Tim Furniss/LONDON

A NEW ENTRANT in the commercial-launcher market will have its debut on 25 May with the lift-off of Europe's Ariane 5. The first flight will carry four Cluster science satellites, on the first of two European Space Agency-funded demonstration flights.

When it enters service with Arianespace from flight No 3, in 1997, the Ariane 5 will become the most powerful operational commercial launcher in the market, capable of placing a maximum 6,800kg into geostationary-transfer orbit (GTO). It is being marketed, however, primarily for launches of two satellites to GTO, with a combined weight of up to 5,900kg.

Arianespace, still dominates the launcher market, with 47 outstanding satellites to launch (37 civil GTO satellites, plus seven confirmed reservations), compared with the 29 satellites (17 of which are civil GTO craft) of its nearest competitor, the US/Russian ILS International Launch Services Atlas (ten civil) and Proton (seven civil) launchers. Although the Ariane 4 will continue to be the workhorse for Arianespace until about 1998, the Ariane 5 has already been allocated some commercial payloads, including the Meteosat Second Generation 1 and PanAmSats 6 and 7.


China Great Wall Industry's Long March 3B accident on 14, February effectively took it out of the market, leaving only the Delta 3 - to be launched in 1998 and with ten launch reservations - and the Ukrainian Sea Launch venture, which has ten launch reservations.

The Zenit 3-based Sea Launch, led by Boeing, will have the advantage of taking its launch pad to the launch site. The pad will be a converted offshore platform, which can be located on the equator, making the most propellant-effective route to GTO, creating a higher payload capability. Although smaller solid-propellant Scouts have flown from the San Marco offshore platform, operations and launches of liquid-propellant Zenits from a floating sea platform have still to be fully proven to convince the customer and insurance community. Barring technical problems, the Ariane 5, which will have a head start, could be the world beater maintaining Arianespace's already significant market lead.

Source: Flight International