PARIS — Europe’s Arianespace commercial launch consortium has begun making multiple minor adjustments to its Ariane 5 ECA rocket that should result in a 400-kilogram increase in the vehicle’s commercial payload-carrying power by the end of 2010, according to the company’s annual report.
The increased capacity would enable the Ariane 5 ECA to lift two telecommunications satellites weighing a combined 9,100 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit.
Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said April 9 that the performance enhancements will not include any hardware changes, but only minor modifications in how the vehicle is flown, such as letting the upper-stage engine burn longer before releasing the satellites.
, France-based Arianespace occasionally has trouble matching two satellites to fill the Ariane 5 vehicle, and recently the company has been booking a large number of satellites weighing less than 3,500 kilograms.
Improving performance by 400 kilograms will facilitate “passenger pairings for each mission and also more completely [fill] the available capacity,” according to the company.
In its annual report, Arianespace said it had agreed to make an unforeseen additional investment in preparing Russia’s Soyuz rocket for operations from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport after receiving an informal agreement from the European Space Agency ( ) 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. Le Gall said the gantry is now expected to be shipped by sea to the Guiana Space Center spaceport from St. Petersburg by late April and arrive in mid-May – still in time for a December inaugural flight.
Arianespace agreed in 2005 to invest 121 million euros ($163 million) of its own money, through a loan from the European Investment Bank, to purchase Soyuz rockets from its Russian manufacturers in an agreement approved by the French and Russian governments. ESA is financing the construction of the Soyuz launch pad.
Le Gall said “several million euros” of additional costs incurred by Arianespace because of Soyuz delays will be passed on to ESA in the form of higher launch prices for the agency’s first 10 or 15 Soyuz launch campaigns.
Arianespace reported a net profit of 2.5 million euros on revenue of 955.7 million euros in 2008, its sixth consecutive profit-making year.
Most of Arianespace’s shareholders are either the French government or industrial manufacturers of Ariane 5 rocket hardware. The company uses its cash to purchase hardware and services from these companies rather than to pay 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.
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.
The first 10 launches, according to Le Gall, also include an ESA contribution of “several million euros per launch” that is paid by the agency’s Ariane 5 Research and Technology Accompaniment Program. The so-called MCO costs, for the French acronym for Maintenance of Operational Conditions, assure that the Ariane 5 vehicle’s ground-test facilities are kept up to date.
Le Gall said Arianespace, its industrial contractors and ESA are negotiating whether ESA will fund MCO costs – and if so at what level – for the remaining 25 vehicles in the 35-rocket order. A billion-euro support package financed by ESA to offset certain Ariane 5-related fixed costs is set to expire in 2010. Le Gall said he expected ESA to settle on an MCO support level for the remaining vehicles sometime this year.