Tim Furniss

Arianespace is raring to let its launchers loose, but the satellites are not ready.

A frustrated commercial launcher company is grounded because a series of anomalies or potential faults have occurred on satellites that Arianespace is scheduled to launch.

"We are trying to adjust, to deal with the availability problem with the satellites," says Jean Marie Luton, president and director of Arianespace.

The company has only made two launches this year and will have to wait much longer before it can make its next.

Its original plans had 12 launches scheduled for 1999. Even if launches resumed in June, that may be a tall order.

"We are waiting for the satellites. We will launch them when they arrive," said Luton at a press conference yesterday to announce the company's annual results.

The results show a $2.2-billion increase in net income in 1998 over the previous year, and sales of $1.086 billion, a small increase over 1997, generated from the launch of 15 spacecraft on 10 Ariane 4s and one Ariane 5.

1999 will be a problem, however. Some European satellites - and therefore Arianespace - are being delayed by potential faults.

After two launches this year, Arianespace was ready to launch again in April, carrying Intelsat's New Skies K-TV1 but a potential solar cell problem was discovered, delaying the satellite and rolling over to other satellites, delaying other Ariane launches.

It was discovered that some solar cells, which convert the sun's energy into electrical power, were found to be degrading far more rapidly than they should and may have been contaminated by adhesive used to fix them onto the satellites' solar arrays.

Solar cells were in a batch that had been fitted to four satellites, K-TV and Asiastar, Ameristar and Astra 2B.

If the satellite problem continues, Arianespace could be left with 12 launches in 12 weeks, an impossible task. For a company whose revenues are collected by delivering satellites into orbit, it is very frustrating.

Source: Flight Daily News