A streamlined Arianespace to build Ariane 6?

The competition heats up: The merged Airbus/Safran rocket division has surprised the European Space Agency with a proposed new design for Ariane 6.

The Airbus-Safran proposal, if carried to its logical end, would mean a single company building Ariane vehicles, with fewer subcontractors and much less government oversight. It would likely mean the end of the CNES launcher division as industry takes more control of Ariane design and operations.

In other words, the contractors who build the rockets for ESA want more power over that construction. They want less government oversight, and more ownership of the rocket they build.

Sounds like what’s happening in the U.S., doesn’t it? Giving ownership to the rocket builders means they not only have more flexibility and thus can be more efficient, it makes it easier for them to innovate in both construction and sales.

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9 comments

  • Kelly Starks

    >..In other words, the contractors who build the rockets for ESA want more power over that construction. They want less government oversight, and more ownership of the rocket they build.

    Nothing new there. No reason to think ESA will give it to them now, when they refused before for decades.

    • ESA may be more inclined grant contractors greater autonomy if they want a piece of the launch market Space X is redefining. Of course, increased autonomy means increased legal exposure, but perhaps the contractors think the hardware robust enough to make the risk-reward ratio worthwhile.

      • Kelly Starks

        More likely they’ll just subsidize them more, so they can still have them pour out as much pork as before, and still be as competitive. Effectively compensating for the USA gov subsidizes of SpaceX. “Why should we French, allow the US government to push the pride of the French space program out of the market with their subsidies? We much give our industry a balanced field!”

        Hey, it always worked for farm subsidies.

        ;/

        • Edward

          Kelly,

          Why is SpaceX the only company receiving subsidies when other companies have the same deal with NASA?

          Why aren’t Boeing, Orbital Sciences, and Sierra Nevada also receiving subsidies?

          Was Blue Origin receiving subsidies when it was also on the earlier CCDev project?

          • Kelly Starks

            SpaceX gets the most by far of any launcher (or vehicle though we were discussing launchers) in the US inventory or under development. Virtually all, compared to 20% for Delta-IV or Atlas-V, of the dev costs came from the Gov. (A point ULA is upset about.) As to operating expenses, SpaceX couldn’t possibly pay the bills with what they charge commercials for launch, but getting they get a few times more, as well as overhead support that probably helps, from NASA on the COTS contract (NASAs total costs for SpaceX flight run about $400M a launch, but I’m not sure off hand how that breaks down.

          • Dick Eagleson

            Your idiotic and phony assertions about SpaceX are getting tiresome. SpaceX’s COTS contract is for 12 missions at a total price of $1.6 billion. That’s $133-1/3 million per mission, not the three times larger $400 million figure you apparently extracted from the old anal archive. The government-funded fraction of Falcon 9 and Dragon’s development costs was less than half of the approximately $850 million total. One reason for this is that the expensive part of the Merlin engine’s development had already been covered by SpaceX on its own before COTS development funds were ever in prospect. Similarly, the Falcon 1 project provided a pre-paid base of technology from which to elaborate for Falcon 9 in areas such as ground systems, mission management software, GNC software, avionics design, etc. Falcon 9 wasn’t even remotely a scratch-build project.

            I have no idea how much of Atlas V’s and/or Delta IV’s development costs were underwritten by the government and, at this stage of things, it hardly matters given that neither rocket is remotely cost-competitive with Falcon 9 on an on-going basis. As things now stand, Atlas V has an assured service life of only 15 more launches so even its economic shortcomings are nearly moot as well. If SpaceX disappeared tomorrow, ULA would still face an existential threat. You can cheerlead for whomever you like, but you would be better advised to urge ULA to face reality and start adjusting to it rather than spewing stupid and easily-debunked lies about SpaceX. ULA’s doom is going to be far more attributable to Vladimir Putin than to Elon Musk.

          • I just want Edward to know that Dick is actually replying here to Kelly. And he covers the facts quite well.

            Kelly: I will always welcome your comments here, as you are often very much on the money. However, your judgment and clarity of thought vanishes whenever SpaceX becomes part of the conversation. You can continue to make the claims you make about the company, but all you are doing is discrediting yourself unnecessarily each time you do it.

          • Edward

            Robert,

            Yes, we seem to have run out of “levels” for reply, so it may be more important to address our replies to identify to whom we are replying.

            Kelly,

            Your response fails to consider that Orbital Sciences, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin (for a while), as well as SpaceX are/were being paid to develop spacecraft. If SpaceX was being subsidized, then so were all these other companies. This is where I find your argument to be unfairly pointed at only one company instead of all companies that “should” qualify under your apparent definition of “subsidy.” Even if SpaceX is receiving “the most by far,” then you should also tell us the others that you think are getting subsidies. Otherwise, we may get the impression that you have a grudge against SpaceX and not the others.

            However, SpaceX is getting similar amounts of contract money as the other companies (except that Blue Origin is no longer under contract).

            I would like to see your figures on what it costs SpaceX to launch a commercial satellite to back up that they don’t charge enough. Please also include what they charge each satellite owner for its launch, and which satellites are on each launcher. It is entirely possible that you are thinking of secondary payloads as though they are individual launches, in which case it may seem that they did not pay enough, but with primary and secondary payloads together, the launch costs may be covered.

  • Andy Hill

    I guess if that “greater autonomy” comes with a bigger share of the risks involved with developing a new launcher and a cost reduction then that has got to be good all round. If however they still expect ESA to take the risk and pay all the bills I dont see this happening.

    If they want more control then they will have to share some of the financial risks aswell and have some “skin in the game” themselves.

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