Second solo Ariane 5 launch in 2016

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The competition heats up: In successfully placing a commercial communications satellite in orbit last night, Arianespace also did its second consecutive single satellite launch.

The Ariane 5 rocket is designed to carry two satellites, and normally does so in order to maximize its profit per launch. That they have done two straight commercial launches without a second satellite suggests to me that the competition from SpaceX is taking customers from them. The scheduling of the secondary payload usually suffers because priority is given to the primary satellite. Those customers thus might be switching to SpaceX in the hope they can gain better control over their own launch schedule, while also paying far less for their launch.

Then again, considering how unreliable SpaceX’s own launch schedule has been, it is unlikely these customers will have yet gained any scheduling advantages.

One comment

  • Edward

    Although I agree that SpaceX is heavy competition, especially for price, Arianespace may merely have been unable to find a satellite under 3,000 kg to launch with the Eutelsat satellite. The weight of the satellite launched is pretty heavy, as communication satellites go. Eutelsat may have realized that they would be paying for a whole Ariane 5 when they ordered their satellite.

    I’m sure, though, that Eutelsat would have preferred that a small satellite be available to help defray the costs. SES-9, which SpaceX just launched, was 5,330 kg, over two tonnes more than could have gone with Eutelsat 65 West A.

    The article tells us that Areanespace took advantage of the lighter load in order to instrument the upper stage for research in designing their new rocket. This was a fun detail to read.

    There are three major considerations when a satellite operator chooses a rocket. First is price. Launch costs are high on everyone’s priorities. Second is schedule. A communication satellite can bring in a lot of money each month, so being sure that the satellite goes up on time can make up for a lot of rocket cost. Third is reliability. The US military tends not to buy insurance, and they don’t usually make spares or budget for replacements for lost satellites; they like to be sure their satellites make it to the proper orbit, and they are willing to pay extra for that assurance.

    Actually, there is a zeroth consideration: the weight capability of the rocket. If the rocket can’t get it to the proper orbit, then there is no use putting it on the list for consideration.

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