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Two Indonesian Satellites Call Dibs on the Same Orbital Slot

The BRI and PT Indosat satellites are intended to operate from Indonesia’s 150.5 degrees east orbital slot, where the aging Palapa C2 (above), in inclined orbit, continues operating. Credit: Boeing artist's concept

PARIS — Indonesia’s Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI) has set itself on a collision course with Indonesia’s Indosat satellite operator by ordering a satellite to be placed into the same orbital slot as a satellite ordered by Indosat a year ago, industry officials said.

BRI announced April 28 that Space Systems/Loral (SSL) will build the C- and Ku-band BRISat spacecraft, which will be launched in 2016 aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has backed the BRI project, attended the contract signing ceremony in Jakarta.

The announcement comes after PT Indosat ordered the Palapa E satellite from Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. in mid-2013, citing license approval from the Indonesian Communications Ministry. 

Both satellites are intended to operate from Indonesia’s 150.5 degrees east orbital slot, where the aging Palapa C2, in inclined orbit, continues to provide service but is no longer able to furnish much of its original television offering.

Orbital Sciences spokesman Barron Beneski on May 1 said the company’s contract with Indosat continues to advance toward a 2016 launch, and that the work had not been suspended or otherwise affected by the BRI announcement.

Space Systems/Loral similarly confirmed that the BRI contract was firm and definitive.

Industry officials offered no consensus view on which project ultimately will be given approval by Indonesian regulators and ultimately registered at the International Telecommunication Union, the Geneva-based United Nations affiliate that regulates satellite orbital slots and broadcast frequencies.

Two industry officials agreed that at one point there was a debate in Indonesia about whether a bank such as BRI had a legal right to own capital assets such as a satellite without violating its charter. One official said this issue remained unsettled; another said it had been resolved to permit BRI to go ahead.

At the time of the Indosat order with Orbital, officials had said the Indonesian operator had gone months without making a decision and had put under threat the continuity of Indonesia’s rights to the 150.5-degree orbital slot.

One industry official said attempts at merging BRI’s satellite ambition within the Indosat Palapa project, perhaps through the purchase of a larger satellite to which each would have access, have been unsuccessful.

Indonesian presidential elections are scheduled for July 9, and Yudhoyono is ineligible having served the maximum two terms. One industry official said the Indosat-BRI conflict is likely to be resolved by the new administration.

Evry, France-based Arianespace said it expects BRISat to weigh about 3,500 kilograms at launch — a fairly small satellite that in recent years has not been a core focus of Palo Alto, California-based Space Systems/Loral or Arianespace. Both companies have focused on larger spacecraft.

Industry officials have said that 2014 is likely to be a year in which smaller geostationary telecommunications satellites outnumber larger ones in terms of firm satellite orders. BRISat is one of these.

Arianespace’s ability to collect orders for lighter satellites is critical to the company’s operations. The business model for the heavy-lift Ariane 5 calls for two satellites to be launched together. For every large satellite weighing 6,000 kilograms or more, Arianespace needs to find a smaller satellite to share the launch.

But these smaller satellites — and midsize ones as well — are the core commercial target market for Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket, which has already begun to eat into Arianespace’s business.

BRISat is designed to link thousands of bank branches scattered over Indonesia’s islands.

 

Follow Peter on Twitter; @pbdes

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