Jam On It!–Arabsat’s Ethiopian Space Jam Problem

You knew this was the picture I was going to use. It’s only right, right? Image linked from Gifsoup, but Mel Brooks and his Spaceballs crew created it.

What does a satellite operator do if someone jams its broadcast signal?  Specifically, what does Arabsat do when someone jams its TV signals in Africa and the Middle East?  According to this Satellite Today post, the company first finds out where this “intentional uplink interference” is coming from.  Then it takes its case to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and, in this case, the Arab League.

Arabsat provides telecommunications and television broadcasting through its geosynchronous (GEO) satellites throughout the Middle East and North Africa.  According to Arabsat’s research, the jamming seems to be originating from Ethiopia.  That’s right–someone in Ethiopa has been jamming particular satellite TV signals last week.  RFI, France 24, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera Arabic, Voice of America, and BBC are some of the jammed channels.

Why is Arabsat going to the ITU?  An arm of the ITU is the cooperative organization responsible for allocating “global radio spectrum and satellite orbits.”  It is the organization that is concerned about coordinating radio spectrum use globally.  Nations and private organizations coordinate the satellite radio frequencies they use through the ITU.  This is to help minimize the number of radio frequency conflicts between those organizations.

The ITU also  coordinates and allocates orbital “slots” for nations and private organizations to use.  For Arabsat, the GEO slot is 26 degrees east of the Prime Meridian.  Because the jamming seems to be affecting not just Arabsat communications, but the satellites around the 26 degrees east slot, the ITU is the natural place for anyone with a grievance and problem related to satellite communications.

Coverage of Arabsat. Image linked from CDN Satellite Today. Click on link to embiggen.

What happens if they actually catch the Ethiopian jammer?  According to this BroadbandTVNews.com story, Arabsat will:

“…follow up the matter and take all appropriate actions to prosecute the culprit at the judicial authorities and the international organisation of frequencies and any legal means that may deem appropriate to ensure that any damage already incurred or to be incurred by the noise, will not go without legal action, regardless of whether this damage is direct or indirect.”

Maybe a more civilized option than using a cruise missile or drone to solve the problem?  After all, a jammer being used in wartime just becomes a priority target on a list.  But this isn’t wartime, and making something expensive to do, such as operating a jammer and then being fined and/or put in jail, is probably an excellent deterrent.

This does show one of the drawbacks of satellites.  Jamming a satellite’s up/downlink and broadcast signal causes all sorts of problems for operators and users.  Operators lose the ability to command a satellite, and of course the broadcast signal from the satellite is overcome with the radio “noise” a jammer creates.  Sometimes it might happen and an operator might not even know about it.  Arabsat notes this occurred to one of their satellites back in 2012 as well.

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