Arianespace uses Soyuz rocket to launch French military satellite from French Guiana

Arianespace today successfully launched a French military reconnaissance satellite from French Guiana using a Russian Soyuz rocket.

This is the last launch for Europe in 2020, their sixth total. It is also the last publicly scheduled launch for the year. My annual worldwide launch report will follow in a day or so.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

35 China
25 SpaceX
15 Russia
6 ULA
6 Rocket Lab
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S.’s lead over China in the national rankings remains 40 to 35.

ESA confirms cause of November Vega launch failure

The European Space Agengy (ESA) has now completed its full investigation of a Vega rocket launch failure in November, and confirmed that the initially announced cause of “human error” was correct.

Engineers had installed cables backwards causing the nozzle in the upper stage to go one way when it should have gone the other.

The press release at the link is a wonder of bureaucratic cover-your-behind gobbly-gook, saying much without providing any concrete information about the corrections imposed. For example, the upper stage structure is built by one company, Airbus, the engine is built by two Russian companies, Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash, while a fourth company, Avio, supervises the stage’s assembly. The press release makes it a point to not tell us where the error was made by which company, though by vague implication it suggests the error occurred during final assembly by Avio.

If I was a satellite company thinking of buying a Vega launch I would demand a much more straight-forward explanation. Otherwise I’d go elsewhere.

German smallsat startup raises $91 million for new rocket

Capitalism in space: A German startup, dubbed Isar Aerospace, has successfully raised $91 million in private investment capital to finance design and construction of a new rocket aimed at launching smallsats.

It plans to use the money to continue its research, development and production en route to its first commercial launches, planned for early 2022. The launcher is not just significant for its design innovation, but if it proves successful, it would make Isar the first European space company to build a successful satellite launcher to compete in the global satellite market.

The round, a Series B, is being led by Lakestar, with significant contributions also from Earlybird and Vsquared Ventures; additional funding from existing investors like Airbus Ventures, former SpaceX Vice President Bulent Altan, Christian Angermayer’s Apeiron, and UVC; and also new investors HV Capital and Ann-Kristin and Paul Achleitner are also joining the round.

Earlybird and Airbus Ventures led Isar’s previous round of $17 million in December 2019.

There are a lot of such startups right now, the majority of which I expect to fall by the wayside, especially the latecomers. What makes this particular story interesting is that it describes a European company. So far there has not been much activity in the new launch market coming from independent European companies. With the government-run Arianespace dominating the market, it is difficult for private companies to gain a foothold.

This might be changing because of the failure of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 to successfully compete on price with SpaceX, a failure that gives new companies an opening to gain some market share in Europe. The two recent launch failures of Arianespace’s smaller Vega rocket likely helps that new competition as well. Isar’s funding success here might be indicating this.

Arianespace: Cause of Vega launch failure “human error”

According to Arianespace officials, today’s failure of their Vega rocket likely occurred because of “human error” in the installation of cables.

Engineers concluded that cables leading to thrust vector control actuators on the upper stage were inverted, apparently a mistake from the assembly of the upper stage engine, according to Roland Lagier, Arianespace’s chief technical officer. The thrust vector control system pivots the upper stage engine nozzle to direct thrust, allowing the rocket to control its orientation and steering.

The cabling problem caused the engine to move its nozzle in the wrong direction in response to commands from the rocket’s guidance system. That resulted in the rocket losing control and tumbling just after ignition of the upper stage engine around eight minutes after launch.

Lagier characterized the inverted cables as a “human error,” and not a design problem.

The next obvious question is the source of the error. The answer was not revealed, I think partly because of the number of contractors involved in building that upper stage:

The AVUM upper stage’s structure is produced by Airbus, and the Ukrainian rocket contractors Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash supply the AVUM stage’s main engine, which consumes hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants. Avio, the Vega rocket’s Italian prime contractor, oversees final integration of the AVUM upper stage.

The goal of the investigation that will now follow will be to point that source among these contracts, and how their interaction might have contributed to it.

Arianespace’s Vega rocket fails again at launch

Early today Arianespace’s Vega rocket failed, for the second time in its last three launches, to put two satellites into orbit.

A liquid-fueled upper stage — known as the Attitude and Vernier Upper Module, or AVUM — was supposed to fire four times Monday night to place the Spanish SEOSAT-Ingenio Earth observation satellite and the Taranis research spacecraft from the French space agency CNES into slightly different orbits at an altitude of roughly 420 miles (676 kilometers) .

But something went wrong just after the first ignition of the AVUM fourth stage. “After the first nominal ignition of the last stage engine, an anomaly has occurred, which caused a trajectory deviation entailing the loss of the mission,” said Avio, the Vega rocket’s Italian prime contractor, in a statement. “Data analyses are in progress to determine the causes.”

This is bad new for Europe’s space effort. It will likely but a crimp in the development of their two next generation rockets, the Ariane 6 and the Vega-C, as the upper stage that failed involves all the contractors building those rockets, Airbus and Avio.

The failure of this particular engine also badly damages the future of the two Ukrainian contractors, Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash, who built it. They have lost all business with Russia because of the war between those two countries, and now have this failure to darken their resume with the rest of the world.

OneWeb announces new launch schedule, cancels Ariane 6 launch

Capitalism in space: OneWeb, as it restructures itself after its purchase by a partnership of an Indian company and the UK government, has announced a new launch schedule for completing its satellite communications constellation by 2022, with the first launch in December.

The key change is that they have cancelled their deal to fly OneWeb satellites on the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket. From the first link:

Arianespace will conduct 16 Soyuz launches for OneWeb, each carrying 34-36 satellites, to complete OneWeb’s internet megaconstellation by the end of 2022. The revised contract canceled two Soyuz launches, and removed OneWeb as the customer for the inaugural Ariane 6 launch, an Arianespace spokesperson told SpaceNews.

The Ariane 6 cancellation is bad news for Arianespace’s new rocket, which has had trouble garnering customers. I am sure OneWeb was offered a great price to launch some satellites on that inaugural flight, and still OneWeb backed out.

For Russia this announcement is good news, even if they have lost two Soyuz launches. It means the bulk of their Soyuz launches will go forward, pumping money into the Russia’s starving commercial launch industry. This launch contract is essentially the only Russian commercial contract, with SpaceX stealing all of Russia’s former customers, and the bankruptcy had threatened it.

Finally, this announcement shows that OneWeb’s new owners have recognized that they have to get their satellites launched as fast as possible if they are going to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

Arianespace’s Vega rocket successfully launches 53 satellites

Capitalism in space: Arianespace’s Vega rocket tonight finally resumed commercial operations more than a year after a July 2019 launch failure, successfully placing 53 small commercial satellites into orbit.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

20 China
14 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S.’s lead over China in the national rankings remains at 23 to 20.

Ariane 5 launches three payloads into orbit

Capitalism in space: Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket today successfully launched three payloads into orbit, two communications satellites and Northrop Grumman’s second Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-2), a robot designed to bring dead communications satellites back to life.

After several months of orbit-raising and phasing maneuvers, the MEV-2 mission will perform a similar docking and mission extension service [as done by the first MEV] beginning in 2021 for the Intelsat 10-02 communications satellite, which launched in 2004. MEV-2 will provide Intelsat 10-02 with five additional years of useful service life, helping it deliver media and broadband services across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.

This was only Arianespace’s third launch this year, tying them with Japan but not enough to get on the leader board. The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

19 China
12 SpaceX
9 Russia
4 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 20 to 19 in the national rankings.

COVID-19 and launchpad issues delay Ariane 6

The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed today that the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket will be delayed at least six months, to late 2021, due to lock downs related to the Wuhan flu panic, as well as construction issues at the rocket’s new launchpad.

“While we know that the maiden flight will not take place before the second semester of 2021, we cannot at this moment precisely quantify the delay, and we cannot provide an exact launch date,” Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, said according to an ESA translation of remarks at a July 9 press event provided to SpaceNews. The French Association of Professional Journalists in Aeronautics, organized the event at ArianeGroup’s headquarters in Paris.

ESA hopes to have greater clarity on the delays in a few months, he said, according to the ESA translation.

It bodes bad for this rocket that they, at this time, have so little handle on the issues and the length of the delays.

Arianespace delays Vega launch seven more weeks

Arianespace announced yesterday that it has pushed back its first Vega rocket launch since the spring of 2019 (when the rocket failed) for seven more weeks, until August 17, 2020.

They had been trying to get the rocket off the ground this past week, but had been forced to scub several times because of high winds. They claim this long new delay is to wait until the weather improves, which really doesn’t make sense. Eric Berger at Ars Technica did some digging to find that other scheduling issues, including the odious lock down rules because of the Wuhan panic, were the really reason for the additional seven week delay. They have to recharge the batteries on the rocket, but don’t have time to do it before another launch is set to occur.

This process appears to involve customer representatives flying into French Guiana to perform this task, and there is a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in the non-European part of France that borders Brazil.

Finally, Arianespace also has a commercial satellite launch mission upcoming on its larger Ariane 5 rocket, and this VA253 flight has been scheduled for July 28. Because there is a minimum of a two-week turnaround time between launches at the spaceport in French Guiana, there was not time to reset the Vega rocket and its payloads before this mission.

With these rules and launch limitations, Arianespace is going to have increasing problems competing with the newer launch companies, all of whom are aiming, like SpaceX, to have almost instantaneous launch turn-arounds.

Arianespace to resume launches in June

Capitalism in space: Arianespace now plans to resume launches from French Guiana in mid-June with the first Vega launch since that rocket’s first failure in July 2019.

That launch will place 40+ cubesats in orbit. Arianespace hopes to follow with an Ariane 5 launch near the end of July. Of that mission’s three payloads is MEV-2, Northrop Grumman’s second Mission Extension Vehicle to launch, planned to dock with another defunct geosynchronous communications satellite and reactive it for five years.

Rocket Lab steals Arianespace customer

Capitalism in space: It turns out that a new launch contract won by Rocket Lab this week was actually a payload that was originally going to fly on Arianespace’s Vega rocket.

What Tuesday’s announcement did not include was the fact that the Japanese company [Synspective] shuffled this launch from a Vega rocket onto Electron. The Vega rocket, which had its first failure in 15 launches last July, has yet to return to flight. The spaceport it launches from in French Guiana remains closed due to the coronavirus.

Synspective had signed a major agreement with Arianespace last year to launch what is hoped will become a 25-satellite constellation. It appears that because of the Vega rocket failure, along with its higher price, Rocket Lab is going to get that business instead. That Rocket Lab can provide Synspective a dedicated launch, to the orbit of its choice, also encouraged the switch.

The background of this deal suggests that Rocket Lab’s future is bright, assuming New Zealand and the United States are ever allowed to go back to normal as free and open countries.

OneWeb files for bankruptcy

Capitalism in space: OneWeb yesterday made official the rumors from the past week by filing for bankruptcy in the United States.

It appears that those rumors were essentially true, that one of the company’s biggest investors, Softbank, was having financial trouble due to the stock market crash caused by the Wuhan flu panic, and was not able to continue its investment in OneWeb. The result was that OneWeb could not pay its creditors, the biggest of which was Arianespace, which was managing the launch of most of the company’s satellites, using Russian Soyuz rockets from either French Guiana or Kazakhstan.

With about 18% of its constellation already in orbit and the rest pretty much ready for launch this year, the company has valuable assets that in bankruptcy will have value. It will likely be sold and continue operations under new management.

In the meantime this filing will hurt the bottom line of Arianespace and Russia.

OneWeb faces bankruptcy, even as it is about to launch more satellites

According to reports today, OneWeb, one of two companies presently building a constellation of satellites for providing worldwide internet access, is facing a serious cash crunch and might have to file for bankruptcy.

The main investor, Softbank, apparently is short of cash due to bad investments, worsened further by the stock market crash due to the Wuhan virus panic this week. Furthermore, the panic has caused Arianespace, which is launching many of OneWeb’s satellites, to suspend all launches from its French Guiana spaceport.

OneWeb has already launched 74 satellites, with a Soyuz launch of 34 more from Russia tomorrow. While fewer than the 360 that its main competitor SpaceX has launched of its Starlink constellation, OneWeb doesn’t need as many based on constellation’s design to become operational. After tomorrow’s launch, OneWeb will have launched about 18% needed, compared to SpaceX’s 24%.

If OneWeb goes out of business, it will do great harm to both Russia’s launch industry as well as Europe’s Arianespace, both of which have contracts for launching most of OneWeb’s satellites. In fact, for Russia, OneWeb is pretty much the only commercial customer they have. If they lose that it will be a serious financial blow.

Similarly, Arianespace’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, has had problems garnering contracts. Losing the OneWeb launches will also hurt their bottom line.

Arianespace suspends all launches from French Guiana due to COVID-19

The insanity mounts! Arianespace today announced it is suspending all launches from its French Guiana launchsite due to COVID-19.

No word on how long this suspension will last. So far, French Guiana has six confirmed cases of the Wuhan virus. In recent years that nation has routinely seen between one to two thousand flu cases. I wonder why they didn’t shut down then?

Or if they can ever reopen, considering the severity of flu cases annually?

Arianespace and China complete launches

Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket today successfully placed two communications satellites into orbit, one for the commercial company Eutelsat and the second for India.

This was Arianespace’s first launch in 2020.

UPDATE: China’s smallsat solid rocket, Kuaizhou 1A, operated by a Chinese company dubbed GalaxySpace, also launched a commercial communications satellite today.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
1 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)

Soyuz rocket launches five satellites for Arianespace

A Russian Soyuz rocket, launching from French Guiana for Arianespace, successfully placed five satellites in orbit early this morning, including CHEOPS, a European space telescope designed to study exoplanets.

Though this was a Russian rocket, I count it as an Arianespace launch as that is the company under which the launch operates. I also realize this is open to debate.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

30 China
20 Russia
13 SpaceX
8 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 30 to 26 in the national rankings.

SpaceX wins launch contract for seven SES satellites

Capitalism in space: SES yesterday announced that it has awarded SpaceX’s Falcon 9 the launch contract for the next seven satellites in its next generation communications constellation.

This is a big win for SpaceX, made even more clear by a briefing held yesterday with reporters by Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israel. In that briefing Israel outlined that company’s upcoming launch contracts, where he also claimed that this launch manifest is so full he had to turn down SES’s launch offer.

Because of its full manifest, Arianespace was unable to offer SES launch capacity in 2021 for its next generation of medium Earth orbit satellites, mPOWER. SES announced plans Sept. 9 to fly mPOWER satellites on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. Arianespace launched the 20 satellites in the SES O3B constellation.

It was important to SES to launch in 2021, Israel said. Given Arianespace’s full manifest, it was difficult “to offer the guarantee they were asking for,” he added.

If you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you. Arianespace has been struggling to get launch contracts for its new Ariane 6 rocket. They have begun production on the first fourteen, but according Israel’s press briefing yesterday, Ariane 6 presently only has eight missions on its manifest. That means that six of the rockets they are building have no launch customers. I am sure they wanted to put those SES satellites on at least some of those rockets, and couldn’t strike a deal because the expendable Ariane 6 simply costs more than the reusable Falcon 9.

Results released of July Vega launch failure investigation

The European Space Agency (ESA) this week released the results of its investigation into the July 10, 2019 launch failure of Arianespace’s Vega rocket, the first such failure after 14 successful launches.

The failure had occurred about the time the first stage had separated and the second stage Z23 rocket motor was to ignite. The investigation has found that the separation and second stage ignition both took place as planned, followed by “a sudden and violent event” fourteen seconds later, which caused the rocket to break up.

They now have pinned that event to “a thermo-structural failure in the forward dome area of the Z23 motor.”

The report says they plan to complete corrective actions and resume launches by the first quarter of 2020.

Satellite company switches from Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5

Capitalism in space: The communications satellite company Ovzon has switched from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5 for the launch of its first wholly owned satellite in 2021.

In an interview Aug. 24, Ovzon CEO Magnus René told SpaceNews the company received a more appealing launch offer from Arianespace. “It’s nothing political or anything like that, it’s not that we don’t trust SpaceX — it’s just that we could get a better deal in cost and time and so on from Ariane at this time,” René said.

SpaceX charges $100 million for a Falcon Heavy launch, about the same as Arianespace charges for one of the two berths on its Ariane 5. Arianespace must have therefore cut its standard price to make it more attractive, and win the deal.

Ain’t competition wonderful? Governments have been trying (and failing) to get us into space for half a century, using the model of international cooperation. Introduce some competition and suddenly it becomes both easier and cheaper to do it. Who woulda thunk it?

SpaceX and Arianespace complete successful launches

Today, as I was giving my lecture in Denver, both Arianespace and SpaceX successfully completed launches.

SpaceX put a commercial communications satellite in orbit. The first stage was not recovered, but this was intended. The company however was successful in catching one half fairing in the giant net of its recovery ship Mrs. Tree., the second time they have done so.

Arianespace used its Ariane 5 rocket to launch a commercial communications satellite and a European Space Agency data relay satellite.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

12 Russia
11 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads Russia 16 to 12 in the national rankings.

Arianespace Vega launch fails

The launch of a United Arab Emirates military satellite on an Arianespace Vega rocket failed tonight two minutes after liftoff.

Luce Fabreguettes, Arianespace’s executive vice president of missions, operations and purchasing, said the failure occurred around the time of ignition of the Vega rocket’s solid-fueled Zefiro 23 second stage.

“As you have seen, about two minutes after liftoff, around the Z23 (second stage) ignition, a major anomaly occurred, resulting in the loss of the mission,” Fabreguettes said. “On behalf of Arianespace, I wish to express our deepest apologies to our customers for the loss of their payload.”

Prior to this failure the Vega had flown fourteen times successfully since its inauguration in 2012.

Ariane 6 gets OneWeb launch contract

Capitalism in space: Arianespace announced this week that it has signed a three-launch contract with OneWeb that will use its new Ariane 6 rocket, including the rocket’s maiden flight.

The launch service agreement specifies the use of the qualification launch of the Ariane 62 version, scheduled for the second half of 2020; the two Ariane 6 options (either in its 62 version, accommodating up to 36 OneWeb satellites, or in the 64 version, up to 78 OneWeb satellites) will be utilized starting in 2023.

The OneWeb satellites will be launched by the first Ariane 62 into a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers before raising themselves to their operational orbit.

Because OneWeb is in direct competition with SpaceX for building the first space-based internet satellite constellation, it has looked for other launch companies to put its satellites in orbit. Thus, the business to launch the company’s planned 650-plus satellite constellation has gone to Arianespace, Russia, Virgin Orbit, and others. This in turn appears to have saved Ariane 6, which is going to be more expensive than SpaceX’s rockets and was therefore having trouble getting launch contracts.

Isn’t competition wonderful? It looks like it is going to take us to the stars.

Arianespace successfully launches first set of six OneWeb satellites

Capitalism in space: Using a Russian-built Soyuz rocket, Arianespace today successfully launched the first set of six OneWeb communications satellites.

This is the first of 21 Soyuz launches to put the entire OneWeb constellation into orbit. OneWeb also has launch contracts with Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne.

The 2019 launch standings:

2 SpaceX
2 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
1 ULA
1 Japan
1 India
1 Russia

It could be argued that this Soyuz launch should be placed under Russia. I place it under Europe because they are the one’s who signed the contract.

The U.S. now leads China and Europe 3-2 in the national rankings.

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