Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Arianespace posts $185 million loss for 2000

Posted: January 11, 2001

Luton displays the updated Arianespace logo. Photo: Arianespace
Arianespace reports it lost money last year, the first time the European launch services firm's annual earnings have wound up in the red during its 20-year history. But officials say they are optimistic that mark will not be repeated in 2001 with plans to reduce operating costs.

Just as officials made the financial statement in a press conference, Arianespace announced it has inked new contracts to launch four communications satellites aboard an Ariane rockets.

Arianespace Chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Luton said the company's 2000 revenue was about $1 billion, which was generated by the year's 12 launches with 16 satellites. He blamed the projected $185 million loss in 2000 on several factors, such as flying the first batch of Ariane 5 rockets ever manufactured, which had high production costs.

Other reasons cited included the decreased uses of the Ariane 4 rocket on dual satellite launch missions, mainly due to the increased weight of the newer generation satellites and the mass-to-orbit capabilities of the older Ariane 4, the operating of the Ariane 4 and Ariane 5 rockets in tandem and the continued monetary hit on Arianespace budgets from necessary upgrades taking place for the Ariane 5 rocket.

  Ariane 5
File image of Ariane 5 rocket launch. Photo: Arianespace
However, Luton expressed optimism as he encouraged the Arianespace contractors and workforce to prevent such a shortfall in 2001.

"We will do everything in our power to break even in 2001, and this will require a major effort by everyone involved in the Ariane system," Luton said.

"We will need the continued support of European governments for development programs and financing the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana: there must be no letup in this effort, especially with increasingly fierce competition looming ahead. This support must be comparable to that provided by governments to other operators around the world -- particularly in the U.S. -- if we are to operate on a level playing field."

During 2000, launch contracts for 25 payloads were secured for Arianespace launches predominately on the company's Ariane 5 rockets. The payload list includes 15 telecommunications satellites, one scientific satellite and nine cargo launches to the international space station for the European Space Agency.

"According to our calculations, the 15 telecom satellite contracts accounted for over half of all orders signed for such spacecraft worldwide in the last 12 months," Luton noted.

Luton then announced that Arianespace's goal in 2001 and following years is simple: to maintain their rate of signing around half of all communications satellites to launches using Ariane 4 or 5.

  Ariane 4
An Ariane 4 rocket blasts off in 2000. Photo: Arianespace
Meanwhile, the four new launch contracts announced this week cover one American satellite, two spacecraft from India and one from Israel.

From the United States, DirecTV-4S will broadcast direct-to-home services its users. The craft, built by Boeing Satellite Systems, will broadcast such programming as local television channels across the United States from the five-ton satellite's perch above the Galapagos Islands. Arianespace says it is possible for this payload to be launched as early as late this year.

Insat 3A and Insat 3E are now tagged to an Ariane vehicle, awaiting launches in late 2001 and late 2002, respectively. Once in orbit, Insat 3A will broadcast communications services and provide weather monitoring, while Insat 3E will focus strictly on telecommunications.

The Israeli communications satellite, Amos 2, will serve users with digital broadcasting. It is scheduled to be launched in either late 2002 or early 2003, and it will be positioned high above the Gulf of Guinea, where it can reach users around the Middle East.

These latest four satellites clinched for Arianespace bring the total backlog of payloads to be launched to 48.