From Russia with Fregat
16 December 1998Preparations for the dual Soyuz launch of the four Cluster IIspacecraft have advanced during the past few weeks. During a recentvisit to Moscow, a high level team of ESA officials, led by ESA's Head of Scientific Projects,John Credland, received an update from their Russian partners on howthe launch vehicle was progressing.
In parallel to this review, protracted negotiations over launch insurance were also successfully concluded in Paris.
During a tour of the NPO Lavotchkin facilities, the ESA team reviewed the status of the Soyuz launch vehicle and its new Fregat upper stage. Details of the current Fregat test programme were made available by officials from the Russian Space Agency (RKA) and Lavotchkin, the manufacturer of the new stage. ESA officials also inspected the Fregat hardware and discussed future ground tests to be carried out before the rocket's first qualification flights.
The review team came away with a most favourable impression of Russian expertise and dedication, though fully aware that a great deal of work still needs to be done before the Fregat becomes operational.
In the last few days, final negotiations over launch insurance have been successfully completed. The insurance policy includes provision for a back-up launch on an Ariane 4 vehicle from Kourou in French Guiana. ESA officials considered that such insurance was advisable in case long delays arose in the Soyuz-Fregat development schedule. The launch contract signed by ESA and the French-Russian Starsem consortium stipulates that two successful Soyuz-Fregat launches must be completed before Cluster II lifts off.
Starsem - a joint enterprise of the Russian Space Agency, Samara Space Centre, Aerospatiale and Arianespace - is responsible for supplying the Soyuz-Fregat launcher.