PARIS — Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium will use a Vega small-satellite rocket to launch Peru’s high-resolution optical reconnaissance satellite in the first half of 2016 under a contract signed March 25 with Airbus Defence and Space, the satellite’s builder.
Airbus won the PeruSat-1 contract in April 2014 after a heated competition among European and Israeli satellite builders.
The 450-kilogram PeruSat-1, owned by Peru’s Ministry of Defense, will share a Vega launch with four 110-kilogram satellites for Skybox Imaging, now owned by Google. Skybox booked its Vega launch a week earlier.
Under the delivery-in-orbit contract, Airbus is responsible for the Peruvian satellite’s launch as well as its construction.
In a signing ceremony at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development here, Peruvian Deputy Defense Minister Jakke Valakivi Alvarez said the contract features an elaborate partnership between the French and Peruvian governments.
As part of the arrangement, Airbus in the coming weeks will begin training between 40 and 50 Peruvian engineers in elements of satellite construction and satellite image analysis at its Toulouse, France, satellite facility. Airbus is also building an image analysis and processing center in Lima, where Peruvian staff starting late this year will begin real-world training by receiving imagery from Airbus’ current optical Earth observation satellites.
These include the Airbus-owned Spot 6 and Spot 7 medium-resolution satellites, and the two higher-resolution Pleiades satellites, which are owned by the French government but to which Airbus has a guaranteed access for commercial use.
The April 2014 signing of the contract, valued at 597 million Peruvian sols — now worth about $196 million — produced multiple protests from the losing bidders, some alleging that the Franco-Peruvian government agreement trumped a balanced analysis of the other bidders’ technical strengths.
Alvarez said that while the political agreement with France is central to the PeruSat-1 program, this aspect was decided only after a technical evaluation of the various bids, including a detailed points system in which Airbus came out the winner.
“It was first a technical evaluation and then we looked at the rest after that,” Alvarez said in an interview. “It then became part of a government-to-government agreement. Our minister was obliged to visit our parliament seven times on this subject, to persuade legislators that Airbus was the right choice, and that the price and technology were what we needed. They finally accepted that this was the right way to proceed.”
Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said that of the 12 Vega rockets that Arianespace has ordered from prime contractor ELV of Italy, 11 have been booked with customers.
Vega is currently operating at a rhythm of three launches per year, a rate Arianespace would like to increase, both because of a favorable demand environment and because an increased cadence will make it easier for ELV to cut its costs.