Commercial Launch Providers Looking Ahead to Busier 2009

by












  Space News Business

Commercial Launch Providers Looking Ahead to Busier 2009

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 13 January 2009
02:03 pm ET






PARIS
— None of the commercial launch service providers reached their planned launch rate goals in 2008, but all forecast an accelerated rhythm this year.

The three companies faced different issues that kept them from achieving their goals. But they all shared in the generally improving launch price market with prices rising in 2008 perhaps in part due to the inability of the three principal launch service suppliers to maintain high launch rates.

The three companies – Arianespace of Europe, International Launch Services (ILS) of
Reston
,
Va.
, and Sea Launch Co. of Long Beach,
Calif.
– plan a total of 21 to 22 launches in 2009. To this number will be added the Russian Federal government launches that are handled by the same Proton manufacturing team that ILS uses, but are not booked through ILS.

Evry
, France-based Arianespace had hoped to break its 2007 record of six Ariane 5 campaigns on the way to its goal of conducting eight launches per year starting in 2009. The eight-per-year rate still is expected in 2009, but in 2008 the company was able to launch just six times.

Arianespace attributed the lack of a seventh launch in 2008 to late-arriving satellites. Ariane 5 campaigns almost always feature two telecommunications satellites at a time, a policy that maximizes the use of the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket but also leaves the company more vulnerable to satellite schedule slips. When one satellite is delayed, Arianespace must reshuffle its manifest to be able to find a second spacecraft that comes as close as possible to filling, but not overfilling, the Ariane 5 capacity.

Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said Arianespace fully expects to perform eight launches in 2009, and to finalize a contract for 35 Ariane 5 vehicles with its contracting team, led by Astrium Space Transportation. That contract was delayed as Astrium, Safran/Snecma and other Ariane 5 component builders awaited a decision by European governments on whether to continue funding development of a future restartable upper-stage Ariane 5 engine, called Vinci. The government approval came in late November.

Full Vinci development has not been approved. But Le Gall said the Vinci-related preparatory work relieves pressure on Ariane 5 contractor design teams, and thus will make it easier for Arianespace and the affected companies to seal the 35-rocket deal in early 2009.

ILS also was planning on six or seven launches in 2008 but was slowed by a March failure of the Proton-M rocket carrying the AMC-14 telecommunications satellite for SES of Luxembourg.

ILS President Frank McKenna said Proton prime contractor Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow used the occasion to continue a stem-to-stern quality-improvement program. In addition to quality enhancement, Khrunichev is gradually assuming control of almost all of the Proton manufacturing cycle, which had been spread out over dozens of independent companies.

“We have almost completed the consolidation of 37 companies” around Khrunichev for Proton production work, McKenna said. “Eighty percent of the supply chain is now under their control.”

McKenna said the Russian government is expected to end its use of the Block DM stage similar to that used on Sea Launch in 2009 as it switches entirely to Breeze M upper stages built by Khrunichev.

As the commercial world has learned to expect following Russian rocket failures, the Proton-M failure review team quickly agreed on the failure’s cause, and to a return to flight. ILS was back in business in August, launching a key satellite for Inmarsat of London just five months after the failure.

ILS was able to conduct five commercial missions in 2008 despite the March failure and expects to complete six or seven missions in 2009, McKenna said.

McKenna said he is doubtful the market for commercial satellite launches, now around 18 to 22 satellites per year, will increase much, raising questions about whether a strategy to increase capacity is in tune with the market’s direction.

Sea Launch Co. met its expected launch rate from its Pacific Ocean-based, ocean-going platform in 2008, conducting five launches after a nearly yearlong shutdown in the wake of a January 2007 failure. But the company’s Land Launch variant – the same Russian-Ukrainian-built Zenit 3SL rocket, but launched from the BaikonurCosmodrome in
Kazakhstan
– has yet to make its commercial presence felt.

Sea Launch, whose supply chain is still catching up from shortages that first surfaced in 2007, now expects to conduct three Sea Launch and four Land Launch missions in 2009. Land Launch’s prime commercial market is for satellites weighing less than
3,500 kilograms
. These satellites now typically ride as secondary passengers aboard Ariane 5 rockets.

Sea Launch President KjellKarlsen said the company’s win of a five-launch contract with satellite fleet operator Intelsat of Washington and Bermuda has given Sea Launch a valuable anchor tenant as the company stabilizes its supplier base and ramps up production for 2010 to 2012.