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ITU reinstates two orbital slots for Iranian communications satellites

An artist's conception of a Zohreh communications satellite that Russia was to build for Iran in 2005. Image courtesy of Gunter's Space Page,
An artist’s conception of a Zohreh communications satellite that Russia was to build for Iran in 2005. Image courtesy of Gunter’s Space Page,

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN international organisation that regulates satellite frequencies and orbital slots in geostationary orbit at 36,000 kilometres altitude, has reinstated two orbital slots for Iranian satellites.

Iran had the two orbital positions withdrawn by the ITU because it had failed to place satellites in orbit, but upon appeal the slots have been given back.

According to Iran’s Mehr News Agency, Mohammad Homayoun Sadr, the Deputy Head of the Iranian Space Agency, said, “these two slots are reserved for national telecommunication satellite and a radio and television broadcasting satellite. We can make use of the slots as soon as programs for constructing these satellites have begun.”

The two slots located at 34 degrees east and 24.19 degrees in geostationary orbit are reserved for Iran’s Zohreh telecommunications satellites. Zohreh communications satellites have been planned since the 1970’s, before the 1979 Iranian Revolution. At the time it was expected that the satellites would be built by a Western satellite manufacturer, but for a long while the programme was put on hiatus. The Zohreh programme was revived in the 1990s and in the early 2000’s a contract was signed with the Prikladnaya Mekhanika satellite manufacturer based in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, through the Russian Aerospace Agency and AviaExport. That contract was eventually cancelled by the Iranians, and Tehran has given up on having Zohreh built by a foreign manufacturer.

More recently, the Iranian Space Agency announced that it intends to build the Zohreh communications satellites domestically. While Iran has some experience building small experimental satellites, it has never built a large and sophisticated communications satellite designed to withstand the harsh conditions of geostationary orbit at 36,000 km altitude over several years.

There are industry rumours that Iran has been in discussions with large international commercial satellite communications providers with the aim of leasing geostationary communications satellites, but SpaceWatch Middle East was unable to confirm this speculation at the time of publication.

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