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Text Version of Ariane P3D News


   Disillusionned Amateur Satellite Organisation still has some hopes

Updated : 10/6/98
10th June 1998

   The issue of the definitive payload for Ariane 503 has been dragging
out for months and causing much frustration all round. The European
Space Agency and CNES had been on track for a July launch and would like
to see this qualification flight finished. Arianespace also which had
initially hoped to include a fully commercial flight, 504, before the
end of the year. Two clients have already been lined up. But then cost
of this additional qualification mission has to be met, in part by the
European member States and it has long been hoped by a paying passenger.

   We have reported how Arianespace Chairman Jean-Marie LUTON had
decided that he would postpone the launch - upto two months - in order
to have this commercial payload. Certain industry sources have always
believed that it was an illusion to think an operator would entrust one
of his craft to the new launcher. That there could still be doubts after
501 and 502 is natural.

   It has proved to be the case. The main contender for this cut-price
ride has always been Eutelsat, one of Arianespace's most important
clients, an organisation that in view of the number of craft it has to
launch, could perhaps afford to take the risk. Hotbird-5, first
suggested, didn't make it. Both because its final 13° degrees East
orbital revenues made it too precious to loose, and because prime
contractor Matra Marconi Space was hard pushed to meet the schedule.

   Then it transpired that Eutelsat could swap its W series satellites
around from their initially planned launchers. Hardly a month ago, all
looked set for a W1 launch on Ariane 4 flight V109, and a W2 flight on
503. That was before the fire at W series contractor Aerospatiale
facility in Cannes. Natural again, that Eutelsat boss Jean GRENIER
should then have second thoughts.

   Ask all parties today when all this rigmarole is to finish and one
get's the standard answers. From Arianespace, ESA, CNES, Eutelsat it's
either "The issue is still under discussion, at the highest level" or
else "No comment on that subject". Perhaps there'll be an opening the
clouds with a Program Board to be held at at the European Space Agency
on Thursday 11th June.


[photo of amsat P3D in integration facility]
caption: Amsat P3D at the Orlando Fl, integration facility

accompanying text:

Ready for Launch if the Gods so wish ! Amsat P3D, 600kg, is the most
ambitious of a long series of amateur radio satellites. With three axis
stabilisation, used for the first time, it will employ 3 magnetically
suspended reaction wheels developped by Amsat Germany. It has a 400
newton bi-propellant motor as well as an experimental ammonia arc jet
thruster producing 0.1 newton. With its deployable solar arrays, it will
have approx 600 watts of onboard power. Its payload will usher in a new
era of amateur radio communications on bands from 10 meters through to
24 GHz.

Amongst the other experiments aboard the carft, the Japanese branch of
Amsat has supplied high resolution digital cameras that could provide
some of the finest whole Earth photos since Apollo from an apogee of
46,000 km. The project represents the labour of hundreds of volunteers
in more than a dozen countries. Is that not worth a bit more respect ?



The most frustrated onlooker has been the AMSAT organisation. Its Phase
IIID spacecraft was disembarked from flight 502 when it could not meet
revised lateral load specifications for the second qualification flight
last October. The Amast amateur enthusiasts who had painstakingly built
their satellite to the highest standards managed to strengthen it - but
not in time for the 502 launch.

After that lost opportunity, the European Space Agency and AMSAT decided
in January not to sqabble over the legal issues of who had not complied
with the launch contract.

Instead ESA gave Amsat P3D Project Director Dr.Karl MEINZER the
assurance that if a commercial paying customer could not be found in
time for 503, then P3D remained a backup solution. go-Ariane had
confirmed that this was ESA's official policy until only very recently.

One can imagine the incredulous AMSAT team when it was revealed that,
given the Eutelsat imbroglio, Arianespace was considering the
eventuality of a dummy payload on 503! But why in heaven's sake, it was
said, when Amsat P3D is ready ? Okay it's "only" an amateur satellite,
some 600 kgs, but its project team have told ESA and Arianespace that
they are willing to go into any GTO orbit to suit the qualification
imperatives of the 503 mission. A decision was expected last Friday 5th
June. "No decision was taken, I really don't know where we stand,
perhaps this week at the Program Board" says a somewhat disillusionned

What is not understood is that the January assurances from the ESA on
this backup solution have not been followed up, nothing appears to have
been prepared in the eventuality of a commercial "no-show". go-Ariane
understands from several informed sources that over recent months Amsat
has been opposed the fact that a special "load analysis" for Amsat P3D
would be necessary, with certain parties such as Aerospatiale (them
again!) saying that this would take 8 months! This is hotly contested.
In fact we know that environmental tests - with extra large margins -
had been envisaged by AMSAT to get around this problem.

AMSAT which has had a long and fruitful association with the European
launcher can not understand the (political ?) interests that are today
working behind the scenes. It is still ready to ship its satellite to
Kourou and participate in the final qualification of the new launch
vehicle. But we understand that exploratory talks have been held with
other US and Russian launchers. This alternative approach will be
handled more vigourously if the Ariane baseline fails. It would be a
shame to see such a lost opportunity - and that for the second time !

   news_66.shtml - 449- First posted : 10/6/98 * Last updated : 10/6/98