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The competition heats up: At a briefing at the Paris Air Show this week Arianespace admitted that its planned accelerated upgrades to Ariane 5 are intended to counteract the competition from both Russia’s Proton and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.
I love competition. It energizes everything.
Update: This long article specifically discusses how Arianespace is scrambling to meet the competition. Key quote:
“The key question for Ariane 6 is not really the design of the booster. The key question is how to organize the industry and the relationship between agencies and industries in order to deliver a launcher to a given target price. And we have never done that before in Europe,” said [Arianespace CEO Stephane] Israel, speaking through a translator. [emphasis added]
That the CEO of Arianespace thinks no one in Europe has ever competed on the open market before this is quite astonishing. It suggests that he and his company has been quite insulated from financial reality. Moreover, this quote suggests that until Elon Musk came along, an entire American generation of rocket builders was equally insulated:
U.S. companies had a monopoly in the field 30 years ago, but no longer. The low point came in 2011, when not a single satellite operator besides the U.S. government chose a U.S. company for a ride to space.
Considering how little Arianespace has tried to lower costs in the past, it is shameful no one attempted to undercut them until now.
One final point: The article spins the history of SpaceX to make it sound as if it was NASA’s idea to create this competition. That couldn’t be more wrong. It wasn’t the government, it was Musk that did it. He was eventually helped by his government contract, but that was issued reluctantly and against the wishes of much of NASA’s bureaucracy. Even now there are strong forces in Congress and NASA that would like to kill this commercial effort because it threatens the cushy expensive government way of doing things, illustrated nicely by Israel’s quote above.