Lots In Space; July 1999; Scientific American Magazine; by Scott; 3 Page(s)
Nothing shatters the serenity of the rain forest quite like a rocket launch. In French Guiana, local fishermen working their ancient profession in their equally ageold canoes off the coast of Kourou are jarred into the 20th century every three weeks as another Ariane 4 rocket blasts through the sky to hoist a satellite toward its appointed orbital rounds.
Tropical backwater though it may be, Kourou is now the global center for geosynchronous satellite launches. "For the moment we have more than 55 percent of the market of the world," says Jean-Yves Trebaol, Ariane range operations director. "Our hope for the future is to keep with this rate and have 30 percent of the market for constellations [of nongeosynchronous satellites]." Yet whether Arianespace can achieve that goal depends on whether its newest rocket proves to be reliable after only one successful test flight. Moreover, the competition is growing stronger in this literally volatile field, as other firms enter the launch business.