First Flight of European Soyuz Rocket Delayed Again
Artist's concept of Soyuz launch depicted from French Guiana.
Credit: ESA

PARIS — The European version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket will not make its inaugural flight until the spring of 2011 and may be further delayed depending on which of two government customers is selected for the flight, the head of Europe’s Arianespace launch services consortium said Sept. 7.

Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said the Hylas consumer broadband satellite owned by Avanti Communications of London, which had been set for the inaugural Soyuz flight from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport, will now be launched in late November as a co-passenger on Europe’s Ariane 5 ECA heavy-lift rocket.

That leaves the first Soyuz flight open. Le Gall said the candidates are now the French government's Pleiades high-resolution optical Earth imaging satellite and two demonstration models of Europe's Galileo navigation and timing program. [Top 10 Russian Space Missions]

The introduction of the medium-lift Soyuz rocket to the Guiana center has been delayed on multiple occasions, with the arrival and construction of a mobile gantry being the main cause of the delays.

In a press briefing here during the World Summit for Satellite Financing, Le Gall said the launch pad is completed and will be ready to support flights starting early next year. But he said it is not clear whether the ground segment for the Pleiades satellite will be ready until the spring.

If the two Galileo demonstration satellites are selected for the inaugural Soyuz flight, the launch could occur in the spring. Galileo officials have said they do not want to launch their spacecraft on the Soyuz inaugural flight. Le Gall had said that the 18-nation European Space Agency has indicated this is no longer a problem.

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