SAN DIEGO — In a significant victory for the American rocket industry, General Dynamics has landed a contract to launch at least one and possibly three European satellites, company officials announced Friday.
In the past, the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization--Eutelsat--has used the French-built Ariane rocket, America's major competition in the unmanned launch market, to carry its satellites into orbit.
But Andrea Caruso, director general of the 26-nation consortium, said the Atlas-Centaur was selected because of cost, schedule flexibility and reliability, according to a General Dynamics statement.
The agreement covers launch of a Eutelsat-2 communications satellite in early 1990 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., with options for up to two additional launches. The satellites will be used for telephone, telex and data-transmission services across Europe.
The value of the contract, which includes the rocket and all launch services, was not revealed, but a company official said the typical "sticker price" for an Atlas-Centaur and launch services is about $59 million.
The contract is the first for General Dynamics since announcing plans earlier this year to build 18 Atlas-Centaurs in a commercial venture to tap the unmanned launch market.
"The Atlas-Centaur was chosen as a second source of launch services in addition to Ariane because it met all of our major launch requirements to place in orbit satellites of our second-generation, Eutelsat-2," Caruso said in the statement.
Alan Lovelace, general manager of the General Dynamics Space Division, said the contract, which will be formally signed in Geneva next month, is a "significant action that reinforces our commitment to be a leader in the commercial launch-services marketplace."
Two other American companies, Martin Marietta of Bethesda, Md., and McDonnell Douglas Corp. of St. Louis, Mo., also are marketing unmanned rockets. Both have signed firm launch contracts and more are expected.
Following last year's Challenger disaster, President Reagan banned most commercial satellites from future shuttle flights to encourage development of a private-sector launch industry. As a result, owners of dozens of satellites were forced to turn elsewhere for launch services.
General Dynamics decided in June to build 18 Atlas-Centaurs as a private venture in a bid to claim a share of that market, which has been dominated by the Ariane in recent years. The Eutelsat contract marks the first sale in the program, although company officials said other "reservations" have been booked.