midst the pageantry and acrobatic displays that marked the Paris Air Show this June, one of the world’s largest satellite operators announced
groundbreaking multi-launch contracts intended to
its ability to deploy new spacecraft through 2013.
agreement with SES, Arianespace will
provide launch s
solutions from the Guiana Space Center for at least five satellites on both Ariane 5 and Soyuz. The bulk order simultaneously achieves two goals, securing dedicated launch capacity and maintaining manifest flexibility in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Obviously, times have changed in the commercial space market from just a few short years ago. Back in 2003, demand for new commercial satellites and the accompanying launch services to place them in their proper orbit had plunged to an all time low. Less than 10 new satellites were ordered that year as cutthroat competition drove down prices for spacecraft manufacturers and launch services providers alike.
Now fast forward to 2007. Demand for new satellites has rebounded and stabilized to approximately 25 orders per year for the foreseeable future. Manufacturers are re-hiring scores of engineers to meet production schedules and running second shifts to ensure spacecraft can be delivered in time for launch.
Arianespace has reacted in concert, ordering 35 more Ariane 5 launch vehicles from EADS-Astrium and investing in the capability to launch up to eight Ariane 5s per year, the equivalent of 16 satellites in dual-launch mode, to meet the growing needs of our customers. In addition, we are investing with the European Space Agency
more than $400 million to install the venerable Soyuz launch vehicle at the Guiana Space Center, increasing its ability to lift commercial satellites weighing up to three metric tons to geostationary orbit.
This new launch pad will be used primarily for orbiting mid-size European scientific satellites while increasing the Soyuz ability to lift commercial satellites weighing up to three metric tons to geostationary orbit.
Despite this new launch capacity, the purchasing practices of operators
also must evolve to guard against satellite delays and unforeseen scheduling problems. Operators can no longer afford to wait until the last minute to sign a launch contract if they want to guarantee their spacecraft will reach orbit soon after it rolls out of the factory door. Manifests are booked for the next two years and beyond. Operators are quickly realizing that to delay a decision on launch places their satellite and future revenue stream in peril.
The danger of delay can be even greater in proportion to the size of one’s satellite fleet. Companies with multiple spacecraft in orbit need to have a long-term replacement strategy firmly in hand. Multiple launch agreements should be a key element of their procurement strategies moving forward. The time horizons for planning satellite fleet deployments are understandably long
– five years at a minimum. But by placing bulk orders today, satellite operators can lock in schedule assurance and effectively manage their capacity in orbit. Operators’
stated goal of increasing transponder utilization rates for spacecraft in orbit means less fallow capacity in space. That puts a premium on launches for replacement capacity as satellites reach the end of their operational life.
There is no doubt that the SES decision to purchase multiple launches provides them with a competitive edge in the global market when it comes to the continuous development and deployment of their satellite fleet. Their landmark agreement encompasses multiple launch systems providing mission assurance capabilities for mid-sized three-ton payloads up to massive six-ton payloads. By purchasing capacity through a multi-launch contract, SES can optimize its launch schedule, providing important video and business customers with in-orbit capacity in the right place and at the right time.
In this era of renewed demand for communications satellites, operators and launch services providers must guard against what can result from the industry’s rising tide. The temptation exists to over-book and over-promise when it comes to launch schedules. Arianespace has not and will not take this “take the money and run” approach that
is sometimes observed.
Real investments must be made to increase launch vehicle production and flight rates. Paper promises and PowerPoint launch vehicles will not place satellites 36,000 kilometers above the Earth reliably and on time.
Arianespace is making the necessary investments to ensure operators can reach orbit when their satellites are ready. Operators now must
do their part by securing long-term commitments at a fair price. Together, we will ensure that their satellites provide critical communications to first-responders, television viewers, broadband consumers and corporate networks that span the globe.
Jean-Yves Le Gall is chairman and chief executive officer of Arianespace.