Satellites

Agrani satellite deal closed; launch by 2003-end

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Media baron Subhash Chandra has a number of firsts to his credit. To that list add another one. India's first private sector satellite initiative officially went onstream today with the signing of a turnkey contract between Chandra's Agrani Satellite Services Ltd (ASSL), Alcatel Space Industries and Arianespace (providing the launch vehicle).

The contract was signed today by Chandra and Pascale Sourisse, chairman and CEO, Alcatel, in the presence of Jean-Marie Luton, president - director-general, Arianespace.

The geostationary satellite is expected to begin commercial operations from the fourth quarter of 2003 and will be delivered in orbit on an Ariane 5 launch vehicle.

The deal involves the in-orbit delivery of a 5.4kw satellite with a 14-year lifespan. The long life satellite with 24 C band (12 in the India coverage beam and 12 in the Asia coverage beam) and 14 Ku band transponders are distributed over two beams, one for India coverage and the other steerable over the Middle east, South East Asia or Europe. Of the Ku-band transponders, seven will have a fixed India coverage; three, a steerable coverage over Europe, Middle East and South East Asia; and the remaining transponders will be switchable between fixed and steerable. These transponders have a total bandwidth of 1,404 MHz.

The satellite is expected to support a broad range of applications ranging from TV broadcasting and DTH to rural and distance routes.

Queried as to how much of the satellite's capacity would be used by the Essel/Zee channels, Chandra said 15 per cent of the C Band capacity and a small percentage of the satellite's Ku Band capacity would be utilised. The remaining bandwidth will serve television broadcasting and distribution companies, Internet service providers and other telecom service providers.

The ASC Enterprises Ltd (Ascel)-promoted ASSL is the first private satellite system to be authorised by the Indian government under the 1997 Satcom policy framework. The government has also approved the equity participation of Alcatel and Arianespace in ASSL.

The main reason that the lead time for the satellite to become operational is only 18 months or so is because ASSL is acquiring an existing satellite from Alcatel. The satellite was built in 1997 for use by Shinawatra Satellite, Thailand. It was, however, never used and has been lying in storage for four years.

The total project cost is Rs 11.5 billion in which the debt funding of Rs 6.9 billion is being arranged by a consortium of Indian banks and financial institutions. Of the equity component of Rs 4.6 billion, Alcatel and Arianespace have taken a stake of 9.75 and 3.25 per cent stake respectively. This will be worth $15 million and $5 million respectively.

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