Julian Moxon/PARIS

Arianespace has signed a unique partnership agreement with satellite telecommunications provider Ellipso, which involves the launch of a constellation of 20 satellites aboard the Ariane 5 and an investment in the system by the launch company.

The memorandum of agreement, which covers four launches from early 2002, makes Arianespace the first launch company to become an investor in a satellite constellation. Other constellation projects, such as Iridium, Globalstar and ICO Global Communications, have run into problems raising cash because of difficulties in convincing financial backers that the programmes are viable in the long term.

"This agreement will give investors confidence that Ellipso's satellites will be launched on time to the proper orbit," says Ellipso president David Casteil.

The amount, and value, of Arianespace's stake is not revealed. The launcher company joins Boeing, providing the satellites and integration of the space segments of the constellation; Lockheed Martin, responsible for the terrestrial segment; and Israel Aircraft Industries, providing the satellite propulsion systems as an investor in the project. The overall cost of the programme is estimated at $1.5 billion - about one-third of the cost of the Iridium system.

Ellipso will use "unique and patented" elliptical orbits in the equatorial plane to provide 85% of the world's population with voice, data, facsimile, paging and geolocational services. Its primary market will be the provision of telephone services to "those areas of the world where terrestrial wire and/or cellular services are limited or non-existent".

The memorandum of agreement is expected to be confirmed in the third quarter of this year. For Arianespace, it provides a chance to break into the satellite constellation market, from which it has been conspicuously absent. The Ariane 5, due for its second commercial launch in August, is better optimised for low orbit launches than the Ariane 4.

Source: Flight International