While Europe's Arianespace began the year with a boost to its orderbook, its US rivals have received the backing of a White House policy that sustains both evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) providers and promises private industry a bigger role in space transportation.

Arianespace has booked five new launches: EADS Astrium has signed for the Ariane 5 launch of the UK's Skynet 5A and 5B military communications satellites; and French space agency CNES has booked the launch of the Corot space observatory on the maiden Soyuz 2-1b flight from Baikonur, and the Soyuz launch of two EADS Astrium Pleiades Earth-imaging satellites from Kourou.

Arianespace managed only three Ariane 5 launches in 2004, but plans six this year. In addition, Starsem plans three commercial Soyuz launches from Baikonur. The new contracts mean Arianespace has a backlog of 40 satellites - 35 for Ariane 5, three Soyuz missions from Kourou and two from Baikonur - while Starsem has a backlog of five.

Of its US rivals, Boeing has 16 Delta launches planned for 2005 - six of them Delta IV EELVs. International Launch Services declines to reveal how many Lockheed Martin Atlas launches are planned, but its Russian partners say the joint venture plans seven Proton-M launches from Baikonur. Boeing-led Sea Launch plans six launches.

The new US space policy directs the Department of Defense to fund the fixed costs of both EELV providers, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, at least until 2010. It also instructs NASA and the DoD to recommend the preferred option for heavy-lift space exploration requirements, emphasising EELV derivatives but also evaluating new and Shuttle-derived vehicles. Citing the depressed commercial market, the White House policy encourages government departments to purchase launches from US private-sector suppliers.

Source: Flight International