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Italian Defense Ministry Backs Sigma Ka-band Satellite Partnership

LONDON — The Italian Defense Ministry is backing a proposal by Italy’s space agency to launch two Ka-band communications satellites for civil and military use as part of a partnership with industry, a Defense Ministry official said.

The Sigma project also could fulfill a future Italian obligation to NATO if the 28-nation alliance contracts with Italy and other nations to use their capacity, the official said.

In a presentation here to the Global Milsatcom conference organized by SMi Group, Giovanni Battista Durando said co-investment by industry in the Sicral 1B military telecommunications satellite, which is in orbit, and the Sicral 2 satellite under construction offers an indication of how Sigma funding might be structured.

Rome-based Telespazio financed a portion of the construction of both Sicral 1B and Sicral 2 in return for ownership of a portion of their capacity for resale.

Given Italy’s current public finance crisis, Durando said, Italian defense officials are leaving no stone unturned to find creative solutions beyond sharing expenses with the Italian Space Agency, ASI. Co-investing with the Italian Space Agency in Sigma for additional Ka-band capacity is one example, he said.

Italy and partners Britain and France already provide satellite capacity to NATO under a contract that expires in 2019. NATO has said it will be looking for a similar capacity lease setup for the years after 2019, depending on which member nations have national telecommunications satellites under construction or planned.

Durando said the Sicral satellites — Sicral 2 is scheduled for launch in 2014 — “will be the basis of supporting post-2020 NATO requirements, in partnership with allied nations.”

Italy’s Sicral 1 satellite in orbit is scheduled to operate to 2015 at least. Sicral 1B will remain in operation to 2022.

Sicral 2 is under construction by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. It is owned jointly by the French and Italian defense ministries and is the first bilateral military satellite telecommunications venture of its kind.

Sicral 2 carries a 15-channel UHF payload and two super high frequency payloads, one each for France and Italy. Sicral 2 also will provide backup capacity for NATO traffic, Durando said. Italy will have overall control of the satellite but not the French payload.

Also under construction by the two governments is Athena-Fidus, a Ka-band broadband satellite that features an ownership stake held by the French and Italian space agencies in addition to the two nations’ military forces.

Athena-Fidus, scheduled for launch in late 2013, will have separate French and Italian Ka-band payloads, and an extremely high frequency Ka-band payload for Italian national coverage to be used by government emergency response forces.

France will have operational control of Athena-Fidus.

Durando said that by 2014 Italy will have more than 30 channels of UHF capacity in orbit and could use more. But he said Italy’s interest in the IS-27 commercial satellite being built for commercial fleet operator Intelsat of Luxembourg and Washington is not central to its planning for future UHF requirements.

Italy has tentatively agreed to be the licensing authority for IS-27, which carries a UHF payload. Intelsat had assumed the UHF capacity would interest the U.S. Department of Defense, but as yet the payload has not been leased.

One industry official said IS-27’s UHF payload could remain in Intelsat’s hands and then leased to the U.S. or other defense forces. A similar capacity on the IS-22 satellite, already in orbit, was purchased by the Australian military, which then leased a portion of it back to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Another industry official said UHF capacity on the open market — meaning spot purchases by militaries needing the bandwidth on short-term lease — can fetch as much as $3 million per year for a 25-kilohertz channel. Intelsat has said IS-27, which will be replacing the IS-805 satellite, will be operated at 55.5 degrees west longitude. It will carry a full complement of C- and Ku-band capacity in addition to the UHF-band payload intended for military customers.

“The Intelsat [UHF-band payload] could be of interest to us, but our main priority will be our own” capacity, Durando said.

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