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PanAmSat Leases Defective Satellite To ArabSat

By | May 8, 2002

      Last week, PanAmSat signed a deal to lease one of its satellites to Middle Eastern satellite provider ArabSat. The PAS-5 satellite is a Boeing 601 HP model with 24 Ku-band and 24 C-band transponders. It was launched in August 1997 but started developing battery problems in mid-1999. Shortly afterwards it was declared a total loss when it lost 50 percent of its capacity. “It was intended as a DTH satellite for the SkyMexico pay-TV platform” said Bruce Haymes, senior VP of corporate and strategic development at PanAmSat “but it was moved to 155 degrees West, a sort of temporary orbital slot that is not really ideal for commercial purposes, until we could find another use for it,” he added.

      PAS-5 will continue to be operated by PanAmSat for which the company will be paid $1.5 million annually. Subsequent revenues from ArabSat will be shared on a 50/50 basis between the insurance underwriters and PanAmSat. ArabSat expects to use the C-band transponders on the satellite for about four years. The satellite will be moved from the 155 degrees West Longitude slot to ArabSat’s DTH slot at 26 degrees East Longitude, which it will share with ArabSat 2A and 3A. ArabSat 3A, which was built by Alcatel Space of Paris, has also lost over 50 percent of its capacity due to power problems.

      The past few years has seen an alarming increase in the number of satellite failures. At one time, satellite manufacturers and operators used to be very conservative about introducing any new technology on a commercial satellite. However, in the 1990s that changed as manufacturers came under pressure by operators that demanded technological advances, quick delivery and competitive prices. A lot of problems arose as manufacturers were forced to customise every satellite and pricing pressures resulted in less testing which has subsequently led to more failures.

      A leading space insurance provider told Interspace that “insurance cover is really there to deal with random events. However, in the past few years we have seen a lot of generic design and manufacturing failures that have affected several models of satellites, including the Boeing 601 series.” Now it seems that things have come full circle. Haymes said, “We do not want to be the tester of in-orbit technology. Service reliability is paramount to our customers and hence to us. Recently we have set up an aggressive group solely responsible for ensuring the quality of manufacturing. This group shadows every step of the manufacturing process at the manufacturer’s premises.” This has led to a decrease in satellite manufacturing flaws, he added.

      –Gareth Owen

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