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The competition heats up: The European partnership building the new Ariane 6 rocket struggles to keep its costs down to compete with SpaceX.
Ariane 5 has been a huge triumph, orbiting half of the world’s communications satellites and claiming 60% of the 2012 world market for geostationary launches. But while the rocket is extremely precise and reliable it is also hugely expensive, with a single-payload flight costing €150-200 million. However, even at that price Ariane 5 launches are understood to be loss-making for ESA’s launch operator, Arianespace. Its high cost in in large part blamed on its industrial organisation; while private-sector SpaceX has tailored the Falcon programme for low cost production, the Ariane 5 project is organised in part to satisfy the demands of European multi-national politics.
Speaking exclusively to Flight Daily News, ESA’s Stefano Bianchi, who heads the Vega programme and now spends much of his time dedicated to Ariane 6 development, stresses that the programme is on course as set out by ESA’s member states, and any major change of configuration would require ministerial agreement.
But, he says, he and his colleagues are confident they can bring Ariane 6 to fruition at the target launch cost of €70 million – a level that would match or even undercut SpaceX. [emphasis mine]
This story is in connection with the conflict between France and Germany about how to build Ariane 6. I have specifically highlighted the cost figures to illustrate once again the reality that everyone in the industry knows (except for one commenter on my webpage), that the cost of a SpaceX launch runs in the neighborhood of $60 to $100 million, one third to half the cost of Arianespace and significantly less than the cost of practically every other launch company.
Any company that realistically wants to compete with SpaceX has to be totally honest about these facts. Their customers are honest about them, for certain.
Update: The CEO of ULA admits that the real cost of its military launches averages about $225 million per launch.
He claims they can get the cost down to $100 million per launch, but only if the military makes a bulk buy of 50 launches from them, but even that barely competes with SpaceX’s accepted launch fees ranging from $75 to $100 million, per launch. No need to buy 50 rockets from SpaceX to get these prices.