TIM FURNISS / LONDON Russia and Europe co-operate on satnav, but doubts remain over sharing Kourov site

Arianespace and Starsem are jointly proposing a combination of the Ariane 5 ECB and Russian Soyuz ST launchers to carry the 30 Galileo European navigation system satellites into orbit from 2004.

The 700kg (1,540lb) spacecraft are due to be placed in circular orbits at 23,616km (14,668 miles) altitude in three planes, inclined at 56í to the equator. The Ariane 4 ECB would be able to carry eight spacecraft on one launch, while the Soyuz ST could carry two.

The partners propose that the European-Russian Arianespace affiliate company Starsem launch four satellites in 2004 for the preliminary testing phase for the system. From 2006, the remaining satellites would follow, launched by a combination of the boosters.

The companies believe that the booster combination will offer reliability and flexibility of deployment, while the use of the Soyuz could be an incentive for Russia to join the Galileo programme.

Meanwhile, Rosaviakosmos says the European Space Agency's (ESA) postponement until the second quarter of 2002 of the decision whether to allow launches of Soyuz boosters from the Ariane launch complex at Kourou, French Guiana, will not deter Russia from launching a derivative of the vehicle, to be known as Aurora, from Christmas Island in collaboration with the Asia Pacific Space Centre.

ESA says that in return for allowing Soyuz launches from Kourou, commercial Soyuz launches will be exclusive to Starsem. ESA also expects Russia to pay for work on a Soyuz launch pad at Kourou, but Russia is balking at making any payment. Rosaviakosmos says: "ESA and Rosaviakosmos' financial input must be in proportions that are acceptable to both sides." The first uprated Soyuz FG model was launched from Baikonur on 26 November on a national mission carrying a Progress M1 tanker to the International Space Station. The FG has an improved propulsion system that enables it to carry 200kg more payload than the standard Soyuz. The launch also carried the first Kolibri former military spacecraft mini-satellite bus, carrying six technology experiments from Australia and Russia. French space agency CNES test-fired a modified Ariane 5 solid rocket booster at Kourou on 20 November to qualify upgrades and new industrial sources of materials and equipment, including ammonium perchlorate provided by US company Wecco, a new nozzle with fewer components, and redesigned upper-segment propellants. The upgrades will improve Ariane 5's geostationary transfer orbit capability by 200kg. The test was followed by the launch of the DirecTV 4S satellite, built by Boeing Satellite Systems, on 27 November aboard an Arianespace-operated Ariane 44L booster.

Source: Flight International