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Arianespace Makes Positive Start To 2004

By | January 12, 2004

      Arianespace has started the year with two key launch contracts from Japanese satellite operator JSAT. Under the contract, Arianespace will launch the JCSAT-9 satellite and another future satellite.

      Commenting on the contracts, Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall told SATELLITE NEWS: “The JSAT deal is very important for us because, as you know, JSAT is one of our most important customers. It has been a terrific fight to win this contract because we had a number of competitors. We had a number of quite interesting meetings with our customer in Tokyo. Finally, we won, and this clearly shows that, in spite of a quite difficult situation in this business, Arianespace is still the leader of this business.”

      JCSAT-9 is the fifth JSAT satellite to book an Arianespace launch. Built on the Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] A2100 AX platform, it will weigh approximately 4,500 kilograms (9,921 pounds) at launch, and will be positioned at 132 degrees East Longitude. An Ariane 5 launch is scheduled around the end of 2005, from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

      With commercial orders from satellite operators still at a premium, Arianespace is delighted to have secured two key contracts so early in the year.

      At the start of 2003, the company was coming to grips with the high-profile launch failure of its Ariane 5 ECA rocket in December 2002.

      Successful 12 Months

      Arianespace has bounced back from the launch failure to have a successful 2003. According to Le Gall, the company had three objectives in 2003. First, it wanted to recover technically from the launch failure of the Ariane 5 ECA. Secondly, it wanted to be the leader in the commercial market. Thirdly, it wanted to be back in the black from a financial point of view.

      “We are back on track with the three perfect flights that we made last year with the Ariane 5 generic [rocket]. Secondly, our results are far beyond what we expected because I expected four to six contracts in 2003 and we got eight of them. We already have signed two contracts with our Japanese customers early this year, so this is very impressive. We also wanted to be back in the black and we are back in the black after three years of very heavy losses. In 2003, we restored our bottom line and this is important,” Le Gall said.

      Last year was also successful in terms of new contracts. The company gained eight out of 11 contracts, which were open for bidding last year, a figure that was above expectations. But, while the company recovered in 2003, it faces a critical few months in terms of upcoming launches. It is planning to launch four to six Ariane 5s this year. The first launch is due to take place in February when the generic Ariane 5 will send the Rosetta scientific probe into orbit. The next flight of the Ariane 5 ECA will be in the middle of this year.

      Le Gall is confident that the Ariane 5 ECA launch will be successful and admits that the operator has learned a lot over the last 12 months. “We have dramatically improved our quality control. We have committed to launch and we have to launch. We have rebuilt the economic balance of the company and now we have to confirm our technical excellence. With the next launch of the Ariane 5 ECA in the middle of this year, I think we will be definitely back on track with the strategy we defined one year ago, before the failure of the ECA. So, I am quite optimistic.”

      Landmark Deals

      Last year also saw a number of landmark agreements. Arianespace announced in July that it was teaming up with Boeing Launch Services (BLS) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) to provide a commercial service offering ensuring on-time launches for customers around the world. Le Gall believes this deal was a key one for Arianespace. “Having a family of launch vehicles is very important and having the alliance with MHI and BLS is also very important. We propose back-ups to our customers and these are real back-ups. As you know, we could not launch AMOS 2 for the time the customer wanted it launched, and finally, we proposed that they fly it on a Soyuz rocket [with Starsem] and we flew it on Dec. 28. So, this is proof that our strategy works.”

      Le Gall continued: “DirecTV wanted to launch DirecTV7S by the end of February 2004. Unfortunately, it was not possible with Ariane 5 because we have to launch Rosetta at the same time. So, we propose to put them on Sea Launch and they accepted and they will be launched exactly when they want.”

      While 2003 saw a revival in launch contracts, Le Gall does not expect a sizable increase in 2004. “We see a slow recovery of the market. We are not back to 30 spacecraft a year. We are at between 10 and 15 spacecraft a year. With this number of spacecraft we will continue to breakeven. It will probably be around 15 orders this year but no more. Our objective is to stay at around the 50 percent mark of the market. I am sure we will reach 50 percent of the market.”

      –Mark Holmes

      (Mario De Lepine, Arianespace, e-mail: )

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