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Egypt Receives Second ITU Extension For Military Satellite Due To Launch Delay

Then French President Francois Hollande greets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on 26 November 2014. Photograph courtesy of Xinhua.

The Egyptian government has received a second extension from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to fill its orbital slot with a military communications satellite in an unprecedented and likely controversial decision by the international organisation, according to reporting in Space Intel Report.

In 2016 the ITU granted its first extension to Egypt after the government in Cairo cited force majeure due to endemic political instability in the country for its failure to place a Ka-band military communications satellite in its reserved orbital slot.

Before the ITU granted that decision in February 2016, the Egyptian government was in intensive discussions with French satellite manufacturers Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space to build the military communications satellite, the U.S.$1.2 billion contract for which was ultimately signed when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi visited his then counterpart Francois Hollande in Paris in April 2016.

The Egyptian military communications satellite is likely based on a Eurostar-3000 system like the two supplied by Airbus and Thales to YahSat in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). YahSat-1A and -1B are both Ka-band communications satellites, and are outfitted for use by the UAE Armed Forces as well as for commercial purposes.

At the time that the ITU granted its first extension to Egypt, the development caused controversy within the ITU as it was perceived by others to be an unfortunate precedent that would allow other countries to reserve scarce orbital and frequency slots for years without placing operational satellites in them. The latest extension is likely to add fuel to this controversy, especially given that Egypt has had three years since the last granted extension and that its contract for the satellite with Airbus and Thales Alenia Space was in place shortly thereafter.

At the time of writing it is unclear as to why Egypt cited a ‘launch delay ‘ for its second ITU extension, with possible reasons ranging from a technical delay in the manufacture of the satellite in France or a problem sourcing a launch provider.

In July 2018 it was reported in the French media that a number of military contracts for Egypt handled by French aerospace and defence companies had run into problems with the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a U.S. export control measure that governs the export and use of everything from  turnkey systems to the smallest of components in arms and satellites for export outside of the United States. Many French defence and satellite systems frequently use U.S. technology and components goverened by ITAR restrictions.

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