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Resurrected Satellite Helps Aussie Firm Clear Regulatory Hurdle for M2M Constellation
PARIS — An Australian company has secured initial regulatory approval to use 30 megahertz of S-band spectrum for a low-orbiting constellation of two-way messaging and machine-to-machine (M2M) satellites by declaring capacity on a spacecraft on medium Earth orbit that had been given up for dead.
Sirion Global Pty Ltd, whose backers include former AsiaSat Chief Executive Peter Jackson, has designed a system of 10 satellites in two orbital planes at 6,500 kilometers in altitude.
To win international regulatory approval, satellite system backers must secure regulatory approval first in their home nation and then at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) of Geneva, a United Nations affiliate.
Part of the procedure involves “bringing into use” the desired radio spectrum by a specified deadline. Sirion said this was accomplished by purchasing 30 megahertz of S-band capacity — 20 megahertz uplink, 10 megahertz downlink — aboard the ICO F2 satellite once owned by the now-defunct ICO Global Communications.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) granted initial rights to Sirion in 2006 and certified the bringing-into-use status in February, Sirion said.
The Boeing-built ICO F2 was launched in 2001 with a planned 12-year service life. It was intended as part of a constellation of spacecraft. The remaining satellites, which were mostly built, were never launched.
The satellite has gone through at least one new owner since then. Sirion said its S-band capacity purchase was made through a company called Omnispace, which represented itself to Australian regulators as the satellite’s owners.
Omnispace officials could not be reached for comment. A U.S. phone listing for the company and a Web address referred inquiries to Internet domain-name addresses with no clear path to Omnispace.
Sirion provided copies of its exchange with ACMA, and of the Australian regulator’s notifications to the ITU.
Sirion said its “bringing into use” milestone was certified by ACMA in February following the initial registration in 2006, and that the ACMA approval was submitted to the ITU to be placed into that body’s Master International Frequency Register.
The documents provided by Sirion suggested that no other ITU administration has voiced objections to Sirion’s proposed frequency use. The ITU, after years of hesitation and British government resistance — ICO was registered in Britain — canceled the ICO frequency registrations in 2012.
In an interview and a series of email exchanges between Aug. 5 and Aug. 30, Jackson — now the company’s senior adviser in addition to being an investor — said the company plans to raise $175 million in equity and between $400 million and $500 million in debt to build and launch its 10 satellites and associated network of gateway Earth stations and satellite control centers.
Jackson declined to identify Sirion’s current investors or say how much Sirion had raised thus far.
Gold Coast-based Sirion does not propose to use the large Boeing spacecraft. Instead, it is preparing to canvass prospective builders including Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Britain and Sierra Nevada Corp. of the United States to build the Sirion satellites.
Sirion officials assert that their system has advantages over existing satellite-based M2M and messaging providers — including Orbcomm, Globalstar and Iridium of the United States — because it will allocate a full 30 megahertz to M2M, serving 5 billion units worldwide for a subscriber price as low as 10 U.S. cents per month.
Sirion Chief Executive Keith L. Goetsch said in a statement that the company’s business model is to serve a nascent mass market for M2M and short-burst messaging services.
“With our spectrum now secured, we plan to begin final design and construction of the satellite and ground segments in the next few months and start providing commercial services in 2016,” he said.
The privately owned Sirion is an outgrowth of a company formed in 2003 by the Australian government’s International Livestock Resource and Information Center, which at the time was looking at satellite-based solutions to monitor livestock in rural Australia.