According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, and clearly an avid Worldspace fan, the long-defunct Afristar satellite has been shifted from its nominal position at 20 degrees East “and seems to be raising its orbit, probably for retirement”.
McDowell’s “retirement” news for Afristar might be a little premature, as the aging satellite – and its sister craft – now has new owners.
Worldspace was founded in 1990 with the aim of bringing digital satellite radio to subscribers around the world. The company, run by Noah Samara, filed for bankruptcy in October 2008 having burned its way through its initial near-$2 billion investment plus another $250 million raised in a 2005 IPO. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy stage in June 2007 cited debts of $2.1 billion and assets (mainly the two orbiting satellites) of $307 million. There was much subsequent criticism of Samara’s alleged poor management.
In June 2014 it emerged that Worldspace’s two tired satellites (Afristar and Asiastar) were again being used by founder Noah Samara. This time the much acclaimed genius, who according to Wall Street reports cost investors a reported $2.5 billion in lost cash, was using Afristar for an India-based e-learning project. A third satellite (Caribstar/Ameristar) was never completed and for some time remained under a dust-sheet at its Astrium/Airbus manufacturing base.
Samara’s post-bankruptcy company Yazmi acquired the two satellites out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy for about $5 million. Samara/Yamzi unveiled ‘Odyssey’, the “world’s first satellite-enabled tablet designed and developed for education” and using Yamzi’s two geostationary craft which were “repurposed to offer an end-to-end learning infrastructure to serve remote or otherwise unreachable students”.
McDowell adds that Afristar was sold via a Cayman Islands holding company (Silkwave Africa) to CMMB Vision of Hong Kong (Converged Mobile Multimedia Broadcast), which claims to be the world’s first satellite direct-to-mobile multimedia broadcaster. “Our network consists of two proprietary L-band geo-broadcasting satellites covering across China, Asia, India, Middle East, Africa, and Southern Europe to a total 70 per cent of the world, 140 countries, 6 billion people, 1 billion cars as well as ground-breaking OFDM-based broadcast-unicast convergent technology, together they form our holistic satellite-LTE platform capable of delivering high-quality mobile digital content with unprecedented economies of scale and universal access.”
CMMB adds: “Our mission is to provide free mobile media entertainment and information to everyone everywhere weather in-car, on-the-move, in-home, or at-the-edge. Our goal is become the world’s largest mobile multimedia service provider by coverage, user, content, and revenue.”
CMMB now own Afristar (and Asiastar). It says “Through AsiaStar and Afristar satellites, CMMB Vision has the only mobile broadcasting geostationary satellite network covering China, Asia, and India, and operating with 40 MHz of owned L-band spectrum. A recent valuation report appraised the AsiaStar L-band spectrum in China alone at ~ $4 billion. AsiaStar will be superseded by a next-generation state-of-the-art Boeing satellite, which is expected to launch, with a 100-fold increase in transmission power. CMMB Silkwave has developed the OFDM-based CMMB protocol that integrates satellite reception with 4G/LTE function for unified broadcast-telecom connectivity.”
CMMB said (Dec 19 2017) it is working with the University of Washington (at Seattle) and others to develop satellite-based vehicle connectivity solutions. It is currently testing and trialling its “connected car technology” prior to a commercial launch in 2018, mostly focused on China.
The company claims “exclusive use” of the 105 degrees East orbital slot (home of Asiastar) and “procured a secondary satellite, Afristar, exclusive use of the 40 MHz L-band spectrum and a 21E geostationary orbital slot covering Africa, Middle East and Southern Europe.” CMMB licensed Afristar for an initial term of 3 years under a MoU signed in September 2017.
CMMB’s first replacement satellite is Silkwave-1, and Boeing holds that supply contract (signed in October 2015) and – at the time – slated for a 2017-2018 launch, although there seems to be no sign of a launch contract on CMMB’s web-site.
CMMB also holds 7 UHF TV licences in the US (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami and Tampa, which expands the Company’s portfolio to a total of 12 TV stations in addition to the New York market.
As to Noah Samara, his Yamzi USA web-site still talks of “two L-band satellites… and… exclusive broadcast rights into more than 120 countries”. Yamzi USA transferred its FCC licenses to Silkwave Africa in January 2017. Samara, in a May 29th 2017 interview with Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, stated: “The Yazmi satellite is the world’s first satellite-to-tablet content delivery system. Our satellites cover more than 5 billion people in over 120 countries.”