WASHINGTON — Arianespace will launch the United Arab Emirates’ Falcon Eye 2 reconnaissance satellite on a Soyuz in March instead of waiting for the company’s much smaller Vega rocket to return to flight, Arianespace and Airbus Defence and Space told SpaceNews.
Vega has been grounded since a July failure that destroyed the UAE’s Falcon Eye 1 satellite, resulting in a record $415 million insurance claim. Prior to the failure, Vega was scheduled to launch again in November carrying Falcon Eye 2.
Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, said Airbus, the satellite’s manufacturer, asked to switch from Vega to Soyuz to avoid further delays getting Falcon Eye 2 into orbit.
“The customer has decided to go to this backup solution, and it’s definitely linked to the capability that was offered by Soyuz to be launched earlier than Vega,” Israël said in a Jan. 7 interview.
Airbus arranged the launch contracts for both satellites as part of a contract it signed with the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces in 2013. Israël said the launch contract included the option to switch from Vega to Soyuz.
Airbus spokesperson Jeremy Close confirmed the switch Jan. 10, saying the transfer to Soyuz was about schedule, not a distrust of Vega.
“Falcon-Eye has been designed with launcher flexibility and is compatible with both Vega and Soyuz rockets,” Close said. “In order to reach orbit as soon as possible and start its mission for the UAE, it has been decided that Falcon Eye-2 would be launched on a Soyuz rocket.”
Falcon Eye 2 is identical to the Falcon Eye 1 satellite, equipped with an optical imaging payload for military and commercial applications. The 1,200-kilogram satellite will launch in March, Close said.
Vega is scheduled to return to flight the same month carrying 42 smallsats for a dedicated rideshare mission called the Small Spacecraft Mission Service, or SSMS. Given Vega’s historical launch rates, sticking with Vega would likely have cost Falcon Eye 2 at least a few months additional wait.
Israël said the Falcon Eye 2 mission will be Arianespace’s first Soyuz launch of the year, and will take place from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.
Arianespace has 12 Soyuz launches scheduled this year — Falcon Eye 2, the French military’s CSO-2 imaging satellite, and 10 launches for internet megaconstellation startup OneWeb.
The European launch company is targeting a record 22 launches total, comprised of five Ariane 5s, 12 Soyuz, two Vega rockets, two Vega C rockets and the maiden flight of the Ariane 6.
Launch of Soyuz rocket from Kourou spaceport delayed over problem in booster — source
The launch of the UAE’s Falcon Eye 2 satellite atop a Soyuz-ST carrier rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana has been rescheduled from March 6 for March 7 over a problem with a cable in the Fregat booster, a source in the space industry told TASS on Thursday.
"A problem in one of the booster’s cables was revealed during the pre-launch tests of the carrier rocket’s electrical equipment," the source specified.
A source in the Russian space industry told TASS earlier on Thursday that the lift-off of the United Arab Emirates’ Falcon Eye 2 for electro-optical reconnaissance had been tentatively delayed for 24 hours over problems with the rocket’s booster.
The launch may be delayed for a longer period. A final decision will be made after a repeat of the rocket’s major tests, the source added.
Arianespace satellite launch company earlier reported that at least three blast-offs had been scheduled from the Kourou spaceport using Russian Soyuz carrier rockets. Next on the list is the launch of the second military satellite CSO-2 for France (CSO-1 lifted off in December 2019 atop a Soyuz ST-A rocket). Arianespace also expects to orbit two more groups of OneWeb satellites with the help of Soyuz launch vehicles from the Kourou spaceport in 2020.
Soyuz rocket launch from Kourou spaceport scheduled for April 14
The launch of the UAE’s Falcon Eye 2 satellite atop a Soyuz-ST carrier rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, which had initially been scheduled for March 6 but was delayed, will be carried out on April 14, a source in the space industry told TASS.
"The launch of the Soyuz-ST carrier rocket from the Kourou spaceport is scheduled for April 14," the source said.
The lift-off of the Soyuz-ST carrier rocket with the Falcon Eye 2 optical observation satellite was due to take place at 4:33 a.m. Moscow Time on March 6. Later a source in the space industry told TASS that the launch had been delayed over problems with the Fregat booster.
Despite Russia’s readiness to carry out the launch, the customer and Arianespace company made a decision to replace the booster and postpone the blast-off preliminarily until early April.
The source noted that the booster would be replaced with another Fregat.
Earlier, a source told TASS that Russian specialists were working at the space center in French Guiana where anti-coronavirus measures were introduced after several cases had been detected in a community near Kourou. All contacts with foreign personnel will be carried out via telecommunications technologies.