Compiled by Tim Furniss/LONDON The futures of several launchers could be decided over the next 12 months


THE NEXT YEAR will be critical for the future of several launch vehicles. Europe's Ariane 5 is due to have its maiden flight in 1996. Commercial operations by Arianespace, are scheduled to begin after two European Space Agency-funded development flights. Arianespace may regret its decision to retire its successful workhorse, the Ariane 4, should there be problems with Ariane 5.

China needs a successful commercial Long March 2E flight, possibly in October - carrying the Asiasat 2 - to restore confidence. The explanations of two 2E failures involving Hughes satellites have been unsatisfactory.

The US small-launcher industry will be waiting anxiously for the maiden flight of the Conestoga vehicle, in October, following Pegasus and Lockheed Launch Vehicle failures. These vehicles support a commercial market for launches into low-Earth orbit which, despite the hyperbole, has yet to materialise. This has been demonstrated by the demise of the Amroc and other planned US small-launcher programmes.

The USA continues to rely on its traditional, larger workhorses, the Atlas, Titan and Delta. While there are plans to develop a new fleet of launchers, under the evolved extendable launch vehicle (EELV) and X-33 and X-34 programmes, budget restraints may stall quick development, as it has in previous planned programmes.

The Space Shuttle is not the vehicle it was advertised to be, in terms of launch rates and payload capability. There is also too much dependence on the Shuttle for the tenuous Alpha space-station programme.

Russian efforts in the commercial arena have been boosted significantly by links with the USA in marketing the Proton, but the vehicle has still to make its maiden commercial flight, which is scheduled for 1996.

Source: Flight International