BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan
The French-Russian Starsem joint venture, which markets Russia’s Soyuz rocket, expects to conduct at least two more launches this year
and one in 2008 from Baikonur before ceding its business to an all-European operation using Soyuz from Europe’s French Guiana spaceport in 2009.
Following the launch of four more Globalstar satellites from here in late July, Starsem has scheduled an autumn launch of Canada’s Radarsat 2 satellite. The Giove-B navigation satellite, built to test technologies for Europe’s future Galileo constellation, is tentatively scheduled for launch either late this year or early in 2008.
Starsem, which since its creation in 1996 has conducted 18 launches for government and commercial customers, is likely to evolve into an exchange forum to permit European and Russian companies and space agencies to exchange rocket-related data, Starsem Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said.
Le Gall is also chairman of the Arianespace commercial-launch consortium of Evry, France, which is a 15 percent shareholder in Starsem S.A., also headquartered in Evry. Astrium Space Transportation owns 35 percent of Starsem’s equity. The remaining 50 percent is divided equally between the Samara Space Center,
prime contractor on the Soyuz; and the Russian space agency, Roskosmos.
It is Arianespace, not Starsem, that will manage launches of Soyuz vehicles from Europe’s Guiana Space Center starting in 2009. Starsem’s role as exclusive sales agent for Soyuz vehicles launched from the Russian-run BaikonurCosmodrome will end mainly because it is losing its
two main customer sets: European governments and commercial satellites weighing less than 2,000 kilograms at launch.
“European governments are investing in a Soyuz launch pad from Europe’s launch base, and they have made clear they would prefer to use these European resources,” Le Gall said here May 29 before the Starsem launch of four satellites for Globalstar’s global mobile telephone service
. “As for commercial satellites, the fact is that there are few, if any, commercial spacecraft in the weight class that Soyuz can launch from Baikonur.”
The modernized Soyuz vehicle can loft
telecommunications satellites weighing slightly less than 2,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit from the Baikonur facility. The same rocket operated from the European spaceport in French Guiana, near the equator, can lift a 3,150-kilogram satellite into the same orbit.
Le Gall said
Starsem’s two European shareholders have invested a combined 80 million euros ($108 million)
into the business since the joint venture was created with French and Russian government blessing
. He said the Russian shareholders have estimated their investment at about the same amount.
investments here have
included a 120-room hotel built here for visiting satellite teams, and
three satellite-preparation facilities in buildings that were originally constructed as part of Russia’s Energia heavy-lift rocket program, which was abandoned in the early 1990s with the breakup of the Soviet Union.
mid-1990s arrival of Starsem – and of the U.S.-Russian International Launch Services joint venture to market
Russia’s heavy-lift Proton rocket – brought badly needed investment into the sprawling BaikonurCosmodrome, as did Russia’s entry into the international space station partnership. Space station astronauts and supplies are launched from here aboard Soyuz rockets.
Le Gall said that while Soyuz commercial operations will migrate to the European site in 2009 – he said he expects two to four launches per year there – the revival of low-orbiting satellite constellations might prolong Starsem’s operations here.
The 66-satellite Iridium and 48-satellite Globalstar two-way communications constellations may require Baikonur-based Soyuz launches depending on how quickly their owners need replacement
satellites in orbit.
“It is unlikely that the Guiana Space Center will be able to handle more than 12
launches per year,” one European industry official said. “If you assume eight Ariane 5 vehicles and one or two Vega campaigns, that leaves room for just two or three Soyuz vehicles per year. If demand is higher than that, we may need to use Baikonur.”
Vega is a small-satellite launcher currently under development by the European Space Agency and scheduled to debut
For the BaikonurCosmodrome, the effects of Starsem’s departure may be mitigated by the arrival of Land Launch, a Baikonur-launched
version of the Ukrainian- and Russian-built Zenit 3 rocket operated by Sea Launch Co. of Long Beach, Calif.
A refurbished Zenit launch pad here is scheduled to be used to qualify the basic Land Launch technology this year with the launch of a Russian government satellite aboard a two-stage version of the rocket
. Land Launch expects to conduct its first commercial flight by late this year.