Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said the company will ask the European Space Agency (ESA) to strengthen measures to prevent European governments from using non-European rockets for their spacecraft.
Le Gall also criticized
the practice of satellite builder ThalesAlenia Space of building satellites that do not contain U.S. components
can be launched on Chinese rockets. The U.S. State Department does not permit launches of U.S. satellite hardware from China.
The ThalesAlenia Space practice, Le Gall said, is having the effect of rendering China’s Long March rocket family more credible on the global commercial-launch market and is thus undermining Arianespace’s position.
Addressing a press briefing here Sept. 4, Le Gall said the agreement
by ESA governments in December 2005, to
give European rockets preferential treatment is clearly not enough to prevent some governments, particularly Italy, from going elsewhere for launches when it suits them.
Italy’s defense ministry has selected Long Beach, Calif.-based Sea Launch Co. to launch the Sicral 1B military telecommunications satellite in 2008 after concluding that the satellite, which uses a relatively old and small platform, would sacrifice several years of in-service life if it were launched as one of two satellites aboard a single Ariane 5 rocket. Sea Launch lofts
one satellite at a time and can place its payload in a specific orbit.
Le Gall rejected Italy’s technical arguments and said the selection of a non-European launcher was “not acceptable. I have discussed this with ESA management and I hope the subject is brought up at the next ESA ministerial
” meeting, which is scheduled for late 2008, he said.
Italian military and civilian government authorities also went outside Europe for launch of the first of four Italian Cosmo-Skymed radar reconnaissance satellites, selecting a Boeing Delta 2 vehicle. Boeing is likely to secure at least one of the three remaining Cosmo-Skymed satellite launches.
Le Gall said some European governments that
select Arianespace do so only after what he referred to as “rug-merchant-type battles.”
“I really don’t think that the U.S. government, when it purchases a launch vehicle from Boeing or Lockheed Martin, enters contract negotiations with Sea Launch or the Chinese rocket as price benchmarks,” Le Gall said. “Governments around the world launch their satellites on vehicles developed with taxpayer money. I am asking only that Europe do the same.”
Alenia Space has built several “ITAR-free” satellites, so named because the absence of certain U.S. components means they are not subject to U.S. International Trade in Arms Regulations. This policy has led to some unusual alliances during commercial competitions. For one recent Indonesian satellite, Arianespace was allied with a U.S. satellite builder for the contract, which ThalesAlenia Space eventually won in part because it allied with China’s less-expensive launcher
and proposed an ITAR-free spacecraft design.
Le Gall said that by making the Chinese rocket easier to use on world markets, ThalesAlenia Space was undermining the Ariane rocket system, whose success he credited with helping
European satellite builders like ThalesAlenia Space to remain viable.
Informed of Le Gall’s remarks, ThalesAlenia Space President PascaleSourisse said Sept. 5 that Arianespace benefits from far more government aid than does any European satellite manufacturer. “Believe me, we would welcome subsidies of this type,” Sourisse said. “I see no reason why we should be prevented from using non-U.S. technology when that meets customers’ needs. When Arianespace is not selected, it is because it does not have the best offer on the market for a particular bid.”