Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Franco-Russian venture Starsem has been cleared to launch a Soyuz booster from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, this month.

The launch had been jeopardised when the Kazakh Government banned all launches from Baikonur after the 27 October Proton booster failure - the second recently.

Starsem president Jean-Yves Le Gall says Kazakh authorities later relented and lifted the ban on all but Proton launches from Baikonur. The company hopes to conduct its sixth Soyuz commercial satellite launch on 22 November.

As with the first five launches, made between February and October, the sixth flight will carry three Globalstar satellites and use Starsem's basic Soyuz launcher with an Ikar upper stage.

Four launches planned for next year will use the uprated Fregat upper stage now under development. Starsem has a European Space Agency (ESA) contract to launch four Cluster II science satellites on two Soyuz-Fregat boosters next June and July.

In January and March the first two Soyuz-Fregat will be launched, one with a dummy payload and one a dress rehearsal carrying a Cluster II mock-up.

Starsem also has an ESA contract for the Soyuz-Fregat launch of the Mars Express probe in June 2003. Globalstar, meanwhile, has placed orders for the Soyuz-Ikar launch of four satellites in 2001, plus options on two more launches to carry another eight.

Le Gall says Paris-based Starsem, owned by Aerospatiale Matra, Arianespace, the Russian Space Agency and Soyuz manufacturer Samara Space Centre, will fly the improved Soyuz/ST in 2001. This features an enlarged Ariane IV-type payload fairing, as well as redesigned injectors in the first and second stage engines, a strengthened first stage, a stretched and reinforced third stage and an Ikar or Fregat upper stage.

Starsem is moving towards a closer marketing alliance with Arianespace, says Le Gall. Studies of the feasibility and cost of operating the Soyuz from the Ariane launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, have been completed. A third phase is under way to see if there is a market, he says.

The Soyuz-Fregat would be able carry 2t into geostationary transfer orbit from Kourou, compared with 1.2-1.3t from Baikonur, says Le Gall. He adds that it would cost $200-300 million and take three to four years to build a new launch pad at the equatorial site.

Source: Flight International