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Arianespace Optimistic Despite Rosetta Delay

By | January 29, 2003

      Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall expects a decision on the launch of the Rosetta scientific satellite to take place in the next three months. Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Jan. 14 that the launch was being postponed.

      Le Gall told Interspace: “In terms of the Rosetta launch, I think we will have a better view in two to three months time. This will depend on the decisions taken by the scientists about the launch window. It is very expensive work that is being undergone by ESA to determine a new launch window. Once we get the launch window, we will launch the rocket.”

      The delay in the launch of Rosetta is a further blow to Arianespace as it comes to grips with the failure of its next-generation Ariane 5 rocket to launch Eutelsat’s HOT BIRD 7 satellite and Stentor, a space telecoms and technology demonstrator satellite for French space agency CNES, into orbit last month.

      Commenting on the decision to delay the Rosetta launch, Le Gall said: “We would have to wait for almost two hours in a ballistic phase and at the end of this ballistic phase, we planned to ignite the engine upper stage. We had some concerns over the evaluation of this particular phase, because this specific phase is quite complicated. The thermal conditions of the upper stage are critical for the ignition of the engine.”

      He continued: “Secondly, we are going to cross a part of space with very high-energy protons, and so we must be very careful on this part of the mission and being very careful means to proceed with very detailed analysis. What we have seen in the very extensive reviews in the past few weeks, is that the methods that were used to perform this analysis are not perfect. So, we decided to postpone the Rosetta mission.”

      As a result, an independent review board, which will be chaired by the inspector general of ESA, continues to look into issues concerning the launch. The board will be comprised of a number of highly-qualified professionals coming from different companies, as well as from Arianespace. It will start its work with the generic Ariane 5, but Le Gall does not believe this will interfere with its schedule of launches for the Ariane 5. “We will apply this, in particular, to the Rosetta mission. We will then finish with the Ariane 5 ECA [the heavy lifting 10-tonne version] returning to flight qualification.”

      Despite the recent mission failure and the delay of Rosetta, Le Gall is still positive that the stringent review process will not delay Arianespace too long. “There will be delays of the biggest Ariane 5 version of a few months. Our global schedule will be delayed but we will deal with this. The major challenges for the company is to be back to flight as soon as possible. We need to continue with our commercial success. Last year, in a total of 15 commercial contracts, we got 11 out of the 15. This is excellent. We have an action plan to be back in the black by 2003. Depending on the agreement we reach with ESA on the recovery plan of Ariane 5, we are still sticking to this target,” he said.

      Le Gall still expects that Arianespace will be able to launch its 10-tonne Ariane 5 later this year. The inquiry board, which reported its findings earlier this month (see Interspace issue 760), found a problem in the Vulcain 2 engine nozzle’s cooling circuit.

      “Failure is always a surprise. The reason for the failure was also a surprise. The positive point is that we clearly understood the origin of the failure and now we are working very hard to correct this difficulty and I am quite confident that we will be on time for respective commitments to our customers,” Le Gall observed.

      Despite these setbacks, Le Gall remains positive. “There are intrinsic difficulties in the space business. I can tell you I have had a lot of phone calls from our customers and they told me they appreciate us. In these difficult times, we have been reactive to situations. We implemented the inquiry board just two days after the failure. We are completely committed. We are comfortable that despite of the failure of the biggest version of Ariane 5, we will guarantee the continuation of launch services through the generic Ariane 5 using the Vulcain 1 engine.”

      –Mark Holmes

      (Contact: Claude Sanchez, Arianespace, C.sanchez@arianespace.fr)