For the best part of 50 years, the International Telecommunications Union has employed a system whereby satellite operators logged their plans to occupy orbital slots with the ITU under a structured and open system of ‘filings’ in a Master Register. If there is more than one filing, then the applicants form an orderly queue under rules that everyone understands.
While not perfect, the system has worked reasonably well and also allowed objectors – and neighbouring satellite operators – to coordinate their transmissions in order to minimise the risk of any damaging interference between satellites.
The system, however, has been sorely tested these past months by claims from Iran that it lawfully occupies an orbital slot at 26 degrees East. It argues that this legal ownership rests on transmissions used by Intelsat, Eutelsat and now Arabsat, in regard to filings it made for its Zohreh-2 satellite (which was never built or launched).
Intelsat and Eutelsat firmly and unambiguously deny that this is the case, and the ITU has been examining the claims – and denials – for a year or two now.
However, at the current WRC-2012 world congress in Geneva currently taking place the Iranians, who seem happy to jam any incoming satellite channels that they do not care for (including the BBC, Deutsche Welle and others) is proposing that the ITU scrap its current scheme and adopt new filing methodology.
The regulatory system we now have was developed in the 1960s,” said Kanouss Arasteh, a senior advisor to Iran’s Ministry of Communications, and reported by Peter de Selding of Space News. “Since then, we have been making piecemeal additions laterally and vertically without changing the structure — advance publication, notification, get in the queue, and then seek coordination on a first-come, first-served basis.”
The ITU is examining the proposals, but is also looking at how to resolve the argument. Much depends on their decision, not least a huge contract that Eutelsat holds with Qatar to launch a satellite to the slot.