Tag Archives: Ariane 5

Arianespace announces new launch contracts

Capitalism in space: Arianespace today announced it has won a new launch contract for two different satellites, bringing its launch manifest to 53.

The press release contains a lot of interesting tidbits:

  • They plan to complete 11 launches in 2017, which is slightly above their yearly average in the past six years.
  • In 2018 they presently have only 7 launches planned, the lowest number since 2013.
  • Of the 53 launches, Ariane 5 will do 17, Soyuz 27, and Vega 9, suggesting a shift away from Ariane 5, which has been the company’s mainstay.
  • The private joint partnership of Airbus and Safran, now called ArianeGroup, has taken control of the business, and has begun streamlining it.
  • Arianespace has now been relegated to only handling “customer relations” and launch operations.

Overall, it looks like this European private/government partnership is doing reasonably well in the new very competitive launch market. I still expect their business to shrink in the coming years, but I think they will be around for awhile.

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Arianespace pins down source of launch abort

Arianespace has identified an issue in the electrical system in one of the Ariane 5’s solid rocket boosters as the source of the launch abort yesterday.

This is a preliminary report. They still need to find out exactly what happened and why. However, they also announced that their objective is to launch before the end of September. Moreover, they are not going to change the schedule of any of their other launches because of this.

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Arianespace successfully launches two commercial satellites

Capitalism in space: Arianespace tonight successfully launched two commercial communications satellite with its Ariane 5 rocket.

This is the third launch by the company since it settled its labor problems in French Guiana in late April. Since then they have managed a launch ever two weeks, and at the moment Arianespace and SpaceX are tied for the most launches in 2017 at six. This tie should only last until Saturday when SpaceX hopes to launch a reused Dragon to ISS.

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Strikers attempt to occupy Arianespace spaceport in French Guiana

The labor strike that has shut down Arianespace’s French Guiana spaceport has taken to turn for the worse with an attempt by about 30 strikers to occupy the spaceport.

The article provides almost no details. We also have had no recent updates on the state of the labor negotiations. At the moment it appears this strike could last a while.

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French Guiana strikes continue

The strikes in French Guiana that canceled last week’s Ariane 5 launch have now escalated, practically paralyzing the country.

It also looks like this situation will not be settled quickly. Many of the local mayors have refused to meet with the representatives sent over by the French government.

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Ariane 5 launch delayed by labor strike

The launch of two communications satellites on an Ariane 5 was delayed today by a strike at Arianespace’s French Guiana spaceport.

A work stoppage at the Ariane 5 rocket’s launch base in South America prevented rollout of the booster to the launch pad Monday, pushing back the liftoff of two communications satellites for Brazil and South Korea until at least Wednesday.

The fully-assembled launcher was set to roll out of the final assembly building Monday morning for the 1.7-mile (2.7-kilometer) journey to the ELA-3 launch zone at the Guiana Space Center. Arianespace officials were aiming for a launch attempt Tuesday evening.

But the rollout did not happen due to a “social movement” at the spaceport, according to Arianespace. Officials blamed the postponement on a strike among a segment of the workforce at the Guiana Space Center, which is managed by CNES, the French space agency, with support from the European Space Agency and numerous European contractors.

The article suggests that this was not a sanctioned strike, based on the expiration of a contract. Instead it appears to have been a wildcat strike, created to apply the most pressure in order to blackmail the company into giving the strikers more money. If so, and if Arianespace agrees to terms, its labor relations in French Guiana are going to decline quickly.

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Want to see an Ariane 5 launch in French Guiana? You can!

Arianespace and Airbus Safran are holding a contest where the winning prize is an all-expenses paid trip to French Guiana to see an Ariane 5 launch in 2017.

This is part of Airbus Safran’s public relations effort to promote their new rocket, Ariane 6, that will replace Ariane 5.

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Arianespace offers to pick up SpaceX business

The competition heats up: In an effort to gain more business, Arianespace is offering to add an additional launch to its 2017 schedule for any satellite companies whose payload launch is being delayed by both SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launchpad explosion as well as a delay in Russian Proton launches due to its own technical issues.

In his remarks it seemed to me that the CEO of Arianespace was almost gloating.

In a Sept. 7 interview with France Info radio, Israel reiterated his confidence in what he portrayed as Arianespace’s more plodding, deliberative — and higher-cost — approach to launches when compared to SpaceX.

Arianespace does not want a reusable rocket for the moment, he said, because it’s not certain that reusability can reduce costs and maintain reliability. The Ariane 6 rocket, to operate starting in 2020, will not be reusable. The company also is wary of the Silicon Valley ethos that champions constant iteration, which he said has been a feature of Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX as well. “We think that the more a launch resembles the preceding launch, the better we are for our customers because we remain in the ‘explored domain’ where everything is understood,” Israel said.

In the short run he and Arianespace might benefit by this situation, but in the long run they will face a shrinking market share if they cannot lower the price of their rockets.

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Arianespace sets payload weight record

The competition heats up: Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket successfully launched its heaviest payload ever yesterday by placing two Intelsat communications satellite in orbit.

This was also the first launch by Arianespace since the ESA company was taken over by the private joint partnership of Airbus Safran.

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Second solo Ariane 5 launch in 2016

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.

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SpaceX loses a launch payload

In the heat of competition: Because of delays, a satellite company has shifted its launch vehicle from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5

The company, ViaSat, still has a contract with SpaceX to use Falcon Heavy to launch later satellites, but they decided they could no longer wait and needed to get the satellite in orbit by 2017, something that SpaceX could no longer guarantee. They had to pay more to fly on Ariane 5, but it appears they were able to negotiate a price break with Arianespace to close the deal.

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ESA and Airbus Safran agree on deal to build Ariane 6

The competition heats up: Airbus Safran have come to an agreement with the European Space Agency on building Ariane 6, Europe’s next commercial rocket.

The key part of the deal is that ESA and Arianespace will be ceding ownership of the rocket to Airbus Safran.

The French government is likely to approve the sale of CNES’s 34-percent stake in the Evry, France-based Arianespace launch service provider to Airbus Safran Launchers at about the same time as the Ariane 6 development contract is signed.

With that sale, Airbus Safran will control Arianespace, which means they will also own the rocket they are building for Arianespace. This is fundamentally different than the situation with Ariane 5, which Airbus built for an Arianespace owned and run by the many-headed ESA. The result was a bloated government-run operation that never made a profit.

Now Airbus will own it instead. They have already indicated that they will trim the costs at Arianespace. More importantly, with ownership will come the freedom to compete effectively in the much more competitive launch market created by the arrival of SpaceX. No need to get permission from ESA to do things.

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Arianespace admits it is in a head-to-head competition with SpaceX

In testimony at a hearing in the French parliament the head of Arianespace admitted that the company has been in a head-to-head competition with SpaceX for the past two years, with SpaceX grabbing half the business.

He also claimed that they think they will be able to compete with SpaceX, even if it succeeds in recovering and reusing its first stage.

Israel said Arianespace fully expects SpaceX to succeed in its attempt to recover its Falcon 9 first stage.

But that’s just the start of the challenge, he said. It remains unknown what the refurbishment costs will be compared to the cost of churning out a fresh stage from an existing production line. He said it is also unclear whether commercial fleet operators will immediately accept placing $200 million telecommunications satellites on a rocket with a refurbished stage.

Finally, he said, flying a reusable stage means sacrificing first-stage performance so that enough energy is available to power it back to its recovery point. That power is thus unavailable for the mission, which is one reason why Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX thus far has attempted to recover its stages only on low-orbit missions, not for missions to geostationary transfer orbit, where most commercial satellites operate.

All true, but if Arianespace sits on its hands because of these facts it will eventually lose. It needs to rise to the challenge that SpaceX poses, not poo-poo the challenge.

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Arianespace and SpaceX neck and neck in race for contracts

The competition heats up: Of the new commercial launch contracts signed in 2014, Arianespace and SpaceX tied for the lead.

Russia meanwhile signed no new deals 2014, suggesting that the recent launch failures of their Proton rocket has significantly soured interest in their services, despite their low launch costs.

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Airbus attacked by French lawmaker for talking to SpaceX

The competition heats up: A French lawmaker lashed out at Airbus for daring to consider SpaceX as a possible launch option for a European communications satellite.

The senator, Alain Gournac, who is a veteran member of the French Parliamentary Space Group, said he had written French Economy and Industry Minister Emmanuel Macron to protest Airbus’ negotiations with Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for a late 2016 launch instead of contracting for a launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket. “The negotiations are all the more unacceptable given that, at the insistence of France, Europe has decided to adopt a policy of ‘European preference’ for its government launches,” Gournac said. “This is called playing against your team, and it smacks of a provocation. It’s an incredible situation that might lead customers to think we no longer have faith in Ariane 5 — and tomorrow, Ariane 6.”

Heh. SpaceX really is shaking up the launch industry, ain’t it?

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Europe agrees to build Ariane 6

The heat of competition: Faced with a stiff challenge from SpaceX, the European partners in Arianespace have worked out a deal to replace the Ariane 5 rocket with Ariane 6.

The official announcement will be made in next few days, but with Germany agreeing to the French proposal, the partnership can now proceed.

The result will be a government rocket which will likely only launch government payloads, since it will likely also cost too much to compete with SpaceX and the other new lower cost commercial companies like Stratolaunch, now developing in the U.S.

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Controversy surrounding IXV flight cancellation

Italian officials are suggesting politics or incompetence for the sudden cancellation Wednesday of the November test flight of Europe’s IXV experimental spaceplane.

ESA and CNES officials up to now have either declined to comment or, in the case of ESA, said they were at a loss to explain why a program whose mission profile has not changed in several years is now suddenly stalled for [range] safety issues that in principle should have been aired and resolved long ago.

One official, saying he could not believe that the two agencies simply forgot to evaluate the safety issues, said he preferred to suspect political motives. “Look, we are about to send a spacecraft and lander to Mars, in one year,” this official said. “Europe has rendezvoused with a comet a decade after the [Rosetta comet-chaser] satellite was launched. You want me to believe that somehow the agencies just forgot to evaluate safety? That is too far-fetched. I would rather believe there is some political motive.”

The claim is that no one ever evaluated the range issues in sending the Vega rocket to the east instead of its normal polar orbit trajectory. The Italian officials are suggesting that either the officials who cancelled the mission are incompetent, or that their competition with France within ESA over launch vehicles (Ariane 6 vs Vega) prompted the cancellation.

Europe’s lead launch-vehicle nation is France, which initially balked at participating in the Vega program. A French minister said that in Europe, launch vehicles are French. The French government declined to allow the export, to Italy, of the avionics suite that guides Vega, forcing Italy to develop its own. Italy has since done so and successfully flown it on Vega. As it stands now, one official said, France must accept the idea that with Vega, Italy has led development of a vehicle that at least in principle resembles an intercontinental ballistic missile. “Some people don’t like that,” this official said.

Either way, this cancellation combined with the difficult and extended disagreements within ESA over replacing Ariane 5 suggest that the future of this European partnership is becoming increasingly shaky.

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Europe’s satellite makers want Ariane 6

Europe’s six biggest satellite makers have written Arianespace to demand that the company build its next generation Ariane 6 rocket by 2019 or face a significant loss of business.

Given the advent of electric propulsion and the dramatic launch-cost reduction offered by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the operators say, the new Ariane 6 needs to be in service by 2019 or face the risk that Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium will be permanently sidelined. The letter was signed by six members of the European Satellite Operators Association. Signatories included the chief executives of Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat, Inmarsat, Hispasat and HellasSat.

This letter is clearly intended to help prod Arianespace into making a decision on whether to build a new rocket, Ariane 6, or upgrade Ariane 5. Right now the company’s partners have been unable to come to an agreement about what to do.

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Arianespace signs four new contracts

The competition heats up: As a result of lowering its prices to compete with SpaceX, Arianespace on Monday announced four new launch contracts for lighter weight commercial satellites.

At a press briefing here during the World Satellite Business Week conference, organized by Euroconsult, Arianespace said the contracts illustrate the company’s ability to win business in head-to-head competition with what has become its principal competitor, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and the Falcon 9 rocket. Individual satellite operators choose satellite and rocket suppliers using a range of criteria including schedule, price, recent launch record and export credit-agency financing.

It was not immediately clear how many of the latest satellite wins for Arianespace followed competitions in which SpaceX offered bids compatible with customer specifications and still lost.

These satellites will be launched in the lower berth of the Ariane 5 rocket, which launches two satellites with each launch. Thus, these contracts — while encouraging for Arianespace — still leave the company with the need to find customers to fill that upper berth.

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Indecision in Europe about their future commercial rocket

The competition is burning them up! With Germany and France unable to come to an agreement about the next Arianespace commercial rocket, the company is considering cancelling a December conference that was supposed to settle the issue.

The basic division remains despite the German government’s alignment with the French view that Europe needs a lower-cost rocket to maintain its viability in the commercial market — which in turn provides European governments with a viable launch industry.

Despite the consensus over the longer term, the two sides remain split on whether European Space Agency governments should spend 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) to complete work on a new upper stage for the existing Ariane 5 rocket, which could fly in 2018-2019, or abandon the upgrade to focus spending on a new Ariane 6 rocket, whose development would cost upwards of 3 billion euros over 7-8 years. [emphasis mine]

Though SpaceX is not mentioned in this particular article, numerous previous articles on this subject (such as this one) have made it very clear that it is SpaceX’s low prices that are driving the need for Arianespace to cut costs. The problem, as this article makes very clear, is that Arianespace’s partners can’t figure out how to do it, at least in a manner that will still provide them all an acceptable share in the pie. The result might be that the entire partnership falls apart.

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Arianespace lowers its prices.

The competition heats up: In an effort to compete with SpaceX, Arianespace has lowered the price it charges for launching smaller satellites on its Ariane 5 rocket.

According to Stephen Israel, the company’s CEO, the lower prices have already produced some contracts. However, the company has not been able to institute comparable cost savings in its operations, which means it

…will force the European launch supplier to ask European governments this year for a 16 percent increase in annual support payments. In its 2013 annual report, Evry, France-based Arianespace said it will ask European Space Agency governments in December to allocate 116 million euros ($158 million) per year for the period between 2015 and 2018 to enable Arianespace to reach financial break-even. That figure compares to the current allocation of about 100 million euros per year for 2013 and 2014 that ESA governments approved in late 2012.

I wonder if the company will get these additional subsidies. In the past there were complaints from the European partners about the inability of Arianespace to make a profit. For it to lose even more money now will not make people happy.

I think, however, that Israel recognizes this. He has been pushing the organization to streamline its operation. Whether he can succeed against Arianespace’s entrenched pork-laden structure remains the big question.

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In a speech in Singapore, the head of Arianespace said that the company urgently needs to overhaul its Ariane 5 rocket in order to meet tough competition from SpaceX and Russia’s Proton rocket.

Recognizing the competition: In a speech in Singapore, the head of Arianespace said that the company urgently needs to overhaul its Ariane 5 rocket in order to meet tough competition from SpaceX and Russia’s Proton rocket.

“We have a newcomer in America with SpaceX. Yes, competition is increasing, but when competition is increasing, we need to be more and more agile,” said Israel. While recognising that Arianespace was the market leader, “we have to ask ourselves one question: what should we do to remain the leader? Europe is very serious about launchers, and Europe will not give up when it comes to launchers.”

For Arianespace this speech is a very good thing, as it demonstrates again that Israel — and the company — are aware of the competitive challenge put forth by SpaceX and are not making believe it doesn’t exist.

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Arianespace struggles to schedule its customers for launch.

Arianespace struggles to schedule its customers for launch.

The editorial describes the juggling act the company is often forced to perform organizing the duel payloads required by the Ariane 5, with the launch of some customers’ satellites delayed because of the late arrival of other customers. From this information it is clear that the competition coming from SpaceX is not limited only to price. Arianespace’s requirement on Ariane 5 that there be two satellites means that sometimes they have to do harm to one of their customers by delaying their launch, even if that customer delivered on time. I can imagine some of those customers quite willing to go elsewhere should this happen too often.

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European satellite operators are pressing Arianespace to find ways to immediately reduce the cost of launching satellites on now Ariane 5 and in the future on Ariane 6.

European satellite operators are pressing Arianespace to find ways to immediately reduce the cost of launching satellites on now Ariane 5 and in the future on Ariane 6.

And why are they doing this? To quote them:

“What is sure is that Europe deserves and requires a [reorganized launcher sector] ahead of 2019, the letter says. “[C]onsiderable efforts to restore competitiveness in price of the existing European launcher need to be undertaken if Europe is [to] maintain its market situation.

“In the short term, a more favorable pricing policy for the small satellites currently being targeted by SpaceX seems indispensable to keeping the Ariane launch manifest strong and well-populated.” [emphasis mine]

It seems that they take very seriously the competitive challenge being presented by SpaceX.

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