We Gonna Launch It



Eutelsat is launching a spacecraft from China. That’s big news, via Telecommunications Online:

A recent decision to build a new rocket launch site in Hainan island and securing a deal to launch Europe-based Eutelsat Communications’ 5-ton satellite have put the spotlight on China’s space ambitions.

These developments testify to China’s success in pursuing space technology under its own steam following a U.S. policy in 1990 barring it from launching satellites with U.S. components. The impact has left China to seek customers from second-tier operators from Asia, Africa and South America.

The Eutelsat order is the first satellite launch deal from a major western country in more than a decade for China marking a high point in its space exploration and satellite-building program. As a supplier of commercial satellite products and services to the United States, Eutelsat’s order with China is seen as controversial by industry observers and officials on both sides have been cagey about confirming the order.

Made without any U.S. components, the Eutelsat satellite is scheduled for launch by China’s Long March rocket in 2010. Cost competitiveness is a good reason for China’s ability to secure the satellite launch order which could be as much as 40 percent less than the price of its western counterparts. The last launch of a western satellite on a Chinese rocket was in 1998 by ChinaStar for a Lockheed Martin-made satellite.

Based in Paris, Eutelsat carries quite a bit of U.S. Government traffic over the Middle East. They got bitch-slapped last month by California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA):

During the House Committee on Science and Technology’s hearings on export reforms on Wednesday, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) issued an attack on Eutelsat for its decision to launch its communications satellites on Chinese Long March rockets. This is something that is forbidden to American satellite owners under export laws.

Rohrabacher’s said:

“Everyone agrees ITAR reform needs to happen. We need to make sure that our hi tech exports aren’t strangled by regulations. On the other hand, we need to remain vigilant that our advanced technology doesn’t end up in the hands of nations who proliferate weapons of mass destruction. We know exactly who these nations are, and we must make absolutely sure that whatever changes we enact to ITAR and other export regulations, that these scofflaw and rogue nations are barred from receiving our high tech systems.

“Chief among them is the Peoples Republic of China. Ten years ago, the Cox Report clearly demonstrated that U.S. technology transfers to the Peoples Republic of China helped to improve and enhance the efficiency of China’s arsenal of missiles that were aimed at us. As a consequence, we passed the Strom Thurmond Act, which established the requirement that before any satellite technology could be exported to China, the President of the United States had to first certify to Congress that the tech transfer was not inimical to our national security or our domestic launch or satellite industries. Since the Strom Thurmond Act became law 10 years ago, not a single such certification has been made by any administration, and as a consequence no Western satellite payload has flown on a Chinese rocket.

“But the resolve of the Obama Administration is now being tested in this area. Just as our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was visiting the Peoples Republic of China, European satellite operator Eutelsat was a cutting a deal with Beijing for a launch on a Long March rocket. Incidentally, Eutelsat sells tens of millions of dollars worth of satellite services to the U.S. Government through DISA contracts. Clearly, this is the beginning of a game of chicken between Eutelsat and the Obama administration. If the Obama administration does nothing, the message is clear—transferring technology to proliferators of weapons of mass destruction like the Peoples Republic of China is a perfectly acceptable business model.

“Surely we can make sensible changes to ITAR and other export regulations, but we must not go so far as to make them at the expense of our national security. Let us reward our friends with openness in trade; and conversely let us be as single-minded as possible in stopping items from the United States Munitions List—like Eutelsat payloads– from falling into the hands of the Peoples Republic of China and other proliferators.

More fun with China.