The launch of Gaia is the next one from Kourou (again)

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Logo of the launch base CSG for the launch of Gaia

The launch of Gaia by a Soyuz-Fregat rocket on December 20 is the next one planned from the European launch base in Kourou, French Guiana, as the Ariane 5 ECA (V216) launch had to be delayed to 2014. For one of the two satellites planned to be lifted by that launch a technical issue was detected as reported here by SES, the owner of the second satellite: http://www.ses.com/4233325/news/2013/16333915

Arianespace really had bad luck with the readiness of its payloads this year. 11 launches were planned at the beginning of 2013 (http://www.arianespace.com/news-feature-story/2013/1-8-2013-press-conference.asp). 6 Ariane 5 were foreseen to be launched, four Soyuz-Fregat launches and one launch of the small Vega launcher. But several payloads were not ready in time for the launch. There was the slip of the Ariane 5 launch with the ATV-4 vehicle going to the ISS. Then the second Soyuz-Fregat launch for O3B was delayed into 2014 by technical issues found in the satellites launched on the Soyuz-Fregat flight earlier in the year. Another technical issue with components of both transponders of the Gaia satellite caused a delay of the launch by at least one month. And now this Ariane 5 launch AV216 has to be delayed until next year. There may have been further delays that were not announced as Arianespace does not have an official launch schedule.

The situation for Arianespace is not an easy one. There are some aspects that complicate the planning of the launches. There is the heavylift Ariane 5 which needs to loft two satellites to be profitable in most cases. These satellites have to match the payload capacity of the Ariane 5 – and both has to be ready on time. The launch base in Kourou is not really well prepared to operate three different launchers. If you switch from one launcher to another one then the range system modifications are needing at least two weeks. Having independent range systems seems to be too expensive. Things may change when the proposed Ariane 6 will replace both Ariane 5 and Soyuz-Fregat in the next decade. The Ariane 6 will be smaller than the Ariane 5 and will lift only one satellite in most launches. Having only two launchers instead of three will improve the situation. Eventually, the Ariane 6 will share some components with the small Vega launcher. Three first stages of the enhanced Vega could build the first stage of the Ariane 6. The second stage of Ariane 6 could be similar to one first stage of the Vega. But plans are not finalized yet.

Hopefully Arianespace can score successful 7 out of 11 planned launches in 2013 with the launch of Gaia on December 20. Keep the fingers crossed that the repairs of the transponders of Gaia are successful and on time. No further problems are needed. 😉

Update: Arianespace has now confirmed the postponement of flight AV216: http://www.arianespace.com/news-press-release/2013/11-13-2013-VA216-launch-postponed.asp

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