European launch operator Arianespace has never been busier as teams prepare for six missions concurrently - including two flights next week.

Final preparations are under way for the launch on 17 September of Europe's Metop-B weather satellite - by Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan - and the European Astra 2F and Indian GSAT-10 geostationary telecommunications satellites - by Ariane 5 from the European Space Agency's primary launch site in Kourou, French Guiana on 21 September.

 Metop-B weather satellite

 Metop-B weather satellite

Copyright: EADS

That flight - the 65th of an Ariane 5 and 209th lift-off of an Ariane-series vehicle - will be followed by a string of missions from Kourou: two Galileo navigation satellites (10 October, Soyuz); two telecommunications satellites (early November, Ariane 5); and France's Pléiades 2 very-high-resolution optical observation satellite (late November, Soyuz).

Arianespace is also engaged in long-lead activity for an Ariane 5 launch next year to orbit Europe's fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. The ATV itself, built by Astrium in Bremen, is now at sea en route to Kourou.

However, one of the - literally - biggest developments at ESA this year is on show at ILA, where EADS's Astrium spacecraft division is showing a mock-up at the Space Pavilion of the Ariane 5 ME, or Midlife Extension - improvements set for a 2016 qualification flight that will add a fifth to its 10t to geostationary orbit payload capability without increasing the launch cost. This will effectively slash the launch cost per kilo by 20% with the prospect of orbiting two 5t-plus payloads per launch.

So far this year, Arianespace has conducted four Ariane 5 missions and, with ESA, the hugely successful qualification flight in early February of the agency's all-new light launcher, Vega.

"There never has been such a high level of activity at the spaceport," says Louis Laurent, Arianespace senior vice-president programmes.

Check out our complete coverage for the ILA Airshow

Source: Flight Daily News