Launch 2020: Europe’s Ambitions Frustrated by Pandemic, Booster Failure

The Ariane 5 for Flight VA251 departs the Spaceport’s ELA-3 launch zone with its EUTELSAT KONNECT and GSAT-30 satellite passengers. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a tough one for Europe in terms of launches. The COVID-19 pandemic closed the Guiana Space Centre for extended periods. And the most troubled of the three rockets launched from the spaceport had another bad day.

Despite the problems, there were seven launches from French Guiana in 2020, with six successes and one failure. Five of the flights involved European rockets, and two others were Russian Soyuz boosters.

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Arianespace Sees Opportunity in Proton Failure, Falcon 9 Delays

Ariane 5 lifts off from Kourou.Space News reports that Arianespace is trying to lure customers to use the Ariane 5 rocket in the wake of last week’s failure of a Proton rocket and schedule delays suffered by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket:

Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium is ready to add one or two Ariane 5 launches to its 2014 manifest if commercial customers make themselves known quickly enough, the Evry, France-based company said July 2…

Russia’s Proton, marketed commercially by International Launch Services (ILS) of Reston, Va., is the biggest competitor to Ariane 5 for launching satellites in the 6,000-kilogram weight class….

Most Ariane 5 flights need a lighter satellite to fill the rocket’s bottom slot, and for this class of satellite Arianespace is eyeing delays in the debut of the upgraded Falcon 9 rocket for possible 2014 customers.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., is expected to debut the new Falcon 9 this summer before moving to commercial launches of telecommunications satellites operating in geostationary orbit.

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When Quality Counts: Arianespace Reaffirms its North American Market Presence

Ariane 5 lifts off from Kourou.EVRY, FRANCE (Arianespace PR) — The value, reliability and on-time delivery of Arianespace’s services have resulted in multiple payload launch contracts from all major U.S.-based television broadcast and telecommunications providers – including the latest agreement with Intelsat announced this week.

In addition to Intelsat’s new accord for the orbiting of three satellites on Ariane 5 missions through 2017, three other U.S. operators that have endorsed Arianespace with key agreements are DIRECTV, EchoStar Corp. and O3b Networks Limited.

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France Invests $710 Million in Ariane Successor, Satellite Programs

Ariane 5 lifts off from Kourou.

France To Invest $710 Million in Space Competitiveness
Space News

The French government on March 23 announced four launch vehicle and satellite projects that will receive a combined 500 million euros ($710 million) in state aid as part of a government bond issue designed to spur innovation.

The four projects are a next-generation rocket to succeed today’s Ariane 5 and Europeanized Soyuz vehicles; an ocean-altimetry satellite mission to be conducted with the United States; an upgraded multimission microsatellite platform for satellites weighing around 200 kilograms at launch; and investment in new telecommunications satellite technologies to keep French industry competitive on the world marketplace.

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Behind the Numbers: Russia Rules Launch Roost, China Ties U.S. for Second

The FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation: 2010 Year In Review report has some interesting charts and tables that show the state of the global launch market. Russia leads the world in all categories, with the United States a distance third in commercial launches and not too far behind in non-commercial ones. China tied the U.S. for the first time with 15 launches, none of them commercial. Europe launched six Ariane V commercial missions. As for the rest of the world, there were all of seven launches, three of which sent their payloads to swim with the fishes. (Sorry South Korea and India. May 2011 be a much better year.)

But, that’s just the top level analysis. There’s much, much more. Follow me down below as we go Behind the Numbers…

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The High Cost of Reaching the High Frontier

The table above is adapted from data in the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation: 2010 Year In Review report. Shown are data on commercial rockets for which there is information on launch costs. I also added in mission types (LEO, GEO and SSO) for those launches with price information. Note that for the Rockot, Soyuz 2 and Proton M, there were some flights for which there is no price information.

These figures provide us with a good guide to what getting into orbit costs and the competitive positions of the various providers. A few things to note:

  • The commercial rocket field is dominated by Russia, the United States and Europe. Dnepr is a Ukrainian rocket launched from Russia.
  • Aside from the parties listed above, no other country launched a commercial orbital flight last year.
  • Proton has the highest payload capacity to LEO, but it launches less to GTO than Ariane 5 and Delta IV Medium + (4,2) .
  • Proton prices for GEO missions are the lowest at $85 million. However,certain Proton flights are priced at $100 million, which is comparable to the Delta IV Medium + (4,2).
  • Falcon 9 is competitive with Soyuz 2 on price to LEO and can haul larger payloads to both LEO and GTO. However, there is a large flight history gap: Soyuz 2 traces its lineage back to 1966 while Falcon 9 entered service only last year.
  • Falcon 9 has a comparable payload to the Delta IV Medium + (4,2) to LEO. However, it has a somewhat smaller payload to GTO.
  • Dnepr and Rockot are both modified Soviet-era ICBMs serving the low end of the LEO market.