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Athena-Fidus successfully launched by the Italian Space Agency

The dual French-Italian telecommunications satellite is in orbit, opening a new era for satellite communications in Italy

06 February 2014

Another success for the Italian space sector: Athena Fidus (Access on Theatres for European Allied forces nations - French Italian Dual use Satellite), the French-Italian dual use broadband telecom satellite, has been launched from Kourou space station in French Guiana. Athena Fidus was developed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) together with the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) as part of the cooperation agreements signed by the Italian and French Ministries of Defence. 

Enrico Saggese, President of the Italian Space Agency, commented that “The Athena Fidus system has highly innovative features, allowing us to set up networks capable of responding to the growing demand from institutional and commercial users. After the construction of Italsat F1 and F2, which ceased operations in 2002, Italy rapidly left the Telecommunications system after the sale of holdings in national carriers. The use of satellite communications, TV broadcasting and data transmission has increased sharply: Athena-Fidus meets the need for national ownership of these instruments used for institutional and safety purposes. Moreover, the satellite confirms the close collaboration between the Ministry of Defence and ASI in constructing dual use satellite systems. Together with Sicral 2, Athena-Fidus is one of the two pillars of cooperation between Italy and France: this relationship allows the two countries to share the running costs of building complex systems. ASI will shortly issue two tenders for commercial partners who will allow for the satellite system to be used in the short term”.  

“The dual Athena-Fidus program is an important part of the Italy-France agreement in the satellite communications sector, which the two defence ministries also intend to extend to the Sicral 2 military program. In fact, the two programs fit together in terms of their capacity and will both be built at the same time”, explained Admiral Di Biase, Chief of the 6th “C4I and transformation” department at the Italian Defence. “Sicral 2, which is due to be launched next November, will guarantee satellite communications in the traditional military frequencies (SHF and UHF), the Athena-Fidus project will considerably increase the capacity of the new EHF/Ka frequency used by NATO for meeting the needs of the various fields of operation, which are also currently supported by leasing commercial links.  

With this new communications structure, the Defence will therefore gain new ‘broadband’ connection capacity capable of supporting important services such as intranet/internet access, LAN-to-LAN networks, virtual private networks, dedicated links for remote controlled flying vehicles (drones) and much more in order to support our armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force and Carabinieri in their own ARMASAT network) involved in the international context, while considerably reducing running costs.  

This ‘extended’ and ‘dual’ international cooperation intends to create a capacity that closely matches our actual operating needs for national satellite communication (SATCOM), making use of synergies and economies of scale that will considerably reduce the financial cost for the Defence, while also seeking to gain every possible advantage, both in technical-operating terms and industrial strategy, as supported by the Ministry of the Defence.”  

Athena-Fidus will provide a telecommunications infrastructure capable of guaranteeing independent, high security and low cost services, especially for situations of national emergency: the launch of the Athena-Fidus satellite more than ten years after the de-orbiting of Italsat F2 will see Italy once again equipped with its own satellite communications system in the Ka band, dedicated to institutional and governmental services. The result will be to close the gap with all the other large European countries, allowing Italy to regain its independence in this delicate and strategic sector.  

The complete national coverage will help provide fundamental institutional services such as healthcare and education, civil protection, security and more general e-government services. The program has the benefit of offering national industry (for satellite telecommunications products and services) an opportunity to maintain and increase their own technological capacity, freeing it in some areas from dependence on other countries and generating possible developments in the area of next generation TLC satellite systems, especially in the terrestrial segment.  

The antenna park includes 2 fixed lateral antennae (one at 30/20 GHz for civilian/institutional use and one at 44/30/20 GHz for military purposes) and 2 30/20 GHz adjustable antennae to guarantee broadband telecommunications services in the entire hemisphere visible from the geostationary orbit, to support Italian military, institutional and humanitarian missions abroad. The Italian payload comprises separate repeaters and antennae for the civilian/institution and military missions.  

Civilian institutional users will have star and mesh type network topologies covering the Italian national territory. The military, in addition to national coverage in Ka and EHF bands, will have dedicated star and mesh topology types within and between different mobile networks. This architecture provides a high degree of flexibility thanks to the coexistence of single and double hop links, compatible with the most advanced technology based on DVB-S2 and DVB-RCS standards for fixed and mobile communications. 

The Italian communications services will be coordinated by two Mission Management Centres, both located in Italy, interconnected with the French Control Centre, responsible for Satellite Control.  

Thales Alenia Space, prime program contractor for the Italian and French space agencies, CNES and ASI respectively, and the French (DGA) and Italian (Segredifesa) ministries of defence, is responsible for developing, building, checking and sending the satellite into orbit. Telespazio, a Finmeccanica/Thales company, is involved in constructing the earthbound segment and has managed the launch and orbiting services for the satellite. The satellite's launch into orbit was managed jointly from Telespazio's Control Centre in Fucino and the Thales Alenia Space site in Cannes.