In 2020 and despite the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Arianespace performed 10 launches that orbited a total of 166 satellites, with lift-off masses ranging from 250 grams to 6.5 metric tonnes, in missions performed from three different launch bases: the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana; and two Russian cosmodromes at Baikonur and Vostochny.
Arianespace added seven commercial communications satellites to the Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 order backlog during the year, as well as five institutional reservations (four on the Ariane 62 version of Ariane 6, and one on the Ariane 64 version).
The new year will see even more sustained operations, including such symbolic missions as the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope for the US NASA space agency, and the first launch of Vega C – along with the continued deployment of Europe’s Galileo navigation satellites. At the same time, Arianespace and its partners are gearing up for the stable phase operations of the new Ariane 6 and Vega C launchers.
Last year also saw three unprecedented achievements, reflecting Arianespace’s ability to address changing market conditions: the launch of three satellites into geostationary transfer orbit by a single Ariane 5; the first European rideshare mission, utilizing a Vega launcher to orbit 53 small satellites (a mission supported by the European Space Agency and the European Commission); along with three Soyuz launches within one month from two different launch bases, including the first commercial launch from the new Russian cosmodrome in Vostochny, performed for the OneWeb constellation. These operations generated sales of 1 billion euros for 2020, approximately the same amount as the previous year.
Arianespace consolidated the order backlog for its family of launchers (Ariane 5, Ariane 6, Soyuz, Vega, Vega C), by signing contracts with the following customers:
- Intelsat, for the launch of three C-band satellites, including two on Ariane 5 and one on Ariane 6;
- Eutelsat, with the launch of its new-generation EUTELSAT-10B satellite on Ariane 5, and confirmation of three options on Ariane 6 defined within the framework of a contract signed in 2018;
- OneWeb, acquired by the British government and the global telecommunications operator Barthi, confirmed its order for 16 Soyuz launches, with the first already carried out on December 18, 2020;
- Airbus Defence and Space, for four CO3D satellites to be launched by Vega C; and
- Six small satellites to be launched in 2021 on the next Vega mission (designated Flight VV18), as auxiliary passengers.
Along with these commercial orders, Arianespace won two major institutional contracts: one with the European Commission in a preliminary order for four Ariane 62 launches to orbit eight Galileo satellites starting in 2022; and another with the European meteorological satellite organization, Eumetsat, which confirmed its selection of Ariane 6 to orbit its second MTG-I third-generation imaging satellite. Eumetsat also joined European agency and institutional signatories of the “Joint statement on the institutional exploitation of Ariane 6 and Vega C,” which supports a preference for European launchers on European institutional missions. It also is worth noting that Arianespace is part of the European consortium that was recently chosen by the European Commission to propose an innovative low-orbit constellation of communications satellites for both national and commercial applications. Arianespace’s backlog is now worth more than 3.2 billion euros (not including institutional pre-reservations of 2020), which is equal to more than three years of business.
Another Arianespace highlight in 2020 was the appointment of a new Executive Committee based on a management structure organised by launch system, and with a more diversified European membership.
Arianespace expects the continuation of sustained operations in 2021, using the Ariane 5, Soyuz, Vega and Vega C launch systems. In addition to the traditional missions to geostationary transfer orbit with Ariane 5 and low Earth orbit (LEO) missions with Vega, Arianespace will carry out such milestone launches as the orbital injection of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the result of a partnership with ESA; continued deployment of Europe’s Galileo global navigation satellite system using Soyuz; and the first flight of Vega C. This year also will see several multiple launches for OneWeb, using Arianespace’s three launch bases: the Guiana Space Center, Baikonur and Vostochny Cosmodromes.
Following the anomaly that occurred during the Vega mission on 16 November 2020, the launcher’s return to flight is planned for the end of the first quarter in 2021. The recommendations issued by the Independent Inquiry Commission will be implemented by Avio, Vega’s industrial prime contractor, within the scope of a task force co-chaired by Arianespace and ESA.
This year also will see ongoing preparations for the stable phase operations of Vega C and Ariane 6, following the transition phase with the first 14 Ariane 6 launchers that Arianespace ordered from industry in 2019. Under these conditions, the agreement now being drawn up with the European Commission, in conjunction with ESA, for a group order of Galileo launches (with the Ariane 62 version) and for Copernicus (with Vega C), within the scope of the 2021-2027 budget, is especially important. Commercial and institutional LEO constellation projects also offer promising prospects.
Once operations are in the stable phase, Ariane 6 will be able to carry out all types of missions requested by customers, from multiple launches of smallsats to dedicated launches of heavy payloads into geostationary transfer orbit, as well as the deployment of large constellations. In addition, for the first time in Europe, Ariane 6 – with its restartable upper stage – will be able to handle exploration missions to the Moon and even Mars. Vega C will further consolidate this offering of launch services for payloads up to 2,350 kg. into low Earth orbit.
Arianespace has launched nearly 800 satellites since 1980 for more than 100 customers from around the world, both commercial and institutional, thus making a major contribution to our understanding of space, safeguarding our planet and improving telecommunications and navigation to make life better on Earth. Arianespace currently operates Ariane, Soyuz and Vega launchers from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana (South America) and – in partnership with Starsem – the Soyuz launcher from the Russian cosmodromes in Baikonur and Vostochny. Arianespace will soon be operating the new-generation launchers developed by ESA: Vega C beginning in 2021; and Ariane 6 starting in 2022.