Arianespace could launch record 22 missions in 2020

by

WASHINGTON — Arianespace is poised to launch up to 22 missions this year, a number that would nearly double the company’s record. 

Half of the European launch provider’s 2020 manifest is comprised of OneWeb launches — 10 Soyuz missions and the inaugural launch of the Ariane 62 rocket. 

Arianespace also has two launches scheduled for its smallest rocket, Vega, and two for the larger next-generation Vega C, Stéphane Israël, Arianespace’s chief executive, said in a Jan. 7 interview. 

“Today we are are ready for a maximum record of launches,” Israël said. 

Of the 22 missions, 14 are planned from Europe’s spaceport, the Guiana Space Center, on the coast of South America, Israël said. The remaining eight are Soyuz missions the company expects will be split about even between Russia’s spaceports, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East, near China, he said. 

Arianespace’s record is 12 launches in one year, set in 2015.

OneWeb’s first launch of the year, planned for February 2020 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, kickstarts the company’s launch campaign to place 650 small broadband satellites in low Earth orbit. OneWeb ordered 21 Soyuz launches from Arianespace, the first of which occurred in February 2019 with six satellites. Future Soyuz missions are expected to carry 34 satellites each, Israël said.

Israël said Arianespace has enough rockets ready, and could add another two Soyuz launches for OneWeb this year if OneWeb ships enough satellites. 

Two other customers have Soyuz launches this year, in addition to OneWeb, he said. 

Arianespace’s first launch of the year is of its heavy lift Ariane 5 vehicle carrying two geostationary communications spacecraft: Eutelsat’s Konnect satellite, and the Indian space agency ISRO’s GSAT-30 satellite. That mission was originally planned for 2019, but slipped into the first month of January due to a mixture of spacecraft and launcher delays, he said. 

Arianespace has 11 Ariane 5 rockets remaining before the company transitions fully to the next-generation Ariane 6, a vehicle on track to be roughly half the cost to build. Israël declined to say how many launch slots are available — Ariane 5 rockets typically carry two satellites each — but said there are now only “limited opportunities.”

One factor influencing the final number of launch slots is if the European Space Agency’s JUICE mission to explore the moons of Jupiter launches on an Ariane 5 or an Ariane 6 in 2022. The orbiter was originally planned for an Ariane 5, but ESA is now considering transferring it to an Ariane 6. Israël said JUICE should still reach Jupiter in 2029 regardless of ESA’s decision. 

Arianespace has five Ariane 5 missions planned for this year, Israël said. The maiden flight of Ariane 6 is projected for the fourth quarter of this year, he said. 

Israël said ESA and Arianespace’s previously stated goal of a July 2020 launch was an “internal target” to try and coincide with the 51st anniversary of Apollo 11, not a hard deadline for Ariane 6. 

That maiden flight will have two strap on solid-rocket boosters (the Ariane 62 configuration) and will carry 30 satellites for OneWeb, he said. 

The maiden flight of the more powerful Ariane 64 configuration, which has four strap-on boosters, is expected to occur by the end of 2021 with a ViaSat-3 geostationary satellite, he said. 

Israël said the return to flight of Vega will take place in March with the Small Spacecraft Mission Service rideshare mission, comprised of 42 smallsats. The Spanish government’s SEOSAT–Ingenio Earth observation satellite is also scheduled for a Vega launch later in the year, he said. 

Israël said Vega C’s maiden flight will carry the Italian Space Agency’s Lares-2 science mission to study gravity. A second Vega C mission will follow later in the year with Airbus Defence and Space’s Pleiade Neo, he said. Airbus is launching four Pleiade Neo Earth observation satellites split between two Vega C missions. 

Arianespace completed nine missions in 2019, down from a target of 12 because of delays with an Ariane 5 mission and two Vega launches that were postponed after a July Vega failure. Israël said Arianespace is still calculating its revenue for 2019, but expects the figure to be lower than in 2018, when it launched 11 times. 

Despite the drop, Arianespace conducted more launches of geostationary satellites than rivals SpaceX and International Launch Services. Arianespace launched eight such satellites in 2019, compared to five by SpaceX and two by International Launch Services. 

SpaceX overall did more launches, at 13, of which four were commercial geostationary satellites, and five were for U.S. government customers not open to the full commercial market. Two SpaceX launches, the Canadian Space Agency’s trio of Radarsat satellites and Iridium’s last 10 Iridium Next satellites, were to low Earth orbit, as were two Starlink missions.  

Russia launched five Proton rockets in 2019, of which one was a commercial dual launch for Northrop Grumman and Eutelsat Communications, while the rest were for government missions. Seven of Arianespace’s nine missions were for commercial customers.