Ariane 5 Launch Halted Indefinitely as Kourou Unrest Continues

Ariane 5 rocket
The Ariane 5 rocket that will launch the Koreasat-7 and Brazil’s Geostationary Defense and Strategic Communications is moved to the Final Integration Building of the Guiana Space Center ahead of a planned March 2017 launch. (Image credit: Arianespace)

WASHINGTON — An Ariane 5 launch already twice delayed by French Guiana labor unrest was put on indefinite hold Thursday as protests shut down roads, schools and municipal buildings in the South American territory that hosts Europe's main spaceport.

Arianespace was slated to launch a pair of satellites for Brazil and South Korea on Tuesday evening from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, but protests, road blockades and a strike by the space center's transportation and logistics contractor Endel combined to prevent the Ariane 5 from rolling out to the launch zone.

Anticipating a swift resolution, Arianespace initially postponed the launch to Wednesday and then postponed it again to Thursday.

Local newspaper France-Guyane reported Thursday morning that protesters expanded their roadblocks overnight, prompting the closure of area schools and government buildings. The paper also reported that Endel ended its strike and flew some of its Ariane 5 handlers to the space center by helicopter.

Air France on Thursday canceled flights between Paris and Cayenne, French Guiana's capital city. Air France 852, which left Paris for Cayenne at 10:19 a.m. local time, turned back for France four hours into the flight, according to French media reports.

Arianespace decided Thursday to stand down launch preparation indefinitely.

"The evolution of the situation in French Guiana does not permit the restart of operations for the Ariane 5 launch scheduled for today," Arianespace said in a statement Thursday. "Arianespace has decided to postpone the launch."

Graphic from Guyane Actu Hebdo (Guiana Weekly News) tweet showing road blockades along French Guiana’s Atlantic coast.

Arianespace said the launch vehicle and both satellite payloads “remain in a stand-by mode and are being maintained in fully safe conditions.”

No new date was given for the launch. CNES spokesperson Fabienne Lissak declined further comment.

The Ariane 5 mission is Arianespace’s fourth mission of the year and second with its primary heavy-lift vehicle. The Brazilian Geostationary Defense and Strategic Communications (SGDC) satellite is a  5,735-kilogram Ka- and X-band spacecraft for Telebras and the Brazilian Ministry of Defense. Visiona Tecnologia Espacial, a joint venture between Embraer and Telebras, ordered the satellite from Thales Alenia Space of France.

Koreasat-7 is a 3,680 kilogram telecommunications satellite for KTsat, the satellite division of South Korean telco KT Corp. The satellite, also built by Thales Alenia Space, is for broadcast television and communications services across Korea, the Philippines, the Indochinese Peninsula, India and Indonesia.

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Senior Analyst, Quilty Analytics

Caleb Henry is a senior analyst for Quilty Analytics and a former staff writer for the space industry publication SpaceNews. From 2016 to 2020, Caleb covered the global satellite industry for SpaceNews, chronicling everything from launches, spacecraft manufacturing and ground infrastructure. Caleb's work has also appeared in NewSpace Global and Access Intelligence. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science with a minor in astronomy from Grove City College.