Arianespace, the European commercial launcher organisation, is facing major challenges from a changing satellite market, reduced demand and increased competition. Jean-Marie Luton, chairman and CEO of the company and a former director-general of the French space agency and ESA, talks to Tim Furniss

Q Market changes and late satellite deliveries have reduced Arianespace's launch rate. This must be having an impact on your turnover.

A A delayed launch is a great problem because it reduces turnover. One launch represents 10% of annual turnover. On average we plan 12 launches a year, compared with a reality of ten, so that means a 20% loss.

Q For the customer, what are the main advantages of using Arianespace rather than competitors such as International Launch Services?

A Three things: performance, reliability and flexibility. We have the right vehicles to launch any mass and number of spacecraft. We have the highest success rate, which has had a good effect on insurance premiums, and we have a proven ability to launch what is ready when it¹s ready, to accelerate, to swap and to postpone as necessary. We are routinely prepare eight satellites at a time for launch at Kourou.

Q How do you feel about US Air Force funding for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle programme, which has resulted in the emergence of two new commercial launchers, the Atlas V and Delta IV? What's the difference between this and ESA funding of Ariane 5 and the use of that launcher to carry government payloads?

A We are two to three years ahead of EELV with Ariane upgrades but feel that it will be a real competitor by 2004. It will launch a very large number of government payloads. Arianespace cannot bid for these launches in the open market, while its European government launches are far less numerous, and even these sometimes go to US launchers. In addition, we pay a yearly fee to French agency CNES and ESA to use Kourou, far beyond what American companies pay the US Air Force for Cape Canaveral.

Q The market is moving towards larger payloads, in the 6,000kg class. Is Arianespace fully geared up to handle this?

A We see a market for large spacecraft in the 6t region and a limited market for 2t-class satellites. Ariane 5ECA is good for up to 10t of payload. Added to our dual-launch capability, that will give us the ability to cover the entire market with Ariane 5.

Q Do you think single payloads will increase in size beyond 6,000kg and will we get to a point where a satellite is too large to be accommodated?

A Satellites will always be limited by rocket performance and volume under the payload fairing. On the other hand, launcher improvements result from spacecraft demands. With a 5m fairing on Ariane 5, satellites weighing up to 12t could be launched eventually.

Q To what extent has the collapse of the mobile and Internet satellite markets affected Arianespace?

A The collapse of that market is a pity because it may damage the entire market.

Q Look ahead, how do you see annual demand for commercial launches to geostationary (GTO) and other orbits?

A Today's forecast is in the range of 30 to 35 GTO commercial satellites per year, representing just 15% of the total, which is made up of launches for other orbits, government flights, military missions and access to the Space Station.

Source: Flight Daily News