Arianespace is trying to find a customer willing to accept a bargain price to launch a satellite on the requalification flight of the troubled Ariane 5 ECA booster, scheduled for March 2004.

The ECA's maiden launch in December was aborted after the failure of the nozzle on the Vulcain 2 first-stage engine. The uprated ECA is intended to carry 10,000kg (22,000lb) into geostationary transfer orbit. Until the new variant is requalified, Arianespace will use the Ariane 5G for commercial launches.

The ECA failure resulted in the loss of two communications satellites, Eutelsat's Hot Bird 7 and a French space agency CNES communications technology satellite, Stentor. Together the satellites were worth $600 million.

The ECA is equipped with a new Vulcain 2 first stage engine and new upper stage. The failure of coolant tubes on the Vulcain 2 nozzle began a chain of events which led to the December failure.

Eutelsat has a record of flying communications satellites on maiden flights, with Hot Birds being launched on the first US Atlas III and V missions, so might be tempted by Arianespace's offer. If not, the launch will fly a demonstration payload.

Meanwhile, three competitive launch service providers are following the Lockheed Martin-led ILS International Launch Services' formal arrangement of offering alternative launchers, Atlas or Proton, to meet customer demands.

Arianespace, Boeing Launch Services and Mitsubishi are considering an informal arrangement to allow a customer to switch boosters if a launch is delayed due to technical problems.

Arianespace's Ariane 5, the Boeing-led Sea Launch Zenit 3SL and the Japanese H2A operated by Mitsubishi will be part of the service. Such co-operation is not new but formalising it is a major change.


Source: Flight International