Tim Furniss/LONDON

Three Ariane boosters were launched in a record 23 days when, on 28 October, an Ariane 44L carried the first European-manufactured satellite built for a US customer. At the same time the rival Boeing-led Sea Launch has lost two more satellites from its launch manifest.

The US GE 5 communications satellite - built by Daimler-Chrysler and Alcatel - and its sister payload, the Alcatel Worldspace AfriStar satellite, were launched on the Ariane, setting arecord by lifting 4,946kg into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

Arianespace had already launched an Ariane 4 with two satellites on 5 October, while the European Space Agency's third and final development model of the Ariane 5 was launched on 21 October. The company's next Ariane 4 launch is scheduled for 24 November, carrying Mexico's Samtex 5 satellite.

Arianespace's other launcher, the Ariane 5, is destined to make its first commercial launch next March. The exact date has not been confirmed as Arianespace, like many launch service providers, is being frustrated by late deliveries of satellites.

Sea Launch, one of Ariane 5's main rivals at the top of the GTO lifting capacity league, continues to be dogged by problems. Its latest setback is ICO Global Communications' decision to drop two of three planned Sea Launch flights in its campaign of 12 launches of 10 operational and two in-orbit spare satellites. Global Communications is offering worldwide mobile telephone communications from medium earth orbit.

The Sea Launch venture was hit earlier by the failure of the Russian Zenit 2 in September with the loss of 12 Globalstar satellites. Boeing decided to delay the first flight of the Sea Launch - based on a Zenit 2 and equipped with a third stage - from December to March 1999 and to equip the first vehicle with a dummy satellite, instead of the planned Galaxy XI - the operator promptly defected to Arianespace.

Now, ICO has defected, leaving just one ICO satellite as the only identified payload on the Sea Launch contract list. The beneficiaries of the two defections are the Proton and Atlas 2AS. The Boeing Delta III has five launches scheduled for ICO satellites.

All the ICO launches are to take place over 15 months, starting with a Proton in about May 1999. The second launch will be on a Delta III. ICO will also be watching the progress of the Delta III carefully following the failure of its maiden launch last September.

ICO has also completed a unique insurance package covering five years of satellite operations, providing $200 million insurance for the loss of each satellite and the manufacture and launch of replacements, but only beyond the first two possible losses.

Payments for the loss of two satellites will not be made, resulting in a lower overall premium being required by Marsh and McLennan of London.

Source: Flight International