US president John F Kennedy said of the Moon project at Houston's Rice University in 1961: "We choose to go...and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." And the slow, painful progress of many space agency programmes since then proves the enduring truth of that observation.

But hard doesn't mean impossible and, after years of difficult work, for some endeavours, the Paris air show saw progress, proving that this most challenging of scientific and engineering pursuits can eventually bear fruit.

The launch of Russia's Samara Space Centre's Soyuz 2 rockets from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, came a step closer with the signing of contracts between Arianespace, Russia's Federal Space Agency, Samara and other Russian companies.

Exact replica

With a current launch date of 2009, the project is coming in years late, partly because of the slower-than-expected construction of the launch pad. To create an exact replica of the Soyuz launch pads in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, the Kourou construction team has had to blast its way through unforeseen layers of granite.

French Guiana will also be the location for another long-awaited event, the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on an Arianespace Ariane 5 ECA in 2013. When launched, the JWST will be over budget and its launch two years late.

At the Paris show, European Space Agency (ESA) director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain and NASA administrator Michael Griffin signed agreements to collaborate on the JWST and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission.

NASA will have a critical payload on board the mission's spacecraft, which will attempt to detect gravitatonal waves. NASA is bearing 85% of the cost of JWST, with the rest met by ESA, plus its launch on the Ariane 5.

Another milestone for the Ariane 5 ECA is the launch of ESA's expendable Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) .

The first ATV's flight has been delayed repeatedly since the end of the 20th century and will not now take place before January next year. ESA launcher directorate head Antonio Fabrizi told Flight of an upcoming milestone to help the development of the Evolution Storable (ES) version of the Ariane 5 Generic and ECA variants that will lift the ATV.

In mid-September, Arianespace is scheduled to launch an Ariane 5 Generic version, which will orbit the Intelsat-11 and Horizons-2 satellites.

This flight will use the Generic's Etage à Propergols Stockables upper stage and its Aestus engine in a restart test. The Aestus will be restarted because this will be required to deploy the ATV. But Fabrizi stressed that if the restart did not work, its failure would not delay the ATV's 2008 launch.

The ATV is a part of ESA's contribution to the costs of the ISS, the world's only joint manned mission, and at the air show the European agency also gave an update on progress in its global exploration strategy. This could lead to a jointly manned Moon base and so far the strategy's collaboration has created a permanent voluntary forum, the International Co-ordination Mechanism (ICM), for the world's space agencies to co-ordinate their plans for a lunar venture.

However, ESA exploration programme board chairman Simonetta Di Pippo dismissed suggestions that the ICM would impact on individual agencies' plans. Last week, ESA's Cosmic Vision programme stopped taking mission suggestions for space science from 2015 to 2025. The agency has already received 70 submissions for just half a dozen places.

Asked by Flight whether the ICM would influence the choice of missions, Di Pippo said "no", suggesting that co-ordination could be as tough as the engineering behind the missions. The lumbering, political, bureaucratic nature of space agencies explains their slow process of consultation, negotiation and agreement, but private enterprise is supposed to be more agile.

Rocket glider

Three years on from Scaled Composites' Mojave Aerospace Ventures and three successful suborbital flights of the SpaceShipOne (SS1) rocket glider in June, September and October 2004, the space tourism industry is still embyronic despite expectations that operations would begin this year.

That service was to be provided by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, up to now the only realistic prospect in the short term with development of its SpaceShipTwo (SS2) vehicle using SS1 technology.

However, like those French Guiana launches and ISS resupply plans, space tourism is turning out to be tougher than expected and Virgin Galactic now predicts a second-quarter 2009 start for commercial operations without a single SS2 test flight having taken place.Now the UK company faces a real challenger with the pre-air show announcement of EADS Astrium's space jet project. For those wondering where Europe's answer to SS1 was, the answer came in Astrium chief technical officer Robert Lainé's Le Bourget interview with Flight revealing that the company has been developing a vehicle since 2005, aiming for a 2012 service start.

Some may have dismissed space jet as a rebranding exercise for Astrium, previously known as EADS Space, and its sister company EADS Space Transportation. The company's own cost estimate of 1 billion Euros ($1.34 billion) with a programme launch deadline of year-end, which requires substantial financing progress, may have reinforced that view.

But Lainé told Flight he was was quietly confident about the finance, revealing that talks with potential investors had begun in January and were continuing.

By the time of the next Paris air show, these high-profile space projects will have changed substantially - whether making progress or not. Astrium and Virgin Galactic's tourism ventures will have to have shown substantial progress or face financial troubles ATV must have at least completed its maiden voyage or ESA faces problems with its cost-sharing agreements with ISS partners whether the ISS's assembly will be completed will be known just over a year before the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle fleet Griffin may have been replaced by a new administrator by a newly elected US president the global exploration strategy will have helped its partners co-ordinate their plans or just become a talking shop French Guiana will need to see Soyuz rockets lift off or Arianespace will have to explain to its customers why it can't launch their payloads and President Kennedy's further assertion that "all great and honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties" will also have been proved true.

Source: Flight International