This past Easter weekend saw many of the informal roadblocks in French Guiana lifted so that residents could do some essential food shopping. But the barriers stayed firmly in place on the main road from the capital Cayenne to the French space centre at Kourou, forcing a total close-down of activities at the Arianespace launch site.
Arianespace has now lost a full month of work since the March 20th start of industrial action, and satellite launches due to take place in March and April have been wholly delayed. A pair of satellites (for South Korea and Brazil) saw their March 21st launch date scrubbed, while a Eutelsat craft (E-172B) has been returned to France for safekeeping. Other satellite launches (for ViaSat and SES) are also severely delayed.
French agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) is responsible for the launch site and is headed by its president Jean-Yves Le Gall (who used to run Arianespace) and is on record as saying that it would take some 10 days to get the launch site back up and running, once the strike action is over.
Trade magazine Space Intel Report says that Arianespace had planned to handle six launch campaigns between January and April, and 12 launches this year overall. Indeed, May was always planned for zero launch activity but instead is seen as a ‘catch up’ month, if the strike can be brought to an end.
Arianespace’s CEO Stephane Israel has reportedly written to the four French parliamentarians responsible for French Guiana that 9,000 jobs in French Guiana are directly or indirectly dependent on the space centre.
A few days of industrial action can be managed by any organisation, but now the action is so severe that the insurance sector is becoming involved, and questions as to what sort of insurance cover Arianespace has in place for the consequential losses forced upon satellite owners by the strikes.
All involved are hoping that the industrial action will end this week.