KT will launch satellite to maintain prime orbit

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KT will launch satellite to maintain prime orbit

KT plans to launch a new satellite to maintain the threatened ownership of a prime orbit in space, the company said yesterday.

The nation’s No. 2 mobile carrier, which has a satellite operator affiliate, said it is reviewing a plan to develop and launch the Mugunghwa 7 satellite within a year or two.

“We do not have specific plans for when exactly the new satellite will be launched,” said a spokesman for KT. “But we have been working on developing and launching the satellite since last November to maintain the ownership of the orbit.”

The government is concerned that being unable to maintain the ownership of the orbit may have a negative impact on Korea’s telecommunications sovereignty.

In a controversial move, KT sold its Mugunghwa 3 satellite to Hong Kong-based satellite operator ABS in 2011, according to the company yesterday.

The Mugunghwa 3 is in orbit at 116 degrees east, right above the equator. This geostationary orbit is one of Korea’s space territories assigned by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a group in charge of managing rights for artificial satellites and their frequency bandwidths.

Since only a limited number of satellites are allowed in orbit right above the equator, competition among countries is fierce.

Although the Mugunghwa 3 was sold to ABS, KT said it still has ownership of the orbit, which was allotted to the company by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. But both the company and ministry are concerned that the discrepancy between the ownership of the satellite and the orbit could prompt the ITU to take the orbit away.

Under ITU rules, the union can reclaim any positions that haven’t been used for three years after being registered.

In order to maintain ownership of the orbit, KT must move the Mugunghwa 3 to another orbit and launch a new satellite to take its place.

Currently, the Mugunghwa 6, which handles domestic frequency bandwidths, operates in the orbit at 116 degrees east, but Mugunghwa 3 is the only satellite that has an overseas footprint.

The telecommunications company sold the Mugunghwa 2 and Mugunghwa 3 satellites to ABS for 4.5 billion won ($4.26 million) in 2011, just 1 percent of what it spent to make them. KT was revealed to have sold them without going through formal licensingformal licensing and approval procedures from the government.

KT refuted the charge that it was a fire sale, and claimed it earned 25 billion won by signing a contract with ABS in technology and control-tower services.

It said it sold them cheaply because their designed life spans had ended.

The news sparked controversy when it was revealed last October in the national audit. The company violated the electronic communications law, which requires approval from the telecommunications minister for any sale of important electronic telecommunications equipment. The law punishes sales of strategic assets to overseas interests without government approval with a jail term of up to five years. The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning offered to buy back the satellite, but ABS rejected its offer. KT’s efforts to regain its canceled bandwidth were also turned down after it didn’t meet ABS’s price.

ABS is reportedly demanding more than it paid, claiming damage to its public image among customers. Through the Mugunghwa 3, ABS provides satellite services to the United States Army and NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries, as well as broadcasting services for television stations in Russia.

“KT is not only going through international arbitration but also negotiations with ABS to purchase the Mugunghwa 3 back and preparations to launch another satellite into orbit,” said the KT spokesman.

“As we are managing the orbit, the ITU will not likely reclaim the orbit before we launch another satellite.”

BY KIM JUNG-YOON [kjy@joongang.co.kr]

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