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EchoStar Buys Struggling Solaris S-band Satellite Venture

PARIS — EchoStar Corp., which has already purchased from bankruptcy the S-band mobile satellite assets of two U.S. companies, on Jan. 6 said it has purchased a European S-band spacecraft payload from its two fed-up owners, satellite operators SES of Luxembourg and Eutelsat of Paris.

Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar said its purchase of 100 percent of the Solaris Mobile Ltd. joint venture of Dublin, which has one S-band payload in orbit, would be followed “immediately” by deployment of another satellite for Solaris to cover Europe.

Solaris has a license to operate a mobile S-band satellite service in Europe but has struggled to find a market. Its large S-band antenna was launched on a Eutelsat telecommunications satellite in mid-2009 but a defect was discovered during its unfurling that limited its coverage and power.

Since then, owners SES and Eutelsat have kept Solaris on life support but not much more as they determined what to do with an asset into which they had invested a combined 130 million euros ($175 million). Part of this sum was recouped with an insurance payment following the antenna glitch.

London-based Inmarsat also received an S-band operating license from the European Union but never launched a spacecraft, saying the market risks were too high without guaranteed user commitments prelaunch.

EchoStar’s purchase of the former TerreStar and DBSD S-band satellites covering North America gave the company two satellites in orbit and a third, TerreStar-2, under construction and scheduled for launch in 2015 or 2016.

EchoStar management in 2013 told investors that it was continuing to finance work on the TerreStar-2 satellite. The company never spelled out what it planned to do with the satellite once it was launched.

In addition to these spacecraft, EchoStar has mostly completed construction of an S-band mobile satellite, called CMBStar, that was to have been sold to a Chinese operator. The deal collapsed and EchoStar has been unable to find another use for the satellite until now.

In a statement accompanying the purchase announcement, EchoStar Satellite Services President Anders Johnson said EchoStar plans “to build upon the groundwork laid by Solaris Mobile by most immediately bringing with us access to a next-generation MSS [mobile satellite service] satellite which will support a wide range of innovative services across the European Union.”

 

Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes

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