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Arianespace Expects To Follow a Banner 2012 with 11 Launches

Jean-Yves Le Gall. Credit: Arianespace photo

PARIS — Europe’s Arianespace launch service provider said Jan. 8 it expects to report 1.32 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in revenue for 2012, a 30 percent increase over 2011 as a result of launching seven heavy-lift Ariane 5 rockets and two medium-lift Soyuz vehicles during the year.

The company’s 2012 revenue figure, which includes 72 million euros in operational support payments from the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA), should be sufficient to guarantee a small profit for 2012, Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said.

In 2011, Arianespace reported a profit of 1.6 million euros on revenue of 1.01 billion euros.

Evry, France-based Arianespace, which for the moment is the only major commercial launch provider operating free of market-access or operational challenges, said it is ready to further increase its launch rate if the market requires more capacity.

Arianespace and the 20-nation ESA are expected to decide in the coming months whether to invest in a new fueling facility at Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana, on South America’s northeast coast.

The new facility, which would require an investment of around 30 million euros, would permit Arianespace to reduce the time between launches by more quickly fueling launch vehicles and satellites.

In a press briefing here Jan. 8, Le Gall said the company plans to launch six Ariane 5 vehicles and four Soyuz rockets from the European spaceport in 2013. A single launch of the new Vega small-satellite launcher, which was developed in Europe and made a successful inaugural flight in 2012, is also planned.

Arianespace’s pledge to launch seven heavy-lift Ariane 5 vehicles in 2012 was greeted with some skepticism in the market after the company’s 2011 record of five Ariane 5 campaigns and multiple launch delays. In 2012, Ariane 5 was able to keep to its schedule with no major launch delays, an important component of Arianespace’s financial health.

With his company operating at the top of its form — Ariane 5 has gone a decade without a failure and Russia’s Soyuz, the world’s most reliable rocket, is now fully operational at the European launch base — Le Gall said Arianespace has been able to raise prices by nearly 10 percent in the past couple of years.

“People are willing to pay more for reliability,” Le Gall said. “Things that are rare are expensive.”

Not for the first time, Le Gall indulged the luxury of firing potshots at his competition.

The biggest competitor, International Launch Services of Reston, Va., which markets Russia’s Proton rocket, has suffered three failures in 16 months and is now grounded pending the results of the latest failure-review inquiry.

Sea Launch AG of Bern, Switzerland, which markets the Russian-Ukrainian Sea Launch vehicle operated from the Pacific Ocean, has come through bankruptcy reorganization and returned to operations will not reach its announced four-launch-per-year status until 2014.

China Great Wall Industry Corp. of Beijing is barred from launching satellites with certain U.S.-built components, a ruling that has kept China’s otherwise successful Long March rocket series from offering much competition to Arianespace.

A Bit of Chest Thumping

Space Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, Calif., has signed multiple commercial contracts but has yet to conduct a launch into geostationary transfer orbit, the destination of most commercial satellites.

Asked if there could be a price war among competing vehicles, Le Gall said: “This market is not a jungle, even if some in it take themselves to be Tarzan.”

Arianespace has signed multilaunch agreements with satellite fleet operators SES of Luxembourg, Sky Perfect JSat of Japan, Eutelsat of Paris and EchoStar of Englewood, Colo. Le Gall said these favored customers need not worry about finding launch slots with Arianespace in the coming months even if other vehicles fall short and create a launcher-supply shortage in the global market.

For those who are not regular Arianespace customers, he said: “If you have not bought your flight reservations, well, you can take the Metro or you can walk.”

Le Gall said the medium-lift Soyuz rocket is booked solid for 2013. In announcing four Soyuz launches from the Guiana Space Center in 2013, Arianespace is assuming that satellites reserved on Soyuz for 2013 will be late in arriving.

Among the spacecraft penciled in for Soyuz in 2013 are ESA’s Sentinel 1A Earth observation and Gaia science satellites; eight satellites spread over two Soyuz vehicles for O3b Networks’ Ka-band broadband constellation; and four European Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites to be launched two at a time on Soyuz.

European government and industry officials said there remains a question as to whether Sentinel 1A and all the Galileo satellites will be ready for launch in 2013.

Le Gall said the company could increase the cadence of Soyuz launches beyond four per year, but that the consequences on the Guiana Space Center’s operating capacity would need to be evaluated. Arianespace is counting on the Soyuz and Vega rockets to spread the fixed costs of the Guiana site over three vehicles, thus reducing the operating costs of Ariane 5.

It is only by reducing these operating charges, and by increasing its launch prices, that Arianespace can improve the financial results of Ariane 5. Le Gall said that the costs of purchasing the rocket from European industry have not come down in recent years because of the political requirement to spread the supply chain throughout Europe.

ESA governments in November agreed to provide Arianespace nearly 200 million euros in total operational support for 2013 and 2014, which Le Gall said is likely to be divided evenly at 100 million euros per year.

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