Cloudy Future For Arianespace After New Rocket Fails
Kourou (AFP) Dec 12, 2002
The dominant position of European space consortium Arianespace on the world satellite launch market could be threatened by the failure of the maiden flight of a new heavyweight European rocket.
The much-awaited flight of Ariane 5-ESCA, capable of carrying a massive 10 tonnes, failed late Wednesday just three minutes after what seemed a normal takeoff, the director general of Arianespace said.
The failure came as a severe blow to Arianespace. It was the second takeoff attempt, as the maiden launch was scrubbed on November 28 in the final seconds.
The programme for the new-generation rocket which can carry a payload of two or even three satellites risks being delayed by several months just as the competition is lining up to grab the market.
Technicians had no news about the causes of the accident and Arianespace head Jean Yves Le Gall told journalists late Wednesday there would be no information before Thursday when a press conference is scheduled for 1300 GMT.
"Three minutes after takeoff, a malfunction appeared and the mission ended prematurely," he said. "Analyses will be carried out all night to find the reasons for this failure."
Junior minister for research and new technology Claudie Haignere sent a message of support to the Arianespace team, saying: "I ask you in spite of everything to turn resolutely to the future keeping confidence in the space sector."
Le Gall apologized to customers for the failure of the Ariane rocket, which was carrying two satellites: a Hotbird TM7 for the European telecoms consortium Eutelsat and Stentor, an experimental communications satellite for the French space research institute CNES.
"It's a serious setback. Our job is difficult, it's at moments like this we are cruelly reminded of it," he said at the base at Kourou in the French south American territory of Guiana. "We have already known failures, we will know more."
The Arianespace chief was unable to give details of the cost of the failed mission.
Wednesday's flop could jeopardize Arianespace's dominant position on the commercial satellites market. The Ariane 5-ESCA is the European consortium's latest weapon in its battle with Boeing and Lockheed Martin of the United States for domination of the world satellite launch market.
Ariane 5-ESCA is a modified version of the Ariane 5 which began commercial operations in 1999.
The rocket's original capacity has been boosted from 5.9 tonnes to 10 tonnes, enabling it to accommodate larger satellites and combine several of them in a single launch to slash costs.
The Ariane 5-ESCA includes several components that have never been tested in a mission before.
They include solid boosters containing more propellant to get the rocket off the ground, and a modified main-stage engine, the Vulcain 2, designed to provide enhanced combustion of liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel.
There is also a new upper stage, the part which is used to drive the satellites into a holding orbit prior to transferring them to a permanent slot.
Launch on November 28 was automatically aborted with only three seconds left on the clock after ground control computers refused to give a final OK to computers aboard the rocket.
The problem was traced to malfunctioning sensors in so-called chill-down igniters. These are safety devices that burn off accumulated hydrogen used to cool the Vulcain engine before it begins operations.
The ESCA was scheduled to be followed in 2006 by the Ariane 5-ESCB, with a capacity to shoot 12 tonnes into geostationary orbit, the most popular slot of telecoms satellites, 36,000 kilometres (22,370 miles) from the Earth.
The new launchers placed the European Space Agency (ESA) into head-to-head competition with Boeing and Lockheed Martin of the United States.
Boeing launched its new Delta 4 on November 20, while Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5 made its maiden flight on August 21.
The biggest planned configuration of the Atlas-5 will have a capacity of 8.6 tonnes, while the future Delta-4 Heavy, due for launch in 2006, will be able to take 13.1 tonnes aloft, according to its manufacturers.
The trio form the vanguard of the most powerful generation of rockets to go into space since the mighty Saturn V which hoisted the Apollo astronauts to the Moon.
Their genesis dates from a decade ago, when the market for satellite launches was booming and geostationary telecoms satellites, which account for the biggest market sector, started to become bigger and heavier.
These satellites typically weigh nearly five tonnes today, compared with two tonnes a decade ago, and some orders today are for six-tonners, as operators cram on capacity to cope with direct and radio broadcasting and Internet demand.
Analysts say the launch market has shrunk in recent years, partially as a result of the bursting of the telecoms bubble.
That has left surplus capacity in satellite transponders as well as vast amounts of unused fibre-optic cable, the alternative to satellites for transmitting big data streams.
The launch slump is likely to last until 2006 until the generation of satellites launched in the 1990s begins to age and needs replacement, according to a Paris-based consultancy, Euroconsult.
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NASA Picks Delta II To Launch Medium-Class Payloads
Washington - Dec 12, 2002
NASA has chosen the Delta II expendable launch vehicle, provided by Boeing Launch Services, Inc. to launch 19 NASA and NASA-sponsored medium-class scientific payloads between 2006 and early 2009. Boeing Launch Services, Inc. is headquartered in Huntington Beach Calif. and is a wholly owned subsidiary to The Boeing Company.
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