The Alcatel-led Skybridge consortium has selected Boeing Delta III and IV vehicles to launch half of its planned 80-satellite constellation from 2002, in a deal which is a major blow to Arianespace.

Boeing will also take a "significant" financial stake in Skybridge, which will operate a high-speed broadband multimedia satellite system offering global connectivity to users worldwide.

The selection of Boeing is also a snub to Alcatel's rival Aerospatiale which builds the Ariane boosters and which is a major shareholder in Arianespace. By selecting the Delta launch vehicles Skybridge is taking a risk: the Delta III has yet to fly a successful mission after two failures and the Delta IV has not even made its launch flight.

Two Delta IIIs are manifested to fly four satellites each, while four Delta IV Medium boosters will fly eight satellites each. There are also options for additional launches in the contract. The competition to win the launch contracts for the other 40 satellites remains open.

Although Skybridge has attracted investment from Loral, Mitsubishi and Toshiba, analysts have expressed concern that the system is ill-defined in a market suffering overcapacity.

Source: Flight International