The commercial-launch consortium expects to conduct four more Ariane 5 flights this year with the launcher’s flight rhythm heading toward once every four weeks — if satellites are ready. The new rhythm is being instituted with the introduction of a second platform for delivering vehicles to the launch pad , Arianespace officials said.
The platform, or launch table as it is called, should be available within weeks, Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said here May 27 after the successful flight of the Satmex 6 and Thaicom 5 satellites.
Le Gall said Arianespace has signed seven Ariane 5 launch contracts since the beginning of the year — as many as were signed in all of 2005.
The Evry, France-based company has announced just two Ariane 5 contracts — for the W2M telecommunications satellite forof Paris, and the Superbird 7 spacecraft for Space Communications Corp. of Tokyo.
Who are the other five customers? Arianespace managers were not saying. But interviews with Arianespace customers and competitors, satellite builders and insurers suggest that the company has in fact lined up five other Ariane 5 deals in the past couple of months. Whether they constitute firm contracts is open to interpretation.
These industry officials said the five additional customers are:
Turksat 3A, under construction by Alcatel Alenia Space of Cannes, France, under a contract with Turk Telecom. The Alcatel Alenia Space contract is a delivery-in-orbit deal, meaning the satellite manufacturer signs up the launch-services provider. But as is the case with many delivery-in-orbit contracts, the final customer has veto rights over the launcher selection, and must sign off on the launch price. Alcatel Alenia Space officials said they have not announced a launcher for Turksat 3A.
One industry official said a French parliamentary debate over whether to label the Ottoman Empire’s killing of Armenians in the early 20th century a genocide has been one factor in slowing the launcher-selection award. The proposed law — which was not passed by the French parliament — would have made it a crime in France to deny that the Armenian killings constituted a genocide. The Turkish government has long maintained that the word “genocide” should not apply to the events in question.
“Viewed from Ankara, this law could have been interpreted to mean that any time a Turk sets foot in France, he would be subject to arrest,” one official said. Another official said the Turksat 3A contract has been held up over a simple matter of price.
Arabsat 4A-R and 5A: The Arabsat organization of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is in immediate need of a new satellite following the loss of the Arabsat 4A spacecraft in a February failure of the Proton-M rocket. Arabsat also is preparing to issue bids for the first of its fifth-generation satellites.
Industry officials said Astrium Satellites of Europe has been selected to build the Arabsat 4A-R — Astrium is prime contractor for the Arabsat 4A and 4B satellites — but that as yet no formal specifications have been determined for the Arabsat 5A. These officials nonetheless said that Arabsat has agreed to launch both satellites on an Ariane 5.
Satcom BW-1 and BW-2: The German Defense Ministry has selected a consortium led by Astrium Satellites to build Germany’s first two military telecommunications satellites. The final contract has been held up because of the change in German government but now is expected to clear Germany’s parliament in the coming weeks.
The Satcom BW program is being managed partly as a conventional military procurement, and partly as a services contract with Astrium Satellites. Astrium is responsible for securing the launcher, industry officials said.
Booking a launch contract before a satellite award has been confirmed is not uncommon in the industry. Satellite owners wish to lock in prices before they go up, and to reserve launch slots before they disappear. Commercial launch prices in recent months have been increasing, and industry officials say the current demand for launches makes it all but impossible for a satellite owner without a reservation to book a flight before 2008.