European satellites have fallen foul of tougher US regulations on Russian rocket launches because of the Ukrainian political crisis. Satellites which have been built in the US, or have US-supplied components, have long been subject to ‘export’ controls under the USA’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) rules, although those requirements were increasingly seen as being softened over the past few years. The Ukraine-Russia political problems have seen the ITAR rules again toughened.
SES of Luxembourg, London-based Inmarsat and Turksat all have planned launches this year aboard the Russian-supplied Proton rocket system managed by Russian-owned International Launch Services (ILS).
SES had planned to launch Astra 2G this summer on an ILS/Proton rocket from the Russian launch site in Kazakhstan. Inmarsat has two launches booked with ILS, while Turksat 4B is also slated for launch this summer on a Proton vehicle. Astra 2G was built by Astrium of France, but uses key US-made components.
Last week (on April 24th) a maritime satellite built by a Canadian company for Ontario-based ComDev was banned from having a June launch from Kazakhstan. ComDev says it has other launch options.
SES and the other satellite operators could switch launch contractors to either France’s Arianespace or California-based SpaceX but both launch specialists have a long waiting list of customers.
If the US political sanctions continue to bite then Europe’s satellite operators could be severely impacted given the pressure on non-Russian rocket launches. As one well-placed industry source suggested on April 27th: “Generally speaking: if Proton is not available for a prolonged period, the satellite industry has a problem…”