Le Gall: Ariane 5 To Launch Twice by Mid-September

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The Arianespace commercial-launch consortium expects to conduct two Ariane 5 launches by mid-September even though the payload lineup for the second launch is unclear, Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Jean-Yves Le Gall said.

The Evry, France-based company, whose business model is based on launching two satellites at a time, is struggling to satisfy two customers in a hurry: the DirecTV Group of Los Angeles, whose Spaceway-2 high-definition television satellite is awaiting launch aboard a new-generation Ariane 5 ECA vehicle; and the French Defense Ministry, whose Syracuse 3A telecommunications satellite’s launch has been delayed for months for reasons often beyond Arianespace’s control.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that the Syracuse 3A spacecraft is replacing the Syracuse 2 military communications payload on the Telecom 2 telecommunications satellite, which is not supposed to be available after mid-September.

One French government official said the government plans to retire the Telecom 2 satellite in September to be certain to have enough remaining onboard fuel to place it into a graveyard orbit.

The French government for several years has disposed of its Earth observation and telecommunications satellites by taking them out of their operating orbits, in keeping with emerging international guidelines that aim to prevent the accumulation of orbital debris.

“Around September 15 we have to deorbit the Telecom 2 satellite,” the French government official said. “Not having the Syracuse 3A functioning by then will be a problem for us.”

Francois Lureau, head of the French arms-procurement agency, DGA, said June 15 that the repeated delays in the launch of Syracuse 3A “is already a problem” for French defense officials. He said he and French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie had made clear, in strong terms, their frustration with the latest delay.

Syracuse 3A was scheduled to be launched in July aboard an Ariane 5 G rocket after the Spaceway 2 launch aboard the Ariane 5 ECA vehicle in June.

Both launches were scrubbed when their co-passengers, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. using Orbital’s Star 2 platform, were withdrawn from launch preparations following an electrical glitch found on one of them.

Arianespace, which operates two rocket-support platforms at the Guiana Space Center launch site in French Guiana, quickly substituted the iPSTAR satellite, owned by Shin Satellite of Thailand, as the next launch customer.

Launch of the 6,700-kilogram iPSTAR broadband communications spacecraft, as sole passenger, is scheduled for July 8.

Le Gall said that what comes after iPSTAR will depend on which satellites are available. But he said the Syracuse 3A “will be launched as soon as possible. … It will be launched this summer.”

The iPSTAR launch will be the second of a planned six Ariane 5 launches scheduled for 2005, Le Gall said — two new-generation Ariane 5 ECA rockets and the rest standard-version Ariane 5G vehicles.

The Ariane 5 ECA made its first successful launch in February. With a second successful flight, the vehicle will gradually replace the Ariane 5G and ease the difficulties Arianespace has in finding two compatible satellites for a single launch. The Ariane 5 ECA can place more than 9,000 kilograms of satellite payload into geostationary transfer orbit, the destination of most communications satellites. That is 50 percent more payload capacity than the Ariane 5G.

With the Ariane 5 ECA, Arianespace will be better able to fulfill its goal of being able to launch any two telecommunications satellites together.

Le Gall presented Arianespace as a company that has held its own in the market despite two years of difficulty waiting for the Ariane 5 ECA and is now ready to attack the market with an improved product. He also said the creation of United Launch Alliance by Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., a development that will unite the production of the Delta and Atlas rocket lines, is good news for Arianespace.

The Lockheed Martin-led International Launch Services (ILS) of McLean, Va., which sells U.S. Atlas and Russian Proton rockets on the commercial market, is Arianespace’s principal competitor. Le Gall said the fusion of the Lockheed Martin Atlas and Boeing Delta rocket production facilities ultimately will destabilize ILS by creating confusion over the future of the Atlas rocket.

ILS President Mark Albrecht denied this. United Launch Alliance, Albrecht said, will sell Atlas rockets to ILS at a fixed price but will not be involved in ILS management decisions. “The creation of United Launch Alliance will have no impact on the Proton-Atlas joint venture,” Albrecht said here June 14. “ILS will remain the same entity that it is today.”