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The European Space Agency has now released its first cost estimates for upgrading and replacing its Ariane 5 rocket.
Europe needs to find about 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) to complete development of an upgrade to its current Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket, which would fly in 2018 and be capable of lifting satellites weighing 11,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, European Space Agency Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said Jan. 17. The Ariane 5 upgrade, called Ariane 5 ME, will be on the table for ESA governments to decide, alongside the new Ariane 6 rocket, at a meeting scheduled for December in Luxembourg.
In a press briefing in Paris, Dordain said it is too early to say how much Ariane 6 will cost to develop. Government and industry estimates have ranged between 3 billion and 4 billion euros, with an inaugural flight in 2021.
As Doug Messier notes in his worthwhile analysis of these numbers, “Europe is in deep trouble.” From a customer’s perspective, these new rockets won’t fly (pun intended). The cost is too high and the development time too long. By the time they get both Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 ready for launch they will be obsolete and overpriced, when compared to the rocket’s that will already be available from their competitors.