 military telecommunications satellite system for the Italian and French defense ministries under a contract valued at 295 million euros ($376 million), the two companies announced May 7.

Sicral 2, carrying separate UHF- and SHF-frequency payloads for France and Italy, is being financed as part of a government-industry partnership that expects complete negotiations for a bank loan in June. Sicral 2 is scheduled for launch in 2013, with a launch-services provider to be selected under a separate contract.

In a May 7 interview, the chief executive of Thales Alenia Space Italia, Luigi Pasquali, said the Italian government is guaranteeing a bank loan to be taken out by the industrial consortium to build Sicral 2. The contract amount, he said, includes an estimated cost of the launch vehicle that will be adjusted once the launch-services contract is signed.

Government and industry officials in France and Italy have been saying for more than two years that Sicral 2 represents a milestone in European military space collaboration. The contract was signed April 30.

Whether Sicral 2 will serve as a template for further cross-border efforts in Earth observation, missile warning or telecommunications remains unclear, especially given how long it took both nations to come to terms on the contract once they had agreed on the joint project.

The bilateral effort was made easier by the joint French-Italian ownership of the industrial contracting team. Thales Group of France and Finmeccanica of Italy together own Thales Alenia Space, based in Cannes, France. They also co-own Rome-based Telespazio.

France and Italy agreed earlier this year to the joint construction of a satellite using the military-assigned portion of Ka-band spectrum for a broadband satellite, called Athena-Fidus, to serve both nations’ military and civil-security forces.

But Sicral 2 represents a clear break from the past in Europe. Currently, France, Italy, Britain, Spain and Germany have their own, independent military telecommunications satellite systems.

France, Italy and Britain are jointly providing satellite telecommunications capacity to the NATO alliance under a contract they won together. Sicral 2 will reinforce Italy’s ability to provide its planned UHF bandwidth to NATO beyond what is available on the Italian Sicral 1 and Sicral 1b satellites, both in orbit.

Sicral 2 also will add to France’s two-satellite Syracuse 3 system.

“The industrial team that you see in the contract was established some time ago, so it was not on the industry side that the contract was delayed,” Pasquali said. “The delaying factor, in addition to the economic crisis that we all know about, was the fact that we have two sovereign nations that have to determine, in detail, how to use a single satellite. This took some time.”

Pasquali said that, for now, no portion of the Sicral 2 payload has been reserved for private-sector sale to third parties. Telespazio, in return for its investment in the Sicral 1B satellite, has rights to a portion of the Sicral 1B capacity.

But Pasquali said the Italian government has not closed the door to a possible privatization of a part of Italy’s Sicral 2 payload.

Italian defense officials had hoped to place Sicral 2 in orbit in 2012 to replace the aging Sicral 1 satellite, which has lost part of its capacity. Sicral 1’s performance has forced Italy to rely more heavily than planned on Sicral 1B. By 2013, Sicral 1 will have surpassed its contractual service life.

Sicral 2, a Thales Alenia Space Spacebus 4000 platform, is expected to weigh around 4,000 kilograms at launch. It will operate in geostationary orbit at 37 degrees east longitude.

The Thales Alenia Space share of the contract will total about 193 million euros. The company will build the Italian UHF and French SHF electronics payloads, serve as prime contractor for the satellite, and design the ground segment. Telespazio’s share of the contract, valued at 102 million euros, will include early in-orbit control and testing of the satellite, and management of the construction of the ground network.


Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.