Arianespace is preparing to launch its first Ariane 5 ECA booster featuring Snecma's first-stage Vulcain 2 cryogenic engine, which allows the vehicle to carry 10,000kg (22,000lb) into geostationary transfer orbit. Preparations for the launch, scheduled for 28 November, come after the European launcher company and International Launch Services (ILS) won new business for the Ariane 5 and Atlas V boosters, respectively.

The first Ariane 5 ECA, flight 517, will carry the experimental Stentor telecommunications technology satellite and Eutelsat's Hot Bird 7 satellite from Kourou, French Guiana. The Alcatel Space and Astrium-built Stentor, operated by France's CNES, will use plasma propulsion for the first time in a Western commercial satellite.

Snecma says it has focused on reducing costs with Vulcain 2. "Vulcain 1 cost c1.6 billion [$1.6 billion] to develop and qualify and Vulcain 2 has cost c500 million," says Guy Corteel, director of liquid propulsion at Snecma Moteurs.

He attributes this partly to simplifying the design. In the gas generator, for example, design changes mean 72 small fuel injectors have been replaced by six bigger ones; a new forging system means two pieces in the head can now be forged as one; and other changes have been made to the body. The ECA booster also has a modified Ariane 4 HM-7B cryogenic upper stage.

Arianespace has won the contract to launch Indonesia's Telkom 2 satellite aboard an Ariane 5 booster in 2004. Telkom 2 is being built by Orbital Sciences, and is based on the company's Star 2 spacecraft platform.

ILS confirms the award of the contract to launch the Greek-Cypriot Hellas-Sat communications satellite aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas V booster in the first quarter of 2003. It is based on an Astrium-built Eurostar 2000-plus craft.

The Atlas V's maiden flight was in August on the first launch of a US Air Force-funded Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, on a commercial mission carrying Eutelsat's Hot Bird 6. The Atlas V has seven commitments to launch US military satellites and up to eight commercial satellites.

Source: Flight International