Ariane on course for growth

In the late afternoon of Nov 14 a Soyuz rocket (left) on a routine flight was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia. It was the 1737th flight of the Soyuz system and placed a “Russian governmental” mission onto the target orbit. So far, so routine. But the French rocket operator Arianespace now incorporates Soyuz into its launch capability.

With the introduction of Soyuz at the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in South America, the Soyuz medium-class launch vehicle will become an integral part of the European launch vehicle fleet, together with the heavy-lift Ariane 5 and the lightweight Vega rocket. The idea is that this wider manifest of launchers will be able to bring waiting times down and boost the number of profitable launches each year. To be offered to the commercial market, “the Soyuz in French Guiana is Europe's reference medium-class launch vehicle for governmental and commercial missions,” says Arianespace.

Indeed, Arianespace sees business holding steady in 2009 with at least 12 launches despite the global economic crisis as it looks to boost business in the Middle East, its chief executive said. Jean-Yves Le Gall said revenue is expected to remain at about €1bn this year. "Our turnover this year will remain similar to last year because we have performed almost the same number of launches," he said.

Le Gall said in June the firm hoped to grow its revenue by up to 15% in 2008, from around €1 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2007. "We won 11 out of 15 launch services contracts awarded in 2008 and perhaps may win one or two more before the year ends," he told journalists Sunday in an interview at a conference in Abu Dhabi.

Arianespace is owned by 24 shareholders from 10 countries including European aerospace group EADS and its space unit Astrium, Belgium's Sabca and French industrial gases group Air Liquide.

"We have stable business and although there is a global slowdown our market share is increasing which is now 70%," he said. Asia is expected to continue contributing about one-third of the company's total revenue with repeat contracts to launch satellites likely to come from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Middle East, currently accounting for about 10% of Arianespace's total business may also increase in the next few years, he said.

"It is a very important region because of the many projects that are planned for launch and we see a lot of dynamism here," he said.

Arianespace has four orders from the Middle East including from Abu Dhabi's Yahsat, Arabsat in Riyadh, Rascom in Africa and Nilesat in Egypt.

Le Gall said he expected possibly two new orders soon. "We are in advanced discussions with two clients in this region," he said without elaborating. The launches would take place in the next three years, he added.