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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

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.