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Launches from Europe's spaceport are suspended in light of COVID-19

Darrell Etherington
KOUROU, FRENCH GUIANA DECEMBER 16, 2019: A mobile service tower for a Soyuz-ST rocket booster at the Guiana Space Centre. The rocket carrying CHEOPS telescope (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) of the European Space Agency, a COSMO-SkyMed satellite, an EyeSat satellite, and two small satellites to be launched on December 17, 2019, 11:54 Moscow time. Soyuz rockets are launched from the Guiana Space Centre as part of a collaborative programme between Roscomos and the European Space Agency. Sergei Savostyanov/TASS (Photo by Sergei SavostyanovTASS via Getty Images)

Despite indications just a few days ago that launches as soon as later this month were on track as planned, Arianespace announced on Monday that they made the tough call to suspend operations at the Guiana Space Center, Europe's spaceport located in French Guiana. This includes suspending any launch campaigns currently on the calendar in the immediate future, like the Vega rocket mission carrying multiple satellites set for March 24 and the Soyuz rocket Falcon Eye mission set for April 14.

Arianespace says that the "need to fully implement the measures decided by the French Government" is the primary reason behind its decision to suspend launch campaign operations. The company also says it is taking this action in order "to protect the health of employees and the local population, while also maintaining the security needed to prepare for scheduled launches."

In order to facilitate the shut down and make sure that things are ready to go whenever conditions allow things to resume safely, the French space agency is working with Arianespace and all the companies involved on both the launch vehicle and payload side to secure the spacecraft and cargo in standby mode. There's no information on when things might resume, but that's understandable given the circumstances.

Launch activities from other international space agencies and launch providers don't appear to be specifically impacted yet – SpaceX attempted a launch on Sunday, which was aborted for technical reasons, but that could be rescheduled for as early as mid-week. Meanwhile, a Chinese Long March rocket looks to be readying for take-off today, and ULA still seems to be tracking towards a March 26 launch of a Space Force communications satellite.