ArianeGroup struggles with the concept of reusability


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Capitalism in space: ArianeGroup, the company building ESA’s next generation rocket Ariane 6, is debating when and if it should introduce reusability into its design.

[Patrick Bonguet, head of the Ariane 6 program,] said ArianeGroup is studying reusability with Prometheus “in order to be sure to take the right path at the right moment.” Those efforts are mostly to prevent Europe from being caught flat-footed in the wake of other reusable launch systems, namely from SpaceX and now also Blue Origin.

Reusability is far from a primary focus, however. “We still have not understood, would we save money by reusing? At least with our launch rate?” he asked. “We hope to launch 12 times a year. If we reuse 12 times, that means we only manufacture one time per year. It is difficult for us to have that.”

Bonguet said reusability would essentially erase the production efficiencies ArianeGroup is striving for, starving the Ariane 6 industrial base of the work upon which it relies. A smaller tip-toe into reusability could come through salvaging Ariane 6’s payload fairings. Swiss manufacturer Ruag Space is developing reusable fairings, which Bonguet said are of interest to ArianeGroup.

I guarantee that by the mid-2020s they will entirely be “caught flat-footed” if they have not begun by then the use of reusable rockets.

Share

12 comments

  • LocalFluff

    I’ve heard that the Ariane 5 has been produced in large batches at a time, cutting manufacturing costs more efficiently than traditional competitors. But reusability eliminates any advantages from large scale production. Maybe that is what’s behind Bonguet’s strange wish to increase production per se, because that has been a successful strategy for them thus far. Won’t work anymore. Big changes in strategy and corporate structure, and thus in leadership, are required.

    Instead of the “jobs” caused by manufacturing rockets, focus should be on “jobs” created by the use of efficient rockets.

  • Mark

    Flat feet are good enough for gubermint work.

  • wodun

    Reusability is far from a primary focus, however. “We still have not understood, would we save money by reusing? At least with our launch rate?” he asked. “We hope to launch 12 times a year. If we reuse 12 times, that means we only manufacture one time per year. It is difficult for us to have that.”

    Reusing a stage only 12 times might not cut it in the long run. But why assume that their launch rate would only be 12 if they were able to drop the price? Why assume that the same core has to be reused 12 times in a year? Hopefully they wouldn’t limit their design to a 12 flight lifespan.

    The question they need to answer is how many launches they need to support their development? Would 12 launches do it? Just as with SpaceX, their initial efforts wont be fully reusable right off the bat. They will have to maintain a good build rate while implementing changes along the way.

    Eventually they would develop a fleet of reusable vehicles. It might take a smaller workforce to maintain this fleet.

    SpaceX has been constantly changing the F9 but they are coming up on the Block V and will stop making any major changes. We won’t know how the change from construction to maintenance would affect the workforce because they are just moving on to making other things. But before they do, Musk wants to build a stockpile of F9’s and FH’s. They are leveraging the economies of scale they currently enjoy before changing the tasks their workforce are assigned.

  • Robert Pratt

    Exactly. What silly static thinking from this guy. He seems to suggest their entire product be designed to fit a snapshot of how things work now and what makes them comfortable as opposed to fitting market demands, growth, etc.

  • Brian

    After reading that article, ArianeGroup is already out of business, they just don’t know it yet.

  • Edward

    From the article: “Bonguet said reusability would essentially erase the production efficiencies ArianeGroup is striving for, starving the Ariane 6 industrial base of the work upon which it relies.

    If this is the attitude of Ariane and Europe, then I suspect that they will not be launching rockets in a couple of decades, and their industrial base will lose all of the work upon which it relies. Free market capitalism encourages overall efficiency, not just production efficiency, and if reusability is the driver for launch price reductions then Europe will likely find that is the main concern of many of its customers.

    wodun asked: “But why assume that their launch rate would only be 12 if they were able to drop the price? Why assume that the same core has to be reused 12 times in a year?

    They only have one launch pad for Ariane rockets. It looks for all the world that their ground operations procedures do not allow for a more rapid launch cadence. SpaceX has been working hard to get to two launches per pad per month and even launched twice in just over a week from the same pad. SpaceX believes that rapid cadence is a key to low cost operations.

    I think that that Ariane assumes a limit of 12 launches per rocket core because they want their manufacturers to be busy, and they are less concerned about their commercial customers’ needs.

    SpaceX was founded by someone who has actual business experience in the free market commercial world, and he understands that he has to conform to his customers’ needs and desires. Ariane was founded to handle government payloads, and that kind of customer has very different needs and desires than commercial customers have. This is also a problem with the rest of the world’s heritage launch companies, they cater to their government customers, and their commercial customers have to adapt to those costs, processes, and cadences.

    wodun wrote: “The question they need to answer is how many launches they need to support their development? Would 12 launches do it?

    Robert Pratt’s comment seems to answer this comment of wodun’s. Ariane and Europe are not yet thinking in terms of the commercial market and its needs and demands. My first guess is that the market is changing dramatically, right now, with new customers becoming available because they could not previously afford to launch anything into space, and Europe does not want to do the work or to have the workforce disruption to adapt to their commercial customers. This is a problem that comes from centralized economic control. This kind of socialist thinking is what holds back innovation and advancement. It looks good to the workers today, but in the long run they are worse off than if they had adapted to the changing market. Ariane is likely to discover that it is making buggy whips.

    SpaceX (and probably soon Blue Origin) are making access to space affordable to far more potential customers. Europe may not want to do the work to find out how to satisfy these new customers; they are very used to government and geostationary (GEO) customers and may think that they will do just fine with them alone. I think they will find that they will soon lose their GEO customers and that their government customers will not expand their needs for launch to replace that loss.

    Small satellites are less expensive to make, and they are becoming more popular with the promise of smallsat launch vehicles. This is yet another example of the changing needs of the customer base and the NewSpace industry’s ability to react to their needs.

    I think Brian is correct in his assessment. Ariane is a dead company launching.

  • Chris

    If we were in the globalist utopia that the Europeans dream of they would be calling for the limiting, investigation and dismantling of companies like SpaceX.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Even a cursory examination of European history over the last century or so would readily reveal that avoiding certain doom that is coming at one like a freight train is simply not a European core competency.

  • ken anthony

    Shakeouts always happen. Followed by niche exploitation. With the new model, every niche must be fully reusable.

    1) Launch vehicle to get mass to orbit.
    2a, 2b, 2c) Short duration vehicle to orbit to transfer fuel/cargo/crew to long duration vehicle that never de-orbits.
    3) Long duration vehicle for general purpose transport (Lot’s of designs with standard interfaces.)
    3a) High thrust crew transport.
    3b) Low thrust cargo/fuel transport.
    4) Destination specific SSTO landers. (3+4 in Musk’s model.)

    No one company is fully dominating in a healthy competitive environment.

  • LocalFluff

    @ken anthony
    “No one company is fully dominating in a healthy competitive environment.”
    Sometimes they do, like Gilette. Some companies are so superior that no one even wants to try to take up the competition. And that’s actually the best situation! The products are as good as anyone can imagine making them.

    Your list is comprehensive. I liked the Ares I idea of using a small launcher for crewed launches, and using solid fuel to that for great safety. Mixing crew and cargo on the shuttle wasn’t ideal. And an SLS is a wasteful overkill for launching an Orion to LEO. If the SLS is forced to fly, I hope that Orion won’t, but that Starliner and Dragon takes care of the human transports to orbit.

  • pzatchok

    We have the launch costs coming down finally.

    Now what we need is a private assembly station in orbit.
    We need to move away from the idea of monolithic launches and snap together assembly in orbit.
    We need real construction in orbit. Practice for the future.

    And quite frankly I hope America becomes the best and biggest in outer space. I would be very happy if our private companies took over the launches for the rest of the world and led the way in orbital construction.

  • Edward

    ken anthony,
    You wrote: “Shakeouts always happen. Followed by niche exploitation. With the new model, every niche must be fully reusable.

    That sounds reasonable, especially your four proposed niches. I agree that these will help achieve most goals that anyone might set for space exploration or expansion. There are several companies working on their own niches, but so far not a lot of competition for each niche.

    SpaceX is beginning to dominate the large satellite launch market, taking over from Ariane — and out competing them in a big way.

    SpaceX sounds like they will move into the Heavy Lift market (emphasis on Heavy) and leave the large satellite launch market to Blue Origin. Blue Origin seems to be a decade or so away from entering and competing with SpaceX in the Heavy Lift market.

    Bigelow is ready to create a commercial space station market, but there are two possible competitors who do not yet have much hardware and one possible competitor, Orbital Sciences, with their potential to turn Cygnus into a manned space station/platform.

    ULA is working on ACES for in-space refueling, and talking about XEUS as a future in-space transportation craft. ULA has a heritage from two OldSpace companies, but in some ways they seem to be thinking like a NewSpace company.

    It looks like existing companies are working toward your four niches. All we need now is the healthy competition to help drive further innovation and efficiency.

    pzatchok wrote: “Now what we need is a private assembly station in orbit. We need to move away from the idea of monolithic launches and snap together assembly in orbit.

    That could be a while to see happen, but Made In Space is a company working on 3D printing (additive manufacturing) in space. I think that orbital manufacturing may not be in the far distant future but in the near distant future. I also think it will be much less expensive once we start using material from the Moon or from asteroids than using expensive-to-lift material from the Earth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *