Arianespace Wraps Up Record Launch Year

Arianespace’s Soyuz lifts off from the Spaceport’s ELS launch facility during the daytime launch with four more connectivity satellites for O3b Networks.  (Credit: Arianespace)
Arianespace’s Soyuz lifts off from the Spaceport’s ELS launch facility during the daytime launch with four more connectivity satellites for O3b Networks. (Credit: Arianespace)

Arianespace continues the momentum for O3b Networks,
and sets new operational benchmarks on its latest Soyuz success.

KOUROU, French Guiana (Arianespace PR) — Thursday’s medium-lift Soyuz mission, which deployed the next four satellites for O3b Networks’ pioneering connectivity service on a flight performed from the Spaceport in French Guiana, wrapped up an historic 12 months of commercial launch services for Arianespace.

The 2-hr., 22-min. flight began with the propulsion of Soyuz’ basic three-stage launch vehicle, and was followed by multiple burns of its Fregat upper stage. O3b Networks’ four satellites were released in two phases from a dispenser system atop the Fregat stage.

This launch success – which had a total payload lift performance of more than 3,180 kg. – continues the strong partnership between Arianespace and O3b Networks. It follows Arianespace Soyuz missions in July 2014 and June 2013 that orbited the customer’s first eight spacecraft in batches of four each – enabling O3b Networks to become fully operational.

With its roll-out of services on a global basis in September 2014, O3b Networks offers a system that combines the reach of satellite with the speed of fiber – providing customers with affordable, low latency, high bandwidth connectivity. The constellation is fully scalable to meet market demand and operates from a medium-orbit altitude of 8,062 km., with O3b’s spacecraft all designed, integrated and tested by Thales Alenia Space.
The afternoon launch provided an excellent view of Arianespace’s medium-lift Soyuz as it departed French Guiana on today’s year-ending mission.

The afternoon launch provided an excellent view of Arianespace’s medium-lift Soyuz as it departed French Guiana on today’s year-ending mission.

A Record Year of Launch Services

With the year-ending Flight VS10, Arianespace confirmed the company’s role as a global launch services leader by once again living up to its unofficial motto: “Any mass, any time, any orbit.”

Today’s success was of particular significance for Arianespace, as the four spacecraft lofted by Soyuz today surpassed the 500-satellite-launched milestone since the company’s creation in 1980.

Over the past 12 months, Arianespace carried out 11 launches and orbited 23 satellites from the Spaceport using 6 heavy-lift Ariane 5s, 4 Soyuz and one Vega light-lift vehicle – a new milestone since the introduction of this full launcher family at French Guiana.

Individual records broken during this activity included the largest payload mass delivered to geostationary transfer orbit (10.3 metric tons on Ariane 5’s February 6 mission with ABS-2 and Athena-Fidus); the heaviest payload ever launched by Europe (ATV Georges Lemaître, lofted by Ariane 5 on July 29); and a new cumulative payload lift performance for a single year (75 tons).

  • windbourne

    Good for them.
    Now the question is, how does the next couple of years look?
    One thing about them, is that they hate to go public with information.

  • jb

    Amazing how they have record launch one year but realize they could be shut out in 5 years time in new launch contracts. A
    fast evolving launch market. jb

  • Tonya

    There’s little question of being locked out, it’s more a question of will they still need to provide an operational subsidy.

  • Tonya

    Well something that didn’t seem to be picked up on much with the A6 numbers, is that there’s a significant cut in overall capacity. They’re not projecting anywhere near the same level of commercial launches.

  • jb

    if Spacex is successful with the 1st stage landing, that changes everything for all concerned. (assuming F9 stays fault free) The developers need to rethink their rocket design and invest in new reusable systems. Will be fun to watch the evolution. and it should happen FAST!!
    jb

  • Tonya

    Well the only reference we have from SpaceX (via Elon) on price impact, is that first stage reusability could lower costs by up to 25%. I don’t know if he or Gwynne have expanded on that since, it was quite some time ago.

    I would be surprised if we saw much more of a reduction than that over the next decade, as SpaceX themselves also need to protect their revenue. There are only so many medium class payloads in the world per year, and the nature of those payloads means that that market won’t expand that rapidly.

    Just looking at the business case, as long as they have a backlog of launches, why would they cut their prices, rather than enjoy improved margins and reinvest?

  • jb

    agreed there..but if Reusablilties works the possiblilty to lower rates should scare others to rethink their current business plan…

  • windbourne

    Musk and various ppl at SpaceX have said a variety of things about how re-usability will impact them.
    However, I suspect that re-usability will drop their costs by more than 25%.
    The reason is that the first stage has 9/10s of the engines, has the main body with bigger tank, etc. Yeah, avionics are (possibly WERE) in the second stage, but SpaceX is building their own. They will be cheap soon. Heck, rather than use rad-hard chips, they elected to use regular chips but with quality checks in the OS. As such, their avionics are quite a bit cheaper than other companies.
    As such, if they re-use the first stage for 10 flights alone, and assuming that the refurbisment/testing/whatever adds some 10% to each launch, that means that the first stage costs about 20% of the original costs (10% of 80% + 10% for testing), which means that their costs go way down.

    Of course, just because costs go down does NOT mean that prices will drop by the same amount. It is not in their benefit to do so since they want to develop raptor, bfr, mct, etc. That costs money. As such, I think that they will drop prices by maybe 25%, and pocket the rest. As I have suggested before, hopefully, they will consider grabbing the money that the insurance companies make on this. If they offer up insurance as part of the deal, and then drop their prices by 1/2 of that normal insurance costs, they just keep cleaning up.

  • Jim R

    6 Ariane 5 launches seem to be the same as before, if they want to count Soyuz, then this is also the first time in many years that they have a major failure.

  • Kapitalist

    Maybe the upper stage could be reused in space, without landing on Earth. It could maybe provide station keeping to a satellite in GEO or take down a big piece of space debris from LEO. Landing it on Earth requires a heat shield, a huge trajectory change and other big overhead. Why insist on bringing stuff back home which has been laboriously put up in orbit to begin with? Reuse it where it ends up, I would propose.

  • Matt

    I think you forgot the impact of reuse on payload reduction (30-40% for full return flight) in your costs estimations, which increases the mass specific launch costs. 10% for refurbishment and all other reuse processes is may be too low.

  • windbourne

    Hey, that is a clever idea. Basically turn it into a tug with solar panel and docking on the end.. U would still need a fuel depot, which maybe FH could provide.
    With spacex r&d spread out heavily, it would be interesting to see ula or airbus chase that down. And both have LH2 instead of rp-1.

  • windbourne

    U are right about cargo load. I did forget it. However, correct me if I am wrong but whether a sat is 3/4 of the max, or full max, they will still pay full price unless there are secondary loads onboard.

    Also, was 30-40% for first stage only, or both stages?

    As to refurbishment, I would be amazed if it was over 10%. Keep in mind that they do plenty of tests on these including static fires. They do not undergo expensive refurbishment between fires.

  • Vladislaw

    I believe the reusablity will really be for cargo runs to the ISS and to Bigelow Aerospace facilities. NASA is currently paying 133mil per flight of the F9/Dragon. If that can be cut in half it will increase the turn around time for doing experiments in space.

  • Paul451

    Maybe the upper stage could be reused in space, without landing on Earth.

    To reuse the upper stage in orbit, you need to refuel the upper stage in orbit, which means putting fuel on another launch and hence having another upper stage in orbit…

    Once you have full reusability, using near-end-of-life components to launch fuel makes sense. (Fuel is cheap cargo on Earth, only valuable in space, worth launching but doesn’t matter if the launch fails and you have to replace that “cargo”). That’s when it makes sense to have a reusable/refuelable EOR booster stage.

    However, by the time that’s all ready, SpaceX would be flying their next bigger launcher. So creating a refuelable booster stage increases the GEO payload of F9 to 10-13 tonnes, but requires two or three launches. By the time the booster is ready, FH will have been flying for two years, sending 15-20 tonnes to GEO. Likewise, by the time FH is fully reusable, MCT should be flying.

    Only then (assuming they’re not going even bigger) is it worth taking a moment to look around and say, can we use reusable hardware in space to make more effective use of our launch capacity.

    It could maybe provide station keeping to a satellite in GEO

    Cryo oxidiser and wrong kind of engine.

  • Kapitalist

    I don’t think refueling an upper stage is a practical idea. Might as well put an engine on that fuel launched, and skip docking and fuel transfer. I was thinking about a single secondary mission for an upper stage, using the excess fuel it was launched with. And I don’t think an upper stage is very useful in orbit. Maybe it could take down some junk, but who wants to pay for doing that? Satellites better take care of their own station keeping. If it gets so old that it has consumed its own fuel, it’s about time to replace it with new technology anyway.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “Only then (assuming they’re not going even bigger) is it worth taking a moment to look around and say, can we use reusable hardware in space to make more effective use of our launch capacity.”
    Agreed. In the long term, the only cost efficient destination for launches is LEO. To go further (GEO and beyond), then use in space reusable hardware.

    “[This seems to be why Musk has abandoned making the F9 upper stage reusable. The complexity is obviously greater than he initially thought, and he realises that by the time he has finished it, he’ll no longer be flying F9 anyway.]”

    Yes!.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    It is my impression that the 25% refers to a single reuse.
    Imagine this scenario: Land booster at launch site, return to integration hangar, back to pad for test fire, refuel, relaunch, repeat 100+ times. When sensors/inspectors say so, take booster to refurbishment hangar, replace some or all engines, then reuse structure, tanks, legs, electronics another thousand times. I find it hard to believe that reuse of this sort will reduce costs by only 25%.

    Shotwell has stated the hope that launch prices may dip down to $5-$7million. Whether that was based on earlier expectations of the F9 architecture or some other system, is unknown. Either way that is on the order of a 90% reduction, so there’s little point in fixating too much on the 25% number.

  • Vladislaw

    That 5-7 million was for total reusablity. Musk stated in the MIT interview that total reusablity with the F9 configuration was not really doable for the second stage. He did say that the next system after falcon series.. the new heavy lift would go for total reuse.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Yes, but the point I was hoping to convey was that the number of 25% does not necessarily refer to repeated reuse of the first stage. There is surely some considerable financial difference between using a first stage twice (i.e. one reuse) and using a first stage 10 times (i.e. 9 reuses).

  • Matt

    30-40% only for first stage refly. 30% was a number that Elon said somewhere (15% for barge landing). My own calculations were between 30 and 40%. Status in respect to both stage reusable and flown: At present 100% payload loss, would I guess (no caculation made, assumptions too uncertain). An open question is the reliability of a reused stage. Only experiences can tell us.