Atlas V's payload will be Hot Bird 6 while Alcatel Space W1 satellite is tipped to be passenger on Delta IV

Eutelsat will fly two of its new satellites on the maiden flights of the Boeing Delta IV and Lockheed Martin Atlas V US Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles next April/May.

The launch plan was confirmed during a ceremony earlier this month to dedicate the Delta IV launch complex 37 at Cape Canaveral, a former Saturn 1 pad used in the 1960s.

The Atlas V will carry Hot Bird 6. The Delta IV's first Eutelsat payload has not been identified, but observers believe the craft will be the Alcatel Space-built original W1 satellite which was damaged during ground testing in 1998.

Another possible payload is the Alenia-built Atlantic Bird 1, the planned Chinese Long March 3A launch of which is in doubt as no export licence has been issued for its US-built components.

Eutelsat has previously launched satellites on bargain-price maiden launches of new Atlas boosters, with Eutelsat 2F3 flying the first Atlas II in 1991 and W4 flying on board the first Atlas III in 2000.

The 47m (157ft) long Common Core Booster stage of the first flight model of the Delta IV, due to make its maiden flight in April 2002, has arrived at the Horizontal Integration Facility close to Pad 37 at Cape Canaveral for pre-launch testing before the inauguration.

Four Delta IVs are planned to be launched from Canaveral for government and commercial customers next year.

Pad 37 includes a horizontal integration building, part-funded with $24 million from the Spaceport Florida Authority, which will enable the launcher to be prepared and mated with its satellite payload for launch in 30 days. The pad will be used to launch all five Delta IV variants.

The reduced commercial expectations of low Earth orbit launcher business has resulted in Lockheed Martin placing its Athena launcher business on "stand-by", probably leading to its cancellation next year. The Athena competes with US Orbital Sciences launchers, Pegasus and Taurus, but the market has been severely reduced by the collapse of the mobile phone satellite communications business.

Source: Flight International