Arianespace Reports a Profitable 2008

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PARIS — Europe’s Arianespace commercial launch consortium reported a net profit of 2.5 million euros ($3.3 million) on revenue of 955.7 million euros in 2008, its sixth consecutive profitable year, the Evry, France-based company announced April 8.

In its annual report, Arianespace also said it had agreed to make supplemental investment in preparing for Russia’s Soyuz rocket operations from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport after receiving an informal agreement from the European Space Agency (ESA) to “re-evaluate” the price ESA will pay for Soyuz launches of ESA satellites.

Arianespace hopes to conduct the inaugural flight of Soyuz from the European installation late this year, but the late arrival from Russia of a mobile gantry may force the launch to slip into 2010.

Most of Arianespace’s shareholders are either the French government or European builders of Ariane 5 rocket hardware, meaning the company’s cash is used to purchase hardware and services from these companies rather than to pay them shareholder dividends.

“Three main performance indicators apply to Arianespace: the order book, the number of launches and net income,” the company said in its annual report.

Arianespace conducted six Ariane 5 launch campaigns in 2008, the same number as in 2007. But the 2008 manifest included ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, a large, unmanned cargo carrier that was sent to the international space station. That launch generated more revenue for Arianespace than standard commercial missions, enabling the company to increase 2008 revenue by 3.5 percent in 2008 compared to 2007.

For Soyuz, Arianespace agreed in 2005 to invest 121 million euros of its own money, through a loan from the European Investment Bank, to purchase Soyuz rockets. ESA is financing the construction of the Soyuz launch pad.

Arianespace said it intends to improve the performance of Ariane 5 by adapting the vehicle to carry an additional 400 kilograms of satellite mass into geostationary transfer orbit, the destination of most commercial telecommunications satellites, by late 2010. That would bring Ariane 5’s payload-carrying ability to two satellites with a combined launch mass of about 9,100 kilograms.

The objective, the company said is to “[facilitate] passenger pairings for each mission and also more completely [fill] the available capacity.”

Arianespace in February ordered a batch of 35 Ariane 5 ECA rockets from an industrial consortium led by Astrium Space Transportation, a contract the company valued at more than 4 billion euros. But only 10 of these vehicles were firmly financed, with dollar-euro exchange-rate coverage to protect against a future decline in U.S. dollar values.

For the remaining 25, Arianespace said it should be able to complete unspecified “consolidation measures” by the end of 2009. Whether the company is counting on additional future ESA financial support is unclear. A billion-euro support package financed by ESA to offset certain Ariane 5-related fixed costs is set to expire in 2010.