Guiana Update: Soyuz Delayed, Vega Progresses and Arianespace Deepens Relationship With ISRO

Europe’s efforts to add two new launchers to its spaceport in French Guiana are proceeding, although not at the pace everyone would like. Meanwhile, Arianespace will be expanding its rocket co-marketing relationship with ISRO.

Space News reports that the long-delayed first launch of the Soyuz rocket from South America will have to wait a little bit longer:

The European version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket will not make its inaugural flight until the spring of 2011 and may be further delayed depending on which of two government customers is selected for the flight, the head of Europe’s Arianespace launch services consortium said Sept. 7.

Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said the Hylas consumer broadband satellite owned by Avanti Communications of London, which had been set for the inaugural Soyuz flight from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport, will now be launched in late November as a co-passenger on Europe’s Ariane 5 ECA heavy-lift rocket….

The introduction of the medium-lift Soyuz rocket to the Guiana center has been delayed on multiple occasions, with the arrival and construction of a mobile gantry being the main cause of the delays.

The French government is paying for upgrades to the Russian rocket, which is also launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Europe's Vega launcher, set to lift-off from Kourou in 2011.

Meanwhile, ESA is moving ahead with work on the Vega launcher, which will be capable of placing 1.5 metric ton payloads into a low polar orbit. ESA reports:

As Vega’s development is coming to an end with the qualification flight scheduled in 2011, two contracts were signed to allow the project to move on to the next phase.

Yesterday ESA and Arianespace signed the work order for production of the first Vega launcher, after qualification, as part of the Vega flexibility demonstration flights frame contract signed in December 2009.

At the same ceremony, Arianespace and the ELV company (European Launch Vehicle, Avio Group) concluded a frame contract for five launch vehicles with a firm order for one.

Antonio Fabrizi, ESA Director of Launchers, Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace and Francesco De Pasquale, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ELV SpA, signed the contracts during a ceremony in Paris, France.

“This signature is a major milestone in the Vega programme as it marks the transition from the development phase to the exploitation phase and safeguards the schedule of the first Vega user missions of ESA,”said Mr Fabrizi.

“Together with Ariane-5 and Soyuz, Vega will contribute to providing Europe with the full range of launch services required for Europe’s institutional and commercial missions with greater flexibility.”

The Vega launcher development is currently undergoing the final test campaign at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, to verify the operational readiness of the overall launch system.

The ‘VERTA’ (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment) programme covers a batch of five missions designed to demonstrate the flexibility of the Vega launch system. At a planned rate of two launches per year, the programme will allow the smooth introduction of Vega for commercial exploitation.

Altogether, seven ESA Member States (Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden) are contributing to the programme. The industrial prime contractor of the Vega launch vehicle is the company ELV SpA, 70% of which is owned by AVIO SpA and 30% by the Italian space agency, ASI.

ELV is responsible for the full development and the production of the Vega launcher and for its delivery and integration at the launch site. As the future Vega launch service provider, Arianespace is responsible for Vega launch operations.

ISRO's PSLV-C15 rocket
ISRO's PSLV-C15 rocket lifts off with five satellites aboard on July 12, 2010.

In a related move, Arianespace is moving to deepen a co-marketing relationship with the Indian space agency. The Hindu reports:

Arianespace, the big brother of global satellite launch providers, plans to co-market its long-term associate ISRO’s PSLV, as a future ‘back-up’ for its third rocket, the new light-lift Vega, according to Arianespace’s Chairman and CEO, Mr Jean-Yves Le Gall. Vega is due to be tested this year.

His company also wants to include ISRO’s bigger GSLV rocket in their old joint-marketing agreement once the GSLV reaches commercial stage, Mr Le Gall told Business Line. He was in Bangalore for the just-ended CII-ISRO conference — the Bengaluru Space Expo 2010.

The France-led European major and ISRO tied up in 1998 to jointly bid for launch contracts or for Arianespace to pass on its surplus low-end orders to PSLV. Ariane 5, its workhorse vehicle, has a huge backlog and is booked for the next three years, while it also focuses on hoisting large satellites weighing 6 to 10 tonnes.

Vega, Arianespace’s third vehicle, is expected to make its first flight later this year or in 2011, and is meant to put 1500-kg class Earth observation satellites in near-Earth orbits. The PSLV, which costs at least 20-30 per cent less than others, is believed to be an attractive choice worldwide. Europe and the US apart, only Russia, Japan, India and China, have commercial launch capabilities. One report estimated the global launchers market at $4 billion in 2008.

India successfully tested the second stage of the GLSV rocket on Wednesday.