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In testimony at a hearing in the French parliament the head of Arianespace admitted that the company has been in a head-to-head competition with SpaceX for the past two years, with SpaceX grabbing half the business.
He also claimed that they think they will be able to compete with SpaceX, even if it succeeds in recovering and reusing its first stage.
Israel said Arianespace fully expects SpaceX to succeed in its attempt to recover its Falcon 9 first stage.
But that’s just the start of the challenge, he said. It remains unknown what the refurbishment costs will be compared to the cost of churning out a fresh stage from an existing production line. He said it is also unclear whether commercial fleet operators will immediately accept placing $200 million telecommunications satellites on a rocket with a refurbished stage.
Finally, he said, flying a reusable stage means sacrificing first-stage performance so that enough energy is available to power it back to its recovery point. That power is thus unavailable for the mission, which is one reason why Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX thus far has attempted to recover its stages only on low-orbit missions, not for missions to geostationary transfer orbit, where most commercial satellites operate.
All true, but if Arianespace sits on its hands because of these facts it will eventually lose. It needs to rise to the challenge that SpaceX poses, not poo-poo the challenge.