ESA Subsidy Boosts Arianespace into Black

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PARIS — The Arianespace commercial launch consortium on April 12 reported a higher-than-expected 1.013 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in revenue for 2011, up 12.9 percent over 2010, with a profit of 1.6 million euros.

The Evry, France-based company’s final revenue figure, released following a meeting of its shareholders, was helped by 145 million euros in support payments in 2011 made by the 19-nation European Space Agency (ESA).

ESA governments agreed to provide Arianespace 217 million euros, covering 2011 and 2012, to permit the company to avoid the losses it posted in 2009 and 2010. Having allocated two-thirds of that sum to its 2011 accounts, Arianespace will have 72 million euros remaining for 2012.

Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall in January had estimated that the company’s final 2011 accounts would show a modest profit on revenue of about 985 million euros.

Aside from the 35 percent stake held by the French space agency, CNES, Arianespace’s shareholders are mainly the industrial contractors that build the heavy-lift Ariane 5 vehicle.

Like any company whose suppliers are its shareholders, Arianespace is under less pressure to distribute dividends so long as it keeps its contractors busy with new orders. But ESA governments have made clear they are not happy having to cover losses, especially since the workhorse Ariane 5 rocket, introduced in the mid-1990s, is well past its teething stage and has conducted 47 consecutive launch successes. Its last failure was in late 2002.

ESA governments are scheduled to meet in November in Italy to map Europe’s space strategy for the next three to five years and will debate whether the support payments to Arianespace should continue at the 2011-2012 level, and if so under what conditions.

Arianespace’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket launched just five times in 2011, with the launch rate punished by delays related to the launch system and to late-arriving satellite customers.

But the company was able to conduct the two first launches of the Europeanized version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport on the northeast coast of South America, in October and December.

Arianespace also conducted, through its Starsem affiliate, two Soyuz launches from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

This year will be the first in which Arianespace is able to spread some of the operating costs it incurs at the spaceport among three vehicles — Ariane 5, the medium-lift Soyuz and the new Vega small-satellite launcher, which successfully made its inaugural flight in February.

Ariane 5, which is tentatively scheduled to conduct seven launch campaigns in 2012, made its first launch of the year March 23, placing ESA’s 20,000-kilogram Automated Transfer Vehicle into low Earth orbit, where it subsequently docked with the international space station.

Arianespace said its backlog as of mid-April stood at 4.7 billion euros, a record, including future Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega launches.

 

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