PARIS — The European version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket has successfully completed a simulated launch campaign at Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport and its operations were formally transferred to the Arianespace commercial launch consortium May 7, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Arianespace announced.
Evry, France-based Arianespace also announced that the inaugural flight of Europe’s Soyuz has slipped again, to October. The flight will carry two Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites. Development of these spacecraft, and of two others that make up Galileo’s four-satellite In-Orbit Validation system, has taken far longer than expected following a series of obstacles encountered by the prime contractors, Thales Alenia Space and Astrium Satellites, both of Europe.
Arianespace officials had hoped to squeeze in a commercial Soyuz launch this summer, especially since the Soyuz launch pad and the vehicle itself are ready to go. But the company, together with European governments, decided to wait for the Galileo satellites.
The dry run, conducted from April 29 to May 5, included a simulated liftoff of the Soyuz carrying a 2,570-kilogram telecommunications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit after a 30-minute flight. Equipped with a Fregat upper stage, the Europeanized Soyuz is capable of carrying telecommunications satellites weighing up to 3,000 kilograms into that orbit, which is the principal drop-off point for telecommunications satellites.
Vehicles loaded with Soyuz fuel were deployed to the site as part of the exercise, but the rocket was not filled with fuel.
Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has reasserted his belief that operating the Soyuz rocket at Europe’s equatorial spaceport will complement Ariane 5 rocket without competing with it.
Fillon, who as French space minister in July 1996 was instrumental in the creation of a Franco-Russian joint venture to commercialize Soyuz launches from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, said importing Soyuz to Europe’s Guiana Space Center launch base was envisaged from the start.
The joint venture, called Starsem, has since conducted 22 missions from the Baikonur base, mainly for scientific and Earth observation satellites and, in low Earth orbit, for commercial telecommunications spacecraft.
Bringing Soyuz to the European spaceport will increase its presence on the commercial market.
In an interview published May 9 in CNESMag, the magazine of the French space agency, CNES, Fillon acknowledged concerns in industry that Soyuz, depending on how it was priced by Europe’s Arianespace commercial launch consortium, would present a threat to Ariane 5.
The Ariane 5 rocket’s principal business is carrying two telecommunications satellites at a time into geostationary transfer orbit. In practice, this usually means a larger satellite weighing close to 6,000 kilograms and a smaller one weighing just under 3,000 kilograms. For owners of small satellites, Soyuz thus provides an option that, for some, presents advantages over Ariane 5. Riding as a solo passenger on a rocket removes the need to coordinate launch dates with a larger co-passenger.
Despite this, Fillon said he is convinced Soyuz does not present a competitive threat to Ariane 5.
“I believe their complementarity is an asset for Europe’s space program,” he said.
A report prepared at Fillon’s direction in May 2009 nonetheless suggested that France and Europe begin work on a post-Ariane 5 rocket that would be modular in nature and capable of launching — one at a time — satellites weighing 3,000 kilograms to 6,000 kilograms or more.
The French government recently agreed to spend about 250 million euros ($362 million) in French public bond monies to begin design of a next-generation vehicle. Early indications are that it will follow the suggestions of the Fillon report and focus on a vehicle geared to launching a broad range of satellites as solo passengers.
Another 250 million euros in bond funds will be used to develop scientific and Earth observation satellites.
Fillon said France’s decision to invest 500 million euros in space research at time of heavy pressure on government spending “has no equivalent in Europe.”