Eutelsat satellite returned to factory as French Guiana unrest continues

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This article was updated April 3, 2017 at 2:15 p.m. MT

COLORADO SPRINGS — Protests roiling the South American home of Europe’s primary spaceport prompted Airbus Defence and Space to send Europe’s first high-power, all-electric satellite back to France until Arianespace resumes launching.

Airbus flew the Eutelsat-172b satellite to Cayenne, French Guiana last last month in anticipation of its upcoming launch.

But Arianespace has suspended launches from the Guiana Space Centre as labor strikes and civil protests have spread throughout the French overseas department, blocking roads and disrupting normal commerce.

“We decided with Airbus that under the circumstances it was best to bring [Eutelsat-172b] back to Toulouse,” Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor told SpaceNews April 3. “It is now stored at Airbus and we are waiting for a new launch date from Arianespace.”

Airbus Defence and Space spokesperson Ralph Heinrich said Eutelsat-172b arrived back in Toulouse, France, March 30.

Protests that began in late March over working and living conditions prevented Arianespace from moving its Ariane 5 rocket to the launch zone in advance of a March 21 launch of Brazil’s SGDC satellite and KT Corporation’s Koreasat-7 satellite. After calling two 24-hour delays, Arianespace stood down March 23 without setting a new date for flight VA236.

Eutelsat-172b is next in line for an Ariane 5 launch.

CNES’s Joel Barre declined to comment on the state of affairs at the spaceport.

According to France 24, activists in French Guiana are demanding 2.5 billion euros ($2.7 billion) from France, having rejected a 1.085 billion-euro aid package over the weekend. French Guiana has a population of about 250,000.

Unrest in the French territory is now compounding launch delays for Arianespace, which has 12 launches to complete this year.

For Eutelsat, the delays are likely to push back the expected in service date for Eutelsat-172b, a satellite the operator ordered ahead of its original schedule thanks to the backing of Panasonic Avionics as an anchor customer for in-flight connectivity in the Asia Pacific. Eutelsat-172b is a tri-band satellite the operator ordered in June 2014 as an early follow on for Eutelsat-172A.

As an all-electric satellite, O’Connor said Eutelsat-172b is expected to require four months of orbit raising to get from its drop-off point to its geostationary orbit some 36,000 kilometers above the equator.

Arianespace, however, could trim Eutelsat-172b’s transit time by delivering an exemplary launch.

Eutelsat’s first all-electric satellite, the Boeing-built Eutelsat 115 West B, entered service a month early thanks to an extremely accurate SpaceX Falcon 9 launch.