PARIS: Ariane 5 ES for Galileo programme poised for approval

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Europe is almost certain to push the "go" button by the end of the year for Astrium Space Transport to develop an ES version of its Ariane 5 heavylift rocket, which would allow one launch to orbit four Galileo navigation satellites.

Astrium Space Transport chief executive Alain Charmeau said the programme confirmation is awaiting the first Galileo launch on 20 October, of two spacecraft from a Soyuz rocket.

That launch, which will be the maiden Soyuz flight from the European Space Agency's launch site at Kourou, French Guiana, will be followed by a string of launches to achieve a functional constellation of 18 satellites by 2014.

The ability to launch four spacecraft with one launcher featuring restart capability to achieve successive orbits would reduce the number of launches needed, and thus the cost, to orbit a full constellation of 30 satellites.

Charmeau believes there is also, ultimately, a preference for using a European launcher in this programme.

Ariane 5 is currently capable of lifting 10 tonnes to geostationary orbit, but modifications should imminently raise that capacity to 10.5 tonnes. A planned mid-life upgrade would, if cleared for development, add another two tonnes.