Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Mondale on Arianespace: Emphasize GEO

Posted: July 26, 2000

This month 41-year old Leo Mondale takes the helm of Arianespace Inc., the European launch provider's U.S. arm. Mondale succeeds Doug Heydon, who remains with the company as its chairman. But unlike Heydon Mondale is not an engineer but a marketer with previous experience at Iridium and Matra. He also has a political pedigree-his uncle was U.S. Vice President Walter "Fritz" Mondale who served in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981. Mondale worked in his uncle's campaigns and retains connections to the U.S. political world.

It is a world, however that Mondale sees changing as the space transportation community evolves. As perhaps the major player in the launch services arena, Mondale's company is well positioned to continue its strong market presence -- if it listens to the sounds of the changing marketplace and responds accordingly, he says. "Our job here has always been a sales and government relations function in what is the most important single market for space launch services," Mondale told Spacelift Washington during an interview July 17th.

Q-How will your unique background effect your leadership of Arianespace?

Mondale. Photo:
A-Well, you don't sell launch services the way you used to. The world is not as straightforward as it used to be in terms of 'apply for an FCC license, get a license, raise some money, buy the pieces, etc. It doesn't go in that order at all.

Ideas are hatched by a variety of entrepreneurs and they come to market in a much less predictable way than they used to. But they all at the end of the day do have to have licenses and they do have to have funding. They do have to have launch services and what we've found is our track record of reliability combined with our ability to take investment sharing in some of those companies. The competition is usually reliability and price, in that order. So we tend to do fairly well.

But it's the smaller projects where my background is particularly helpful, because I know what it's like to pull together the regulatory, technical, commercial, marketing and sales aspects of a new project and I think Arianespace, with its narrow focus on launch interest is perhaps in a better position to manage its role in these new ventures than our competitors.

We're simply trying to sell just launch services.

Q-How do you see your three different launchers -- Ariane, Soyuz, and Rokot -- fully addressing the shifting launch market?

A-We can't identify the U.S. market in any substantial opportunities relating to large constellations of small satellites. So the reason Arianespace entered its agreement with Eurokot is that it can access the government and smaller satellite market in Europe. The Rokot is a good vehicle and is aggressively priced. But you've got to have a payload of the right size to put on it.

Our market remains large telecom satellites into GTO, however, and by large I mean over two tons. So some of the same rationale applies to the Soyuz as well. Although they (Starsem) have found a few large commercial applications like Skybridge. You don't see projects like that developing in the U.S. right now (small satellite constellations).

Q-Are there more efficiencies to be had in Ariane 5 production and assembly to further reduce the cost of the launchers?

A-Clearly, we are in program one in three steps for optimization; i.e. reduction of costs of Ariane 5, and we are right now in the midst of the first step. So the Ariane 5 generic which is the rocket we sell today represents already a significant cost economy as compared to the Ariane 4 rocket.

The parts count (with Ariane 5) goes down dramatically. It's a much simpler, more direct and elegant design. That's step 1. In production batches 2 and 3 we're going to see 30 percent savings between the current batch and the second. And 50 percent between the current batch and the third. So a 50 percent reduction is our target for the third batch of Ariane 5 vehicles.

Q-How do you see the market for launch services evolving in the next 10 years?

A-I think that space communications in particular has a very promising future, as we look at Ka band, some of the other new developments being proposed for space-based systems. A number of these are going to be important participants in what is going to be an explosion of telecommunications, Internet, etc. So I think commercial space will remain a very healthy industry going forward.

The challenge of course is the efficiencies that we are working on in the launch area are also being pursued in the satellite end. So in particular a satellite today offers much more revenue generating capability than a satellite 10 yrs ago. I think that will also be true 10 yrs from now. So the growth in demand has to outstrip this efficiency. So it is likely we are all sharpening our pencils up and down the industry and likely that we'll see very significant economies and this will allow satellites to have a growing room and a growing market.

Arianespace is well positioned in that market. Our overriding concern today is quality. That means launching successfully and on time. If we keep ourselves focused on that I think we'll continue to be successful.

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