Le Gall confident French Guiana launches will resume “in the coming days”

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COLORADO SPRINGS — The head of the French space agency expects launch activity will resume soon at the European spaceport in French Guiana, where political protests have grounded Arianespace launches for the past two weeks.

“The French government is working very hard to find a solution, and I am very, very confident that we will resume with the launches in the coming days,” CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall said during an April 4 presentation at the 33rd Space Symposium here.

The comments came the same day as a group of protestors staged a sit-in in a conference room at the spaceport.

Le Gall compared the protests disrupting daily life in the French overseas department that hosts Europe’s Guiana Space Centre to the California wildfires that delayed the launch of DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-4 satellite by a couple of months last year.

Le Gall did not give a timeframe for when he expects Arianespace to resume launching, saying only that the “launch pad is not available for launches.” CNES operates the space center, which Arianespace uses for Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega launches.

At least five satellites awaiting Arianespace launches are looking at delays as the space center remains idled by protests that began two weeks ago over the French territory’s living and working conditions.

Those satellites are:

  • Visiona Tecnologia Espacial’s Geostationary Defense and Strategic Communications (SGDC) satellite
  • KT Corp.’s Koreasat-7 (co-passenger with SGDC on an Ariane 5)
  • SES’s SES-15 with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Wide Area Augmentation Systems hosted payload (launching on a Europeanized Soyuz)
  • Eutelsat Communication’s Eutelsat-172b, which recently shipped back to France
  • And ViaSat’s long-awaited ViaSat-2 (co-passenger with Eutelsat-172b on an Ariane 5)

In January, Arianespace set the goal of 12 launches this year, with the majority of those launches expected to happen by the end of April. So far the company has performed just three missions: the Soyuz launch of Hispasat-36W-1 in January, the Ariane 5 launch of Sky Brasil-1 and Telkom 3S in February, and the March Vega launch of Sentinel-2B.

Reuters reported April 3 that French Guiana protest leaders are demanding $2.7 billion in aid from France, an amount French officials have dismissed as unrealistic.