Launch Providers Duke it Out at Sat Conference in Paris

Atlas V launches OTV3 into orbit from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance.)
Atlas V launches OTV3 into orbit from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance.)

Earlier this week, dominant launch provider Arianespace, upstart SpaceX, failure prone Sea Launch, and surprise entrant Lockheed Martin duked it out rhetorically at the World Satellite Business Week in Paris.

Arianespace stressed its experience and reliability, SpaceX promised to start flying on a regular basis, and Lockheed Martin likely stunned everyone with an announcement that its Atlas V — a reliable workhorse for government satellites — actually won a bid for a commercial payload. And Sea Launch said it was looking for more work to do.

Arianespace announced five new contracts for the three launch vehicles that it markets:

Building on its family of three launch vehicles (Ariane 5, Soyuz, Vega) and their proven reliability and availability, Arianespace has a record backlog of orders from 26 different customers: 34 satellites to be launched by Ariane 5 into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), plus three dedicated Ariane 5 launches; 10 dedicated Soyuz launches, and four Vega launches. These launches are worth more than 4 billion euros and are equal to over three years of business for Arianespace.

Arianespace is announcing five new launch contracts at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week:

2 with DirectTV (SkyBrasil-1 and DTH)
1 with Star One (Star One D1)
1 with SkyPerfect JSAT
1 with Intelsat (Intelsat 34)

In addition to these five contracts, Arianespace was recently selected by Visiona Tecnología Espacial to launch Brazil’s Geostationary Defense and Strategic Communications Satellite (SGDC).

Since the beginning of the year, Arianespace has signed a total of 13 launch contracts, equal to 62% of the market, worth over 1 billion euros.

SpaceX — invading Arianespace’s home turf — has signed fewer launch contracts this year, which might actually be a blessing given its low flight rate and the massive backlog of satellites to launch. But, a SpaceX official said all that is about to change.


Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services (LMCLS) surprised everyone by announcing that it had won a competition to launch Mexico’s Morelos-3 (MEXSAT-2) communications satellite into space as early as 2015. And they did it the old fashioned way, by cutting prices.

Commercial contracts are rare for the Atlas V, which primarily launches U.S. military and civilian satellites. The rocket last launched a commercial satellite in 2009.

Meanwhile, Sea Launch said that it is looking to increase its launch rate and profits as it attempts to make its Zenit booster more reliable.