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Egyptian satellite proposal creates a storm

Last week, the ITU’s Radio Regulations Board (RRB) approved a controversial proposal from Egypt that it could build and launch a satellite to the 35.5 degrees East orbital slot. The satellite would be the first of a six-satellite system.

The decision is contentious in that Egypt’s application to launch the satellite was well out of time. The ITU has strict rules in place to avoid the risk of satellite operators filing formal applications to cover every available orbital slot (so called ‘paper satellites’). Instead the ITU insists on a rigid timetable whereby a satellite operator has to begin construction, complete construction and then launch a satellite. Egypt’s initial overall proposal for the six-satellite system was due to expire completely on May 5th. It subsequently reduced the application to cover three orbital slots.

The proposed satellite was three years over these limits, but the ITU’s RRB has seemingly ignored its own rules and regulations and approved Egypt’s proposal.

The satellite is part of a proposed satellite constellation which covers six orbital positions. Egypt in its submission to the RRB said it had hoped to lease an existing in-orbit satellite to occupy the slot, but that deal failed to materialise.

Egypt’s main argument placed before the RRB was the troubles the country had gone through these past few years, not least political instability.

It is claimed the RRB decision could open the flood gates for other satellite operators who want their expiring applications re-instated.

Moreover, there are suggestions that a recent order received by French aircraft builders for military jets for Egypt’s air force, and long-established supply relations by two French satellite builders (Airbus and Thales) might have exerted unfair influence on the RRB.

The Egyptian satellite is mostly for military use, although there are Ka-band frequencies in the plan. Eutelsat operates a commercial satellite at the almost adjacent position of 35.9 degrees East.

Jean-Francois Bureau, director institutional affairs at Eutelsat (and quoted by trade magazine Space News) says that no frequency coordination had been carried out with the Egyptians. “The real risk here is to the regulatory framework as a whole,” Bureau said.

Egypt says it could have a craft in place by 2019 with capacity for Ka and C-band, as well as military capacity.  The Egypt craft’s official name is Zavisat-12A.

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