x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Earthquake moves back satellite launch by several months

The launch of the Abu Dhabi Government's first telecommunications satellite faces a delay of several months.

An artist's impression of the Yahsat 1A satellite, now due to launch next year.
An artist's impression of the Yahsat 1A satellite, now due to launch next year.

ABU DHABI // The launch of the Abu Dhabi Government's first telecommunications satellite faces a delay of several months after an earthquake partly destroyed manufacturing facilities in Italy. Yahsat 1A was due to go into service at the end of this year, but the launch has been postponed until the first quarter of 2011. The earthquake in L'Aquila last April levelled hundreds of buildings, killing more than 300 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

It damaged the Thales Alenia Space satellite manufacturing facility, which is part of a consortium building portions of Yahsat 1A. The main body of the satellite is being built in Toulouse, France. When complete, the US$1.2 billion (Dh4.4bn) project will provide voice, data, video and internet access for civilians, and confidential communications channels for the military. Another satellite, Yahsat 1B, is scheduled to be launched in the second half of 2011.

"We are very certain that we will launch [Yahsat 1A] in the first quarter of 2011," said Jassem al Zaabi, the chief executive of Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat). "We are not announcing the exact date, but we expect it will be in the mid-quarter period. "In satellite programmes, delays are quite normal. They are to be expected. It was something out of our control. It delayed the manufacture of some of our satellite parts."

It was the facility, not the parts, that was damaged, said Mr al Zaabi. A worker from the site, who was in the town when the earthquake occurred, was among those killed. The severity of the earthquake made a delay inevitable, said Mr al Zaabi. It took several months to establish a new schedule. Mr al Zaabi said the delay had "no implication whatsoever" for the cost of the satellite. After launch, both satellites will maintain a geostationary orbit hundreds of kilometres above the Earth and provide services to customers including government agencies, corporations, broadcasters and mobile phone operators.

Yahsat, the UAE's first nationally owned satellite communications company, said in August that it had landed two major clients - the Armed Forces and Emerging Market Communications, an American company that specialises in crisis zones and emerging markets. When the satellites are in orbit, the company will become the first in the Middle East and Africa to offer hybrid satellite services to customers, meaning each satellite will transmit data and voice traffic. The hi-tech hardware will able to complete different tasks and services that will be marketed under individual brands.

Yahsat is reported to have assigned Arianespace and ILS to manage the launching of the equipment. In February last year, Yahsat started building a satellite control station and headquarters in Al Falah, 40km from Abu Dhabi. It is expected to be completed at the end of this year. Yahsat is owned by Mubadala, an investment arm of the Abu Dhabi Government, which also owns The National. @Email:chamilton@thenational.ae