Arianespace’s Ariane-5 rocket launches communications satellite

Arianespace today used its Ariane-5 rocket, launching from French Guiana, to successfully place a Eutelsat communications satellite into orbit.

This was the fourth successful launch this year for Arianespace, so Europe still does not make the leader board. The company had predicted it would launch eleven times in 2022. At this moment it appears very questionable it will be able to match that prediction.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

40 SpaceX
36 China
11 Russia
6 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 55 to 36 in the national rankings, but is now tied with the entire world combined 55 to 55.

Isar Aerospace signs deal to launch from French Guiana

Capitalism in space: The German smallsat rocket startup Isar Aerospace has now signed a deal with the French space agency CNES to use one of its launchpads in French Guiana for launches of its new Spectrum rocket.

The Diamant pad was built more than a half-century ago for the French rocket of the same name, but has been dormant for decades. CNES is now working to convert the facility into a multi-user site for small launch vehicles, and Isar is the first company the agency selected in an open competition to use the site.

Isar also has a deal to launch from Norway. As recently as seven months ago the company was claiming its first test launch would occur there before the end of ’22. All told, Isar has three different launch contracts and has raised almost $200 million in investment capital.

Russia suspends Soyuz-2 launches from French Guiana

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, announced today that Russia is suspending all Soyuz-2 rocket operations with Arianespace at French Guiana in response to the sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) over Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

In response to EU sanctions against our enterprises, Roskosmos is suspending cooperation with European partners over organising space launches from the Kourou cosmodrome and withdrawing its technical personnel… from French Guiana,” Dmitry Rogozin, chief of the Russian space agency, said on messaging app Telegram.

The next planned Russian launch from French Guiana for Arianespace is set for April, launching two EU GPS-type satellites. That launch is now in question. Russia only has 87 engineers in French Guiana, but whether Europe can launch without them is unlikely.

Russia’s other Arianespace commercial customer, the satellite constellation OneWeb, is owned jointly by the United Kingdom and private Indian investors and has a launch scheduled from Kazakhstan in March. While Russia probably intends to proceed with that launch, Arianespace, the EU, and the UK government might respond to Russia’s actions today by cancelling it in turn.

Meanwhile, there are hints coming from the Ukraine that Russia’s invasion is beginning to bog down. If so, expect Putin to try to negotiate a quick settlement, whereby he insists that the Ukraine abandon its effort to join NATO and commit to allying itself with Russia. Based on the poor support NATO provided in this war, expect the Ukraine to agree in some manner.

Webb launch confirmed for December 24, 2021

Ten years late and twenty times over budget the European Space Agency (ESA) yesterday confirmed that the launch of NASA’s infrared James Webb Space Telescope is now scheduled for December 24, 2021.

The ESA announcement is only a couple of sentences long, and does not mention if engineers had solved the intermittent ground communications issue with the telescope. Further tweets from ESA and NASA also said nothing about the communication issue.

A final readiness review is set for December 21st where a final launch decision will be made.

Webb launch delayed two days because of ground equipment issue

After engineers at Arianespace’s French Guiana launch facility found an intermittent issue with ground equipment related to the Ariane 5 rocket launching the James Webb Space Telescope, it was decided to delay the launch two days to make sure the problem was resolved.

n a brief statement, NASA wrote on its website late Tuesday that the Webb team is “working a communications issue between the observatory and the launch vehicle system.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate, said Tuesday that engineers found an “interface problem” in a system that communicates with Webb while it’s on top of the Ariane 5 rocket. “The way to think about it is it’s a ground support equipment thing,” Zurbuchen said Tuesday night in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “Basically, the data cables are dropping some frames.”

Technicians inside the Ariane 5 rocket’s final assembly building in Kourou have tried to diagnose the problem, but so far, haven’t been able to resolve it.

The December 24th target day date remains tentative, and could slip to December 25th, or even later, depending on how successful engineers are at fixing the issue.

Fuel leak in Russian rocket in French Guiana

According to French engineers in French Guiana, “systematic signals from the alarm system [have been detected] indicating the presence of oxidizer vapors” from the Fregat upper stage for a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket.

Russia is sending a team of its own engineers there to trouble-shoot what is essentially a fuel leak.

It also suggests that Russia’s systemic quality control problems in its aerospace industry have not been solved.

From my perspective, I don’t see how Russia can really eliminate what appears to be poor workmanship throughout their space industry without introducing competition, something they have banned with the consolidation of their entire aerospace industry into a single government-run corporation.

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?

Problem found with Soyuz set for Arianespace commercial launch

Russian engineers have found a problem with Freget upper stage used on their Soyuz rocket and set for an Arianespace commercial launch in French Guiana this spring.

According to the source, “a microhole has been found in one of the upper stage’s pipes, which apparently emerged during a long transportation of the booster to the spaceport in French Guiana.”

“Now the specialists of the Lavochkin Research and Production Association [Fregat’s manufacturer] are dealing with this malfunction, by the end of the week they should specify the types of the works needed for eliminating it,” the source said.

The launch may be postponed from late February until March due to this situation.

This problem might not be related to Russia’s ongoing quality control problems. It could simply be a consequence of the difficulty of shipping a rocket across the globe. At the same time, the thought must not be dismissed. They say the microhole occurred during transport, but there is no way to confirm this.

Either way, the problem and delay does not do the Russians good. I wonder if OneWeb, the commercial customer for this flight, is beginning to have regrets about its contract for 21 Soyuz launches to get a large percentage of its satellite constellation into orbit.

Soyuz from French Guiana successfully launches weather satellite

A Russian Soyuz rocket tonight successfully launched a European weather satellite from French Guiana.

This success once again indicates that the manned Soyuz launch in December to ISS can take place as scheduled.

Though this was a Russian rocket, I count it as a Arianespace launch, as it is launched from their launchpad. Arianespace is also the operator and sales agent for the rocket. Obviously, this is open to interpretation.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

31 China
17 SpaceX
10 Russia
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China remains the leader in the national rankings, 31 to 26 over the U.S.

France settles union dispute in French Guiana

The union strike that has stopped all Arianespace launches from French Guiana for the past month has been settled.

The article provides no details on the settlement itself. Instead, it outlines the company’s intention to complete all the scheduled launches they had planned for 2017.

Update: This story outlines the basic agreement.

It authorises an emergency relief plan of up to 2.1 billion euros, which includes funds for security, education, healthcare and business aid.

France had already approved 1.1 billion in aid for French Guiana at the beginning of April. The additional funds were offered to meet demands made by the collective and local representatives, who rejected the government’s initial offer.

France will prioritise the implementation of the spending plan, said Bareigts, who described the agreement as a “decisive day for the future of Guiana”.

Essentially, this is a payoff to the unions and group in French Guiana that organized the strike. I am sure a lot of the money will go for good purposes, but I am even more sure that a majority of it will simply end up in the pockets of the strike organizers, doing little to help the people of French Guiana themselves.

Labor strikes force Arianespace to suspend all French Guiana launches

Arianespace today announced that it is suspending all launches from French Guiana indefinitely while it works out the labor problems that surfaced this week with wildcat strikes.

Arianespace chief executive Stephane Israel tweeted Wednesday that officials will set a new target launch date as soon as possible.

The delay will likely cause Arianespace to push back the following launch from French Guiana. Once the Ariane 5 takes off, a Russian-made Soyuz rocket is next in line at the tropical space base, slated to loft the Boeing-built SES 15 communications satellite into orbit to provide in-flight Internet connectivity for airline passengers, and support government, networking and maritime customers across North America. SES 15 also hosts a payload for the FAA’s Wide-Area Augmentation System to enhance airline navigation and safety across the United States.

Liftoff of SES 15 was scheduled for April 4, but it takes nearly two weeks to reconfigure the French Guiana spaceport and downrange tracking stations between launches.

These problems play into the hands of Arianespace’s competitors, SpaceX, the Russians, and ULA.

More strike actions delay Ariane 5 again

Protests by local workers that have blocked roads has forced Arianespace to once again delay the Ariane 5 launch of two commercial satellites.

Local newspaper France Guyane reports that local electricians, hospital employees, farmers and transportation workers — including the drivers that transport the Ariane 5 rockets — are among those protesting working and living conditions in the South American town that’s home to Europe’s main launch center. Locals blocked roads around Kourou Monday and Tuesday, preventing Arianespace from transferring the rocket from the final assembly building at the spaceport to the launch zone. Evry, France-based Arianespace launches the Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega rockets from the Guiana Space Center.

…Local employees of Endel, the French industrial maintenance company that trucks the Ariane 5 rockets for Arianespace, are striking to reopen wage negotiations. Those discussions began Monday night, but failed to reach an agreement, according to France Guyane. The paper reports that other members of the union UTG, as well as the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CDTG) and Force Ouvrière unions, are also involved in various demonstrations.

The Guyanese Union of Road Transport (UGTR) is also protesting the use of foreign trucks from the European construction company Eiffage, France Guyane says. CNES in July awarded Eclair6, a consortium led by Eiffage, a $222.2 million contract 2016 to build the launch facility for the future Ariane 6 rocket. UGTR said it asked the spaceport not to bring in foreign trucks to do work that that its members could do with equally capable trucks of their own.

None of this is going to help Arianespace in its effort to compete in the modern very aggressive launch industry.

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.

Europe’s Galileo GPS constellation reaches 10 satellites

The competition heats up: A Soyus rocket today launched from French Guiana the 9th and 10th satellites in Europe’s competing GPS system.

This launch enhances competition in two ways. First it is a success of the Russian Soyuz rocket, launched from the European spaceport in South America, Second, it establishes a competing GPS system to the American system, which is great for everyone. Expect future GPS units to provide the capability to use both the systems, as well as the Russian Glonass system.

It looks like there will be no manned Soyuz missions launched from South America.

It looks like there will be no manned Soyuz missions launched from South America.

An ESA study conducted between 2002 and 2004 found that because the Soyuz has not been designed to land in the sea, a French Guiana launch that had to be aborted would endanger the spacecraft and its crew as it would likely have to ditch in the Atlantic Ocean. The Soyuz spacecraft have always landed on land in the former Soviet territory of Kazakhstan.