Tim Furniss/LONDON

Arianespace operations are grounded following the discovery of anomalies on satellites due to be launched. The company has made only two launches this year, out of an original schedule of 12. Arianespace is unlikely to make more than seven launches this year.

Jean Marie Luton, Arianespace president and director, says: "We are trying to adjust, to deal with the satellite availability problem."

The company was ready for a launch in April which would have carried Intelsat's New Skies K-TV1, but a potential solar cell problem delayed the launch and held up subsequent launches.

Some of the solar cells, which convert the sun's energy into electrical power, were found to be degrading more rapidly than they should. They may have been contaminated by adhesive used to fix them onto the satellites' solar arrays. Solar cells were in a batch that had been fitted to four satellites - the K-TV and AsiaStar, Ameristar and Astra 2B. Two satellites that have already been launched, fitted with a similar batch, have been unaffected.

The K-TV may not be ready for its Ariane 4 flight until late July. The problem on the AsiaStar, due for an already-delayed Ariane 504 mission, will push the flight back further. This launch, which was also due to carry a Telkom satellite, could be delayed to early in the third quarter of this year. The Ameristar, which was scheduled for the Ariane 505 mission in October, could now be delayed to next year. The Astra 2B is manifested on an Ariane 4.

Meanwhile, Arianespace reports a $2.2 billion increase in net income last year, over the previous year, and sales of $1.086 billion, a small increase over 1997. This income was generated from the launch of 15 spacecraft on 10 Ariane 4s and one Ariane 5. Arianespace's orderbook has increased to 42 satellites, following the formal signing of the contract to launch Egypt's $3.26 billion Nilesat 102.

Arianespace admits that revenues for this year will be significantly reduced if the delays continue.

Source: Flight International