Delays in the commercial introduction of the Ariane 5 have forced European commercial launcher company Arianespace to order a further 20 Ariane 4 launchers, in a deal worth $1.5 billion.

The decision comes against a background of continued high demand for commercial launches in an increasingly competitive booster market and the lack of customer confidence to commit to Ariane 5 until it has accomplished a series of successful launches.

The launch of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Ariane 502 demonstration mission has been set tentatively for 28 October, although a delay into November is likely (Flight International, 1-7 October). The flight is being regarded as the most critical in the history of the European space programme.

The third ESA-funded flight of 503 is scheduled for May 1998, carrying an as-yet -unidentified commercial payload, flying at a discounted price. The first Arianespace commercial flight, the 504, could follow in late 1998.

Arianespace ordered 20 more Ariane 4s after the failure of the first Ariane flight, the 501 in June 1996, and these will have been used by 2000. The company believes that it will be necessary to keep Ariane 4s flying until at least 2002, using the second batch of 20 launchers it has just ordered, while the Ariane 5 proves itself commercially and builds customer confidence.

Source: Flight International