PARIS — The South Korean government has selected Europe’s Arianespace to launch two geostationary-orbit meteorological and environment-monitoring satellites in 2018 and 2019, Arianespace and the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning announced.
The contract bidding featured a head-to-head competition between Evry, France-based Arianespace and its Ariane 5 rocket and its principal rival, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California and the Falcon 9 rocket.
The face-off followed a similar competition in late 2014, this time for two telecommunications satellites for South Korea’s KT Corp., which awarded one satellite each to Arianespace and SpaceX.
In a statement outlining the bids, the Korean ministry showered praise on both bidders, praising the launch record of SpaceX’s “low-cost launch vehicle” and the company’s policy of publishing its prices on its website.
While it did not explicitly say what tipped its decision for Ariane 5, the ministry’s Feb. 11 statement ahead of the contract’s signature – Arianespace announced the contract Feb. 13 – suggested that Ariane 5’s reliability record of 47 consecutive successes of the current vehicle configuration since 2005 was a factor.
Arianespace and SpaceX equally divided about all the commercial satellite launch contracts in 2014, each with nine wins for the year.
With SpaceX now able to show a launch history into geostationary transfer orbit, where most telecommunications satellites go – and with Arianespace cutting prices for lower-weight satellites riding in Ariane 5’s lower berth to meet the SpaceX challenge — the competition between the two launch-service providers in 2015 promises to be just as tight.
The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) is prime contractor for both the Geo-Kompsat-2A and 2B satellites, a demonstration of Korea’s gradual climb toward autonomy in space infrastructure.
Airbus Defence and Space of Europe and Ball Aerospace and Northrop Grumman of the United States are providing components for the two satellites under previously announced contracts.
Geo-Kompsat-2A, equipped with a meteorological imager, is expected to weigh about 3,420 kilograms at launch, according to KARI. The 2B satellite, carrying an ocean-color imager, will weigh around 3,200 kilograms.
The two satellites are designed to operate for at least 10 years from 128.2 degrees east in geostationary orbit, where they will replace the Communications, Ocean and Meteorological Satellite, which was launched in 2010 and was built by Airbus.
The Korean ministry said the Geo-Kompsat-2 program was budgeted at 720 billion Korean won, or about $655 million at current exchange rates, including the construction of both satellites and their launches.