Arianespace suspends French Guiana launches amid coronavirus response

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WASHINGTON — Arianespace paused launch activity from Europe’s South American spaceport March 16 following the French government’s announcement that non-essential activities should be limited in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic. 

Evry, France-based Arianespace’s next launch was scheduled for March 24 from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. A Vega rocket was to launch 53 satellites in an all-smallsat rideshare mission to low Earth orbit.  

Launch activity will resume “as soon as allowed by health conditions,” Arianespace said. Satellites and rockets in French Guiana are being placed in a “safe standby condition,” according to the company.

Arianespace launches the heavy-lift Ariane 5 and light-lift Vega rockets exclusively from the Guiana Space Center. The company also launches medium-lift Russian Soyuz rockets from French Guiana, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia. 

The French government moved over the weekend to order the closure of restaurants, cafés, movie theaters and other nonessential businesses. France is also discouraging travel and public gatherings and encouraging widespread telework. 

Arianespace had begun prior to the French government’s March 15 guidance to implement travel restrictions and other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  

Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said March 10 at the Satellite 2020 conference here that the company had decided to restrict launch attendance to required personnel, but wasn’t expecting any limitation in launching.The next day, the organizers of Satellite 2020 announced that the conference would be ending a day early on the advice of local authorities.