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PARIS (AP) _ Arianespace, the European satellite-launch services company, narrowed its loss last year despite a July launch failure that grounded the powerful Ariane-5 rocket, the company chairman said Monday.

Arianespace narrowed its net loss to around 50 million euros ($44.5 million) in 2001 from 242 million euros in 2000, chairman Jean-Marie Luton said.

Arianespace completed only eight rocket launches in 2001, compared to 12 a year earlier, forcing revenue down by 25 percent to around 800 million euros ($712.4 million) from 1.11 billion euros in 2000, Luton said.

The flawed launch on July 12 put two payloads into faulty orbit. That forced Arianespace to ground the Ariane-5 launcher and take on extra costs.

Speaking at a news conference, Luton said he was confident that Arianespace would break even in 2002 and that launches of the Ariane-5 _ the most powerful rocket in the Ariane series _ would resume in late February.

An upgraded Ariane-5 rocket able to put payloads of up to 10 tons into geostationary orbit _ compared to six tons for the existing version _ should make its maiden flight in mid-2002.

Revenue should climb back to the 2000 level with 12-14 launches planned this year, he said. Arianespace plans to exhaust its stockpile of nine Ariane-4 rockets this year or in early 2003. Production of the old-generation launcher was stopped last year.

The company secured contracts for the launch of 13 satellites last year and hopes to sign up 10-15 contracts in 2002.

However, Luton said it was difficult to forecast demand for launch services amid the shakeup in the telecommunications industry _ Arianespace's main customer.