Payload selection for the Euro­pean Space Agency's Alphasat programme has been delayed to the second quarter, when ESA expects to choose an operator for the developmental communications satellite.

The Alphabus "protoflight" platform will carry two comp­onents, a core pre-operational payload and a technology development package. The exact payload will be a joint selection by ESA and the operator.

Funded by French space agency CNES, ESA and Euro­pean industry, Alphabus will develop a spacecraft offering up to 24shp (18kW) payload power initially and capable of flying very large antennas. It is seen as key to lowering European satellite telecommunications costs.

Alphasat is an ESA initiative, but the chosen operator will provide a major financial contribution. Inmarsat and a consortium of Eutelsat and Telespazio have submitted competing operator bids. The winner will in turn choose the industrial prime contractor.

Due late last year, payload will now be decided after the operator is chosen. "The closing date for [the Alphasat project tender] is towards the end of March, with anticipated start of activities mid-year," says ESA telecommunications department large platform programme manager Paul Blythe.

Source: Flight International