Eutelsat vs Iran satellite nightmare continues

A very long-running squabble between Eutelsat and Iran, which also involves Arabsat and the state of Qatar, is getting ever-more complex and has no sign of being resolved. At stake is a brand-new satellite now being built for Eutelsat and Qatar, and worth around $300 million and due for launch next year.

The problem is centred on the 26/25.5 degrees East orbital positions, currently occupied – at 26 degrees East, by Arabsat with its BADR-5 satellite.  Arabsat leased some of the transponders on BADR-5 to Iran. To complicate the issue Iran itself claims ‘ownership’ of the 26 degrees slot via its Zohreh-2 satellite (which has never existed). Iran says that by leasing the Arabsat frequencies it has “brought into use” its orbital slot.
Eutelsat operates immediately adjacent of Arabsat’s BADR-5 at 25.5 degrees east, and its argument – with some justification – is that Zohreh-2 doesn’t exist and consequently Iran has no claim over the orbital position. Eutelsat’s view is important because it has, with Qatar’s Es’hailSat-1 , a joint-venture satellite being built to be placed at 25.5 in the middle of 2013.

A major ITU conference ruled that Arabsat and Eutelsat should consider officially dividing the frequencies available between them. The ITU gave Iran until July 14th to rent an old – but still orbiting – satellite and move it to the nearby 34 degrees slot, also claimed by Iran,  and thus ‘bring into use’ its claim. But Iran faces a Catch 22 challenge because under United Nations embargo rules no country is permitted to enter into commercial agreements with Iran.

Meanwhile, a flood of official letters have gone to the ITU in Geneva which regulates satellite matters. Arabsat claims to have lost millions of dollars because of the dispute. Iran says much the same, blaming Eutelsat. Arabsat says it is prepared to accept the ITU’s 50/50 compromise, but Eutelsat says it is wary given that Zohreh-2 has never existed, and not all of the disputed Arabsat/Iran frequencies have the same monetary value.

A planned July 14 meeting is still looking good for a solution and agreement of some sort of resolution. But failure could well be catastrophic, with $300-millions worth of satellite at stake.

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