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​Arianespace aims high in Asia-Pacific

Arianespace is confident about the Asia-Pacific launch market, and says 40% of Ariane 5 launch capacity in 2016 is for customers in the region. "Asia-Pacific has always been a great market,” says Jacques Breton, senior vice president of sales and business development at Arianespace.

“It's a market where we've been quite successful. Our market share in the telecommunications market is 50%, but in Asia-Pacific it's slightly above this figure, around 60%.”

Breton spoke with Flightglobal at the annual CommunicAsia event in Singapore, attended by companies in the region’s broadcasting and communications sectors.

Arianespace plans six satellite launches for the region this year. These will be spread among eight launches of the company’s flagship Ariane 5 heavy lift rocket, which can transport 10t a full-sized communication satellite and a secondary payload, or two mid-sized communications satellites to geostationary orbit 36,000km above the equator.

The next Ariane 5 launch, scheduled on 8 June, will carry a satellite named BRIsat for Indonesia’s Bank Rakyet Indonesia. Arianespace says this is the first example of a bank buying its own communications satellite – Indonesia’s scattered island geography lends itself to satellite communications.

Overall, the company has contracts in the region for 11 more satellite launches. The Asia-Pacific customers with launches booked are Telkom Indonesia, the Indian Space Research Organisation, Australia’s NBN Satellite Internet and Japan’s Sky Perfect TV.

While the preponderance of the region’s launches are aboard the heavyweight Ariane 5, Arianespace also sees niche demand for its smaller rockets, the light launcher Vega and medium Soyuz. A Soyuz flight from French Guiana can send a single, 3t communications satellite to geosynchronous orbit, but these two systems are typically deployed for smaller payloads or lower orbits – including the high-inclination, Sun-synchronous orbits of up to about 800km ideal for Earth observation.

“Countries such as South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam have national programmes for either scientific or Earth observation missions, both military and civilian,” says Breton. “These can focus on agriculture, fishing, forests, flood control and anything related to disaster management.”

On the business front, Breton agrees Arianespace has enjoyed a boost from the decline in value of the euro against the dollar, and that the company would view further euro weakening as a distinct advantage. This is especially important as Arianespace is experiencing competitive pressure from US private-sector rival Space X – which Breton labels Arianespace’s “biggest competitor.”

Another element affecting Arianespace’s launch costs is the company’s continuing restructuring since the formation of Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) in 2014. This saw ASL take 39% of the launch firm’s shares. ASL, prime contractor for Ariane 5 and its in-development successor, Ariane 6, plans to obtain French space agency CNES’s 35% stake in Arianespace, bringing its stake to nearly 75% as part of a broader plan to ensure cost-competitiveness by bringing design, build, sales and operation under one commercial roof.

The ASL plan is nothing short of a cost revolution. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 can’t match the payload capacity of Ariane 5, but it orbits smaller payloads – including mid-sized telecoms satellites – at much lower prices. An Ariane 5 flight costs €150-200 million ($165-220 million), while a Falcon 9 ride to space is available for as little as $70 million. The combination of a streamlined ASL industrial structure and modular Ariane 6, whose components will include solid fuel boosters that will double as the main stages of a next-iteration of Vega, is all geared to cutting launch costs roughly in half; Ariane 6 is expected to fly 12 times a year for €70 million per flight, starting in 2020.

“Our new corporate governance gives more responsibility to industry, and means less oversight from the space agencies – thus reducing the layer that sits on top of industry. Industry will be responsible for results, not doing day-by-day what it is told,” says Breton.

“A more efficient organisation, together with a new product, will allow us to be more competitive in this market.”

ASL’s plan to take control of Arianespace is on hold, however; in February, the European Commission launched a competition investigation, in part to examine concerns the move would disadvantage ELV, the 70-30 joint venture between Avio and Italian space agency ASI, which builds Vega.

“Apparently the process has made good progress, but we're not directly involved because it's Airbus Safran Launchers,” says Breton. “Still, I think we should see a positive conclusion in the coming months.”

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