As Arianespace nears completion of its 2012 launch activity, preparations are underway for the company's initial heavy-lift flight next year as an Ariane 5 takes shape for an early February mission from French Guiana with the Amazonas 3 and Azerspace/Africasat-1 telecommunications satellites.
Assembly of the vehicle began this week in the Spaceport's Launcher Integration Building, where its cryogenic main stage was positioned over one of two operational mobile launch tables for Ariane 5, followed by mating of the two solid propellant boosters.
The launcher is now ready to be equipped with its cryogenic upper stage and vehicle equipment bay, enabling the Ariane 5's subsequent transfer into the Final Assembly Building for integration of the dual-satellite payload.
This mission is designated Flight VA212, signifying the 212th launch of an Ariane vehicle since the European launcher family entered service in December 1979.
The Azerspace/Africasat-1 payload to be orbited on Ariane 5's 2013 year-opening flight is to provide C- and Ku-band communications services to Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Europe and Africa from an orbital location at 46 deg. East Longitude. It was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation based on Orbital's Star-2 platform. The satellite was contracted by the Republic of Azerbaijan's Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies - which is the sole shareholder in the country's national satellite operator, Azercosmos.
Joining Azerspace/Africasat-1 on next February's mission is Amazonas 3, which will be utilized by Spanish satellite communication operator HISPASAT and its Brazilian subsidiary, HISPAMAR Satellites. Built by Space Systems/Loral using an LS 1300 platform, it will be positioned at the 61 deg. West orbital slot, providing relay capacity through 52 simultaneous transponders: 33 in Ku-band and 19 C-band, along with nine Ka-band spot beams.
Flight VA212 will maintain Arianespace's sustained heavy-lift mission cadence with Ariane 5, which was demonstrated again during 2012. Six Ariane 5 missions have been performed so far this year from the Spaceport, with another planned for December 19. In other activity at the Spaceport in 2012, two medium-lift Soyuz flights were conducted by Arianespace, along with the light-lift Vega's maiden launch.
Adding to the year's activity was a Soyuz mission from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan that was launched by Arianespace's Starsem affiliate.