Arianespace delays double-satellite launch indefinitely to allow extra ground systems checks

An Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket on the launch pad.
An Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket on the launch pad. (Image credit: Arianespace)

Arianespace halted plans to launch two communications satellites into orbit on Friday (Oct. 22) to allow time for more ground equipment checks, but a new liftoff date remains uncertain.

The French launch provider was expected to launch the two satellites on an Ariane 5 rocket Friday night from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. Liftoff was targeted for 9:01 p.m. EDT (10:01 p.m. local time in Kourou or 0101 GMT Saturday, Oct. 23). 

"Due to additional checks on the ground support equipment, [the launch] has been scrubbed. Investigations are ongoing in order to identify a new launch date," Arianespace wrote at 7 a.m. EDT (8 a.m. local time or 1100 GMT), not specifying yet whether an issue had been found.

For now, the two satellites remain on the launch pad with their rocket. "The Ariane 5 launch vehicle and spacecraft SES-17 and Syracuse 4A are in stable and safe conditions on the launch pad," Arianespace continued in the tweet.

The launch, expected to be Arianespace's 11th of the year, was supposed to send an Ariane 5 rocket into geostationary transfer orbit, where the two satellites would make their way to geostationary orbit, according to Arianespace's website. This would have been Ariane 5's second launch of the year after a dual communications satellite launch in July.

For the new mission, SES-17, from Thales Alenia Space, is a high throughput telecommunication satellite designed to assist aviation, maritime, government and enterprise customers in the Americas, Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean.

Syracuse 4A, a French military communications satellite, will be launched on behalf of the Armament General Directorate (a procurement and technology agency for the government.) It will be the first part of a three-satellite constellation aiming to serve the military for battlefield digitation, and is equipped with a modern anti-jamming antenna.

As of September 2018, Ariane 5 had a 98% reliability rate (according to Arianespace numbers) since it began launching in April 2003; in the last decade, Ariane 5's only major anomaly was in January 2018. On that occasion, the satellites made it safely to orbit despite Arianespace losing contact with the upper stage of the rocket, late in the launch.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: