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ITU toughens up on late satellites

March 28, 2022

It might be logical to think that coming out of a two year pandemic – which saw staff and logistical problems for satellite operators and the companies building their new satellites – might offer a reasonable excuse for missing launch deadlines. ‘Not so’, implies the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The ITU has firmly rejected applications from some satellite operators which have asked for permission to extend their launch timetables and obligations.

The ITU’s Radio Regulations Board (RRB) provides a strict set of rules for satellite operators which surround the launch and “bringing into use” of satellites. The rules are designed to avoid operators filing for satellite orbital slots which then exclude other operators from making their own plans for the positions. Some years ago the ITU faced numerous filings for these ‘paper satellites’ which simply never happened, hence the tougher timetable rules on launch dates and ‘bringing into use’ of a physical satellite.

But a recent meeting of the ITU’s RRB in Geneva has firmly rejected ‘force majeure’ applications from Luxembourg and Papua New Guinea/Intelsat for their applications.

Luxembourg’s Space Telecommunications (LST) had asked the ITU to permit it a delay for its planned ‘Cleosat’ constellation. LST wanted an extension to May next year, but the ITU threw out the application.

The other application, from Papua New Guinea’s National Information and Communications Technology Authority (NICTA) and made on behalf of Intelsat, received a somewhat more gentle response from the RRB. PNG had asked for a delay until December 31st 2024 to fulfil obligations to occupy the 50 degrees West slot with a Ka-band satellite. Intelsat already occupies the position but only with Ku and C-band frequencies.

The ITU’s RRB has formally asked PNG and Intelsat why nothing was done to order a satellite, nor make other plans such as moving a spare satellite with Ka-band frequencies into the 50 degrees West slot. Of course, the mere fact that Intelsat has been fighting through its long-running Chapter 11 bankruptcy reconstruction seemed not to impress the RRB.

However, the RRB has granted Papua New Guinea and Intelsat another bite of the cake and has invited them to make another application for permission to delay launch and ‘bringing into use’ their frequencies at their next meeting in June. If that fails, then Intelsat will lose its rights to the slot for Ka-band.

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