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Arianespace adds Eurokot to satellite launcher range

Tim Furniss/LONDON

Arianespace is to add the Eurokot small satellite launcher to its commercial booster operation. The deal follows the launch of the Russian-German Eurokot company's first vehicle - based on the Rokot, a converted SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile - from Plestesk on 16 May (Flight International 23-29 May) carrying two dummy satellites into orbit.

Arianespace is likely to become a shareholder in Eurokot as it is in the Russian-European Starsem launcher organisation which operates Soyuz Ikar and Fregatboosters.

The European launcher company is a shareholder in Starsem along with Aerospatiale Matra, Samara and the Russian Space Agency, and it is likely that Eurokot - a DaimlerChrysler Aerospace and Khrunichev joint venture - will be joined by Arianespace.

With the Eurokot and Soyuz fleet and its own Ariane 4 and 5 vehicles, Arianespace will have a full range of satellite launchers for all types of customers covering the small, medium and large range of satellites for low, medium and geostationary orbit transportation.

The development with Eurokot is likely to result in a change of direction for the proposed European Space Agency-led Vega small satellite launcher project being developed with Italy and France.

With the Ariane 4 fleet to be retired in about 2002, the Vega could become a new medium-class booster based on improved Ariane 5 solid rockets, making its first flight in 2004-05, carrying single satellite payloads weighing 3.5 tonnes into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

The new Vega would effectively replace the mid-range Ariane 4 boosters, the 42L or 44P, carrying single satellite payloads of 3.5 tonnes, while Ariane 5 concentrates on twin-satellite payload launches.

Ariane 5 is being up-rated with new upper stages which will increase its GTO capability from 6 tonnes to 10 tonnes, then to 12 tonnes by 2005. Flying a single 3.5-tonne satellite on Ariane 5 would be unprofitable, and the vehicle will not be able to launch two payloads of this weight until it is upgraded.

The scheme to broaden the product range offered by Arianespace emerged as the European space launcher company revealed its financial performance for last year. Arianespace posted sales of c976 million ($904 million) in 1999, compared with c1.1billion the previous year.

The revenues were generated by nine Ariane 4 and one Ariane 5 commercial launches. Net profit fell to c7.3 million , compared with c14 million in 1998, mainly due to a bigger tax bill last year.

The company achieved 10 Ariane 4 and 5 launches in 1999, with seven between August and December, after a gap caused by late delivery of satellites. Arianespace's plans call for the launch of up to eight Ariane 5 boosters a year by 2003.

Arianespace won 12 satellite launch contracts last year and, since January, has secured a further five new deals, the latest of which, for the launch of Canada's Hughes-built HS-702-based Anik F2, was signed on 30 May, bringing the number of spacecraft on its order book to 40.

Arianespace is also poised for a European Space Agency contract for six Ariane 5 launches to carry Automatic Transfer Vehicles for the International Space Station. The contract will be officially signed at the Berlin air show which starts on 6 June.

The next launch, scheduled for 25 July, will be made by an Ariane 5, carrying the Astra 2B and GE-7 satellites, after another delay in launches due to late satellite deliveries.

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