Arianespace Turns Small Profit in 2004

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PARIS — The Arianespace launch consortium expects to report a slight profit on revenues of about 700 million euros ($948 million) for 2004 and has eliminated its corporate debt following a capital infusion by its shareholders, Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Jean-Yves Le Gall said Jan. 4.

The company launched just three times in 2004 and plans six Ariane 5-rocket launch campaigns in 2005, including two or three of the company’s enhanced Ariane 5 ECA, which failed in its December 2002 debut. Le Gall said Arianespace expects to remain marginally profitable in 2005 on substantially higher sales.

But Le Gall also said the share-capital increase of 60 million euros approved by shareholders in December has left Arianespace with just 395,000 euros after debt repayment. He characterized the sum as “a bit weak” and said it could be strengthened by further shareholder investment in mid-2005.

Arianespace shareholders are scheduled to meet in mid-June to close the company’s 2004 financial account and may decide on further investments at that time, Le Gall said.

As of Dec. 31, Arianespace had a backlog of 40 satellites to be launched and had received advance launch payments of more than 360 million euros.

At a press conference here, the Evry, France-based company reaffirmed that it intends to launch its long-delayed Ariane 5 ECA rocket in February if all goes well in a planned Jan. 12 wet dress rehearsal of the vehicle. An October rehearsal, during which the fuel tanks are filled and the vehicle is brought to its launch pad for a trial countdown, was stopped because of a component failure.

Arianespace announced Jan. 4 that it had signed contracts with the French space agency, CNES, for the launch of the two Pleiades high-resolution optical Earth observation satellites, in 2008 and 2009 aboard Russian-built Soyuz rockets operated by Arianespace from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in equatorial French Guiana. A Soyuz launch pad at that site is under construction, with a first launch scheduled for 2007.

CNES also contracted with Arianespace for the launch of the Corot astronomy satellite — also aboard a Soyuz, but this one from the vehicle’s traditional launch site at the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan — in 2006.

Arianespace and EADS Astrium Ltd. of Stevenage, England, also confirmed Jan. 4 that Arianespace will launch Britain’s two Skynet 5 military communications satellites in mid-2006 and mid-2007.