Arianespace opened a busy year of mission activity in 2014 with another Ariane 5 success today (Feb. 6) that added key numbers to the company's commercial launch services track record.
This 250th launch performed by Arianespace lifted off from the Spaceport in French Guiana, delivering a dual-satellite payload into geostationary transfer orbit: ABS-2 for global satellite operator ABS, and Athena-Fidus for the defense/homeland security needs of France and Italy – during a flight lasting just over 32 minutes.
With its growing order book, Flight VA217 is the first of up to 12 Arianespace missions planned from the Spaceport in 2014, which would mark an operational record for the company.
Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël said the ambitious launch manifest is a challenge that Arianespace is ready to meet. Recognizing the Spaceport's launch teams, he noted their role in maintaining the quality, reliability and availability of the company's Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega launcher family in a time of increased competition.
"My satisfaction is all the greater that tonight's mission is the very symbol of Arianespace's dual raison d'être," he explained in post-launch comments. "Arianespace provides Europe with a guaranteed and independent access to space; while at the same time it delivers high-quality launch services to commercial satellite operators worldwide."
Released first during Flight VA217 was the ABS-2 relay spacecraft, which had a mass at liftoff of approximately 6,330 kg. and was the first satellite for which ABS directly awarded the launch contract. As a result, Arianespace continued its support of new and developing communications market entrants, with more than 80 percent of satellite telecommunications operators selecting the company for their first launch milestones – placing the emphasis on quality, reliability and availability.
This choice comforts Arianespace as the world reference in the field of space transportation, according to Israël, who added it is especially true in the Asia-Pacific region where the company's market share is the highest – as it exceeds 60 percent.
ABS-2 was produced by SSL (Space Systems/Loral) and will deliver optimized telecommunications, direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting, multimedia, and data transmission services for Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Its operational geostationary orbital slot will be at 75° East.
Deployed at the conclusion of Flight VA217 was the Athena-Fidus payload – the 50th satellite launched by Arianespace for European defense purposes. Thales Alenia Space built the 3,080-kg.-category spacecraft as prime contractor to customer Telespazio, working on behalf of the French CNES and Italian ASI space agencies, as well as the French DGA and Italian Segredifesa defense ministry organizations. Athena-Fidus is to deliver telecommunications services to both armed forces and homeland security units in France and Italy, operated from a geostationary orbit position of 38° East.
In orbiting Athena-Fidus, Arianespace opened a key year for European institutions. Included in the company's planned 2014 mission manifest are flights for the European Commission's Galileo and Copernicus flagship programs, along with launches with the European Space Agency's final Automated Transfer Vehicle and the IXV reentry demonstrator.
Tonight's launch was the 216th flight of an Ariane-series vehicle. It marked the 72nd Ariane 5 mission overall, and the 58th consecutive success for Arianespace's workhorse heavy-lift vehicle.
The next Arianespace mission is planned for March 7, using another Ariane 5 to orbit the ASTRA 5B and Amazonas 4A relay satellites. Amazonas 4A – built by Orbital Sciences Corporation for Hispasat – arrived in French Guiana this week aboard a cargo jetliner.