The first commercial customer for the Ariane 5 is Eutelsat, whose Hot Bird 3 communications satellite is due for launch in April 1996. This is the point at which Arianespace officially takes over the management of the programme.

In the near term, it is unlikely, that there will be a commercial customer to use the full 6,800kg capacity of the launcher and the vehicle will therefore, be marketed largely on its ability to carry two satellites, with a combined weight of between 5,900kg and 6,300kg, which averages out at two of today's typical communications satellites, such as the Hughes HS-601.

Clearly, many potential customers will be inclined to wait and see how the vehicle performs before signing up. During the transition period, Arianespace will continue to offer flights on either launcher, with the added incentive that Ariane 5 customers will be offered a free reflight in the event of a launch failure.

The Ariane 4, which has taken almost 50% of the commercial-launcher market since its introduction in 1980, has been competing mainly against the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS and, for smaller payloads, against the Chinese Long March and McDonnell Douglas Delta 2.

Additional competition is now present in the form of the recently announced Delta 3 and from the Lockheed Khrunichev International consortium, which is bringing new life to the Proton launcher. With an earlier contract to launch the Inmarsat 3F4, and further contracts to launch the Astra 1F, PanAmSat 6 and 7, and Tempo 1, Lockheed Khrunichev has already made serious inroads into the market.

In addition to its Proton and Atlas boosters, Lockheed Martin has in the wings the Titan 4, the largest version of which can be used to place 4,545kg directly into geostationary orbit. This could in theory be commercialised.

The new Delta 3 will be able to carry a single HS-601-class satellite into GTO, and benefits from Hughes' immediate commitment to place ten contracts with the launcher.

Up to 25 commercial satellites are due to be launched in 1997, many of which have already been booked, while, in 1998-2000, the number is expected to average 16 a year. Of these, the majority will come from the growing Asia-Pacific market, which Arianespace believes this will require about 50 communications satellites by 2004.

Source: Flight International