President Reagan has given conditional approval to a first-time export of telecommunications satellites to the People’s Republic of China for launch into space.
Export of the Hughes-built satellites, the first to a non-Western country, must now be approved by Congress and allied nations.
The satellites in question are two AUSSAT B spacecraft under construction at Space and Communications Group for AUSSAT Pty., Ltd., owner and operator of Australia’s domestic satellite system.
“Hughes is pleased with the administration’s decision to allow the AUSSAT satellites to be launched from the People’s Republic of China,” and Senior Vice President Tony Iorillo, SCG president.
“We made a good faith export license application on behalf of AUSSAT, and we are happy that it is on its way to full approval.”
As part of its AUSSAT B agreement with Hughes, AUSSAT Pty., Ltd., requested that, in addition to considering launches on the American Titan or Atlas Centaur, Hughes acquire export licenses that would allow launch of the satellites on various non-U.S. launch vehicles, including the Chinese Long March.
Ultimately, AUSSAT Pty., Ltd., will determine which launch vehicle will be used.
SCG is working under a contract, which ultimately may be valued at about $500 million, to build the two HS 601 spacecraft, and there is an option for a third.
If exportation is approved, the first of the two satellites could be launched in mid-1991 from the Chinese Long March launch vehicle. Full approval of the launch could take two months.
The State Department said that its approval does not mean the United States is relaxing its prohibition on the export of satellites to the Soviet Union for launch on its rockets.
In addition, the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Exports, an organization of allied nations, must also approve the export of the satellite.
SCG officials see no security danger in exporting the satellites to China. The Long March launch requires very little data to be transferred to the Chinese.
Information would be provided to enable certain mechanical, electrical, and thermal interfaces between the satellite and launch vehicle. Some of this information is already in the public domain. There would be no transfer of data on design, manufacture, or manufacturing processes.
“Our position is that allowing U.S. satellite manufacturers the opportunity to offer their customers the widest possible range of launch choices helps keep the industry competitive,” Mr. Iorillo said.
“If foreign satellite manufacturers have access to launch opportunities that we do not, then they will have a distinct edge during negotiations for satellite construction business.”
Mr. Iorillo added that U.S. government action permitting use of the Long March should not have a significant impact on U.S. launch vehicle suppliers. The ability of the Chinese to compete for commercial launches is small, and the U.S. launch vehicle suppliers currently have orders for 54 U.S. government and 16 commercial launches valued at approximately $6.2 billion.
Australia’s satellite system consists of three Hughes-built AUSSAT A satellites, control stations in Sydney and Perth, and a network of ground communications stations throughout Australia.
The first two satellites were placed in orbit by the Space Shuttle in 1985, and the third was launched by the European Ariane rocket last September.