Tag Archives: Ariane 6

ArianeGroup’s transition to Ariane 6 rocket

Link here. It appears that this transition not only includes replacing Ariane 5 with Ariane 6, but also the phase out of Russian Soyuz rockets by 2022. This loss of business is going to hurt Russia, as the government there desperately needs cash with the drop in oil prices.

The article also noted that ArianeGroup will charge two prices for Ariane 6, depending on configuration and payload, $85 million and $130 million per launch. These prices seem high, but because they likely cover the launch of two satellites, customers will be charged half these amounts, $40 million and $65 million, which is competitive in today’s market.

Will these prices be competitive in 2020s? I have my doubts. I estimate, based on news reports, that SpaceX is charging about $40 million today for a launch with a reused first stage, and $62 million for a launch with an entirely new rocket. Give them another five years of development and I expect those prices to drop significantly, especially as they shift to entirely reused first stages for almost every launch and begin to demonstrate a routine launch cadence of more than one launch per month.

This quote below explains how ArianeGroup really intends to stay alive in the launch market:

The price targets assume that European governments — the European Space Agency, the European Commission, Eumetsat and individual EU nations — agree to guarantee the equivalent of five Ariane 62 missions per year, plus at least two missions for the light-lift Vega rocket.

In other words, ArianeGroup really doesn’t wish to compete for business. It wants to use government coercion to force European space agencies and businesses to buy its product. They might get that, but the long term result will be a weak European presence in space, as everyone else finds cheaper and more efficient ways to do things.

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ESA buys the first Ariane 6 launches

The European Space Agency (ESA) has purchased the first two Ariane 6 launches to place four of its Galileo GPS satellites in orbit in the 2020-21 timeframe.

This is not a big surprise, since ESA is mandated to use Arianespace’s rockets, and the space agency is the obvious candidate for making the first commitment to this new rocket’s use.

The press release does not mention the price that Arianespace is charging for these launches, but I suspect it isn’t anywhere near as cheap as they will have to charge to truly private and commercial customers. Essentially, I am willing to bet that this contract award is a bit of crony capitalism, designed to pass some extra cash from ESA to Arianespace.

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ESA discovers the wonders of capitalism!

Three stories today illustrate how competition is revolutionizing and energizing the European aerospace industry:

The first two stories are clearly examples of the new competition within the launch industry. The first describes the effort by ESA and Airbus-Safran, a partnership now dubbed ArianeGroup, to get the Ariane 6 rocket built fast and cheaply, under pressure as they are by SpaceX’s lower prices.

The manufacturing consortium is looking for a 40% cost reduction, at least, in the Ariane 6, compared with the Ariane 5. In part that is coming from exploiting new materials and new manufacturing techniques (3D printing, friction stir welding, augmented reality design, etc) and in part by maximising the common use of elements in both the 62 and 64 variants. Avio’s solid-fuelled booster is also the same as the first stage on the company’s Vega rocket, which launches much smaller satellites.

But a big cost saving will come from simply employing fewer people. “There is a transition from Ariane 5 to Ariane 6 (from 2020 to 2023), but from 2024, 2025 onwards – our workforce will be 30% less than today,” explained Hans Steininger, the boss of MT Aerospace, which is making the rocket’s huge metallic propellant tanks.

The second article describes how ESA is suddenly changing its reusable mini-shuttle program from a typical, staid, dead-end research project (where they do a series of test flights with no thought towards using what they learned) to a private mini-shuttle available for lease by researchers of all stripes.

By 2025, ESA officials said, Space Rider could be operating commercially, flying science payloads and bringing them back to Earth for roughly $9,200 per kilogram. Arianespace, the Evry, France-based launch services provider, would likely serve as Space Rider’s operator, offering industry and government customers the opportunity to fill the spaceplane 800-kilogram payload capacity with microgravity science, materials testing, telecommunications and robotics demonstrations.

Previously, the plan had been to test fly this spaceplane without selling its cargo capacity. Now they want to make money on it, right from the beginning.

The third article meanwhile illustrates that the old way of doing things is still a factor in Europe’s space effort. Europe’s Galileo GPS satellite network has been delayed badly by faulty atomic clocks. They are replacing them, and are preparing to resume launches. However, in ordering 8 new satellites they have also decided to keep OHB, the same contractor who provided the faulty atomic clocks, rather than give the contract to a competitor or at least split it between two contractors.

The contract, expected in late 2016, was delayed as the commission and the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA) debated whether to maintain OHB as Galileo’s sole supplier or to award all or part of the contract to competitor Thales Alenia Space Italia.

In the event, the commission and ESA agreed that the savings realized from ordering recurrent-model spacecraft from OHB, and the schedule assurance this provided, outweighed arguments on behalf of dual sourcing. “Dual sourcing is always important but it needs to be weighed against other program requirements” including cost, said Paul Verhoef, ESA’s director of navigation. Verhoef said ESA and the commission may pursue dual sourcing for the next round of Galileo orders, when a new design will be used for the system’s second generation.

I suspect that as competition continues to prove its worth ESA will move to accept the idea of competition in the building of future GPS satellites. For right now, however, this change was more than this large government bureaucracy could handle.

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Airbus-Safran gets go-ahead to build first Ariane 6 test rocket

Capitalism in space: The European Space Agency (ESA) has given Airbus-Safran the go-ahead to build the first Ariane 6 rocket, which will be used for ground tests.

It is really important to recognize how this article illustrates the major things that have occurred in how Europe is builds its rockets. Note first that Arianespace is not mentioned at all, even though government bureaucracy has been in charge of ESA’s commercial business for decades. It is not in control any longer and is thus irrelevant. Note also that the design was created solely by Airbus-Safran, and that the only thing ESA did was approve it. The agency did not micromanage it, or revise it, or insist on changes, as would have been the case less than three years ago. Instead, it appears they essentially rubber-stamped it, leaving this work entirely to the private company, which in the end will operate and sell the rocket entirely for profit, while also providing ESA its needed launch vehicle.

At first glance, it appears that the ESA has adopted here the recommendations that I made in my policy paper, Capitalism in space:. In truth, they made these policy changes well before my paper was even written, which helps illustrates forcefully their universal correctness. If you want things built well and efficiently, you give people ownership of their work, you let them create it, and you get out of the way.

Or to use that forgotten word, you let freedom work its magic.

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Italian rocket engine company stock surges in trading debut

Capitalism in space: The stock of the Italian rocket engine company Avio jumped 11 percent in value on its first day of public trading.

The company is the prime contractor for Arianespace’s Vega rocket, and is also making engines and parts for the new Ariane 6 rocket being built by Airbus-Safran.

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Europe and Airbus Safran ink deal to build Ariane 6

The competition heats up: The European Space Agency and the joint partnership of Airbus and Safran have signed their deal for the development of Europe’s next rocket, Ariane 6, that will replace Ariane 5 and is aimed at competing more effectively against SpaceX in the world’s launch market.

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Want to see an Ariane 5 launch in French Guiana? You can!

Arianespace and Airbus Safran are holding a contest where the winning prize is an all-expenses paid trip to French Guiana to see an Ariane 5 launch in 2017.

This is part of Airbus Safran’s public relations effort to promote their new rocket, Ariane 6, that will replace Ariane 5.

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ESA/Airbus Safran deal finalized

The competition heats up: The European Space Agency today gave its final approval to the deal that will have Airbus Safran Launchers design, build, and essentially own the new Ariane 6 rocket that ESA hopes to use to compete in the launch market in the 2020s.

This deal essentially closes the book on Arianespace. Though it officially still exists, it will be Airbus Safran that will be running the show in the future.

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European commission approves Airbus-Safran buy of Arianespace

The competition heats up: The bureaucrats in the European Union have given their approval to the purchase by Airbus-Safran Launchers of Arianespace, thereby clearing the way for the privatization of that ESA entity and the construction, under Airbus-Safran control, of Ariane 6.

Following an in-depth review, the European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation, the acquisition of Arianespace by Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), a joint venture between Airbus and Safran. This approval is subject to conditions. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “A well-functioning satellite and launcher industry is important to guarantee that European companies and institutions can gain access to space at competitive terms. The commitments offered by ASL ensure that after its takeover of Arianespace, all players in the industry will continue to have incentives to innovate.”

The Commission had concerns that the transaction would give rise to flows of sensitive information between Airbus and Arianespace to the detriment of competing satellite manufacturers and launch service providers. The Commission’s approval is conditional on the implementation of the commitments offered by the companies to address these concerns.

I must say that, in reading this story, I understood far better why the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Though this particular deal is certainly different and involves many important government issues, if every private business deal is subject to the numbing concerns of this commission, I myself would run screaming from them as fast as I could.

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Airbus Safran merger completed

The competition heats up: The expected merger of Airbus and Safran to create a rocket company called Airbus Safran Launchers is expected to be finalized today, allowing the new company to move forward in its construction of Ariane 6, designed to compete with SpaceX’s lower cost rockets.

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Airbus Safran begin Ariane 6 engine tests

The competition heats up: In its effort to build Ariane 6 by 2020, Airbus Safran has begun testing of that rocket’s upper stage Vinci engine.

This test phase, set to last until September, will include running the engine repeatedly as well as for as long as 1,000 seconds. Once they have determined the engine’s design, behavior, and overall thrust, they will be able to design and build the upper stage.

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Airbus Safran joint rocket venture moving forward

The competition heats up: According to the head of Safran, their joint venture with Airbus to build Europe’s next rocket, Ariane 6, is on schedule to begin full operations by July 1.

He said in a press teleconference that the issues both with the French tax authorities and with the European Union about the merger are being resolved.

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Ariane 6 delayed by tax and legal issues

In the heat of competition: Even as Airbus Safran claimed today that Ariane 6 will be price competitive with SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the company cannot begin work on the new rocket because of a turf war Arianespace and French tax collectors.

The tax issue is as follows:

Airbus and Safran had agreed that Safran would pay Airbus 800 million euros ($874 million) in cash, in addition to its rocket-engine manufacturing capability, to become a 50-50 ASL shareholder with Airbus. Airbus officials since the beginning of the year have been negotiating with French tax authorities to determine how to minimize the tax bite of the cash transfer, which industry officials could be as high as 500 million euros, leaving Airbus with a net of just 300 million euros.

Delays in the cash transfer have meant that ASL, which is expected to count 8,000 employees, has been operating with only around 400 employees. In addition, it has made it difficult for the initial ASL team to present a fixed-price Ariane 6 production proposal to the 22-nation European Space Agency, which is financing the majority of Ariane 6 development.

In addition, the merger is being reviewed by the European Commission, part of the European Union.

The commission is looking at whether Arianespace’s minority shareholders, who are Ariane 6 contractors, will be protected once Airbus Safran Launchers raises its Arianespace shareholding to 74 percent from today’s 39 percent. The commission is also reviewing concerns expressed by satellite builders that Airbus, which is a major manufacturer of commercial satellites, might give its own satellites preferential treatment in setting the Ariane 6 manufest.

Airbus Safran still insists they can get the new rocket launched by 2020, but somehow that doesn’t seem reasonable to me, especially because I expect the French and European government authorities here to carve out their piece of the action, thus making it harder for the private company to deliver on time.

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Europe settles on Ariane 6 design

The competition heats up? Airbus Safran and the European Space Agency have settled on the design of their next generation rocket, Ariane 6.

It will not be re-usable, and though they say it will be 40-50% cheaper to produce than Ariane 5, it is very clear from the quotes in the article that they are instead depending on trade restrictions to maintain their European customers, even if it costs them a lot more to put satellites in orbit.

For its part, Airbus Safran does not envisage making Ariane 6 recoverable, not in the short term. Mr Charmeau [the company’s CEO] believes that different market conditions apply in Europe and the US, which means there will not be a single, winner-takes-all approach. He cites, for example, the restricted procurement that exists in all major political blocs, which essentially bars foreign rockets from launching home institutional and government satellites. Nowhere is this more true than in the US, but in Europe too there is an “unwritten rule” that European states should use European rockets.

From an American perspective this lazy attitude is fine with me. Let American companies compete aggressively. They will then leave the Europeans and everyone else in the dust.

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Arianespace sales top SpaceX in 2015

The competition heats up: According to Arianespace’s CEO Stephane Israel, the company signed more new launch contracts in 2015 than SpaceX, despite their competitor’s much larger PR footprint.

At a briefing here outlining Evry, France-based Arianespace 2015 record and plans for 2016, Israel sought to portray Arianespace as once again in the driver’s seat when it comes to commercial launches. After drawing even with Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX in 2014, with nine commercial orders each, Arianespace’s count for 2015 showed its Ariane 5 rocket winning 14 contracts for geostationary-orbit satellites, compared to nine for SpaceX and one each for International Launch Services of Reston, Virginia, which markets Russia’s Proton; and for the Atlas 5 rocket of United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado.

Arianespace’s count includes one undisclosed customer. Unless it’s identified, it will not be included in SpaceNews’s annual count of firm contract awards. Of the 13 satellites remaining, two are for Europe’s meteorological satellite organization, Eumetsat, and cannot be considered commercial wins. In addition to the geostationary-satellite contracts, Arianespace in 2015 booked the largest single launch contract, to use 21 Russian Soyuz rockets — including the Europeanized version operated from Europe’s spaceport — to launch the OneWeb low-orbiting broadband constellation.

Israel also spent a lot of time at the briefing dealing with reporters’ questions about SpaceX, where he poo-pooed the significance of the Falcon 9 first stage landing, noting repeatedly the accepted wisdom that the stress of launch limits the re-usability of rocket stages. This suggests that Arianespace’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, is not likely to have this capability. Considering that its launch price is now estimated to be between $90 and $100 million, I wonder how they will compete with a reusable Falcon 9 that will likely cost a third this price.

That the Russians only signed one new contract for its Proton last year, as noted in the quote above, also tells us that SpaceX is getting most of its market share from the Russians. If the company should continue to lower its costs and increase its launch rate over time, they will then start stealing market share from others. Thus, Arianespace’s CEO makes a very big mistake if he takes their competitive threat lightly.

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France sells Arianespace to Airbus Safran

The competition heats up: In negotiations resulting from increased competition in the launch industry, France and its space agency have agreed to sell their stock in Arianespace to Airbus Safran, builders of the new Ariane 6, giving that private company 74% ownership.

I have reported on this deal earlier. This report makes it clear, however, that Arianespace will essentially become irrelevant after the deal is completed. Airbus Safran will build and own the rocket, and will be in charge.

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Airbus unveils its first stage re-useability concept

The competition heats up: Airbus unveiled today its prototype design to recover and reuse the engines and avionics of its Ariane rockets.

Herve Gilibert, technical director for Airbus’ Space Systems division, said the Adeline propulsion unit — engine and avionics — is where lies most of the value of the first stage. The Airbus team concluded that SpaceX’s design of returning the full stage to Earth could be simplified by separating the propulsion bay from the rest of the stage, protecting the motor on reentry and, using the winglets and turbofans, return horizontally to a conventional air strip. “We are using an aerodynamic shield so that the motor is not subjected to such high stress on reentry,” Gilibert said. “We need very little fuel for the turbofans and the performance penalty we pay for the Ariane 6 launcher is far less than the 30 percent or more performance penalty that SpaceX pays for the reusable Falcon 9 first stage.

Gee, for decades Arianespace and Boeing and Lockheed Martin and everyone else in the launch industry insisted it made no economic sense to try to recover and reuse the first stage of their rockets. Then SpaceX comes along and makes an effort to do so, without as yet even coming close, and suddenly everyone agrees it is economically essential to do it as well.

Isn’t competition wonderful?

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ESA and Airbus Safran agree on deal to build Ariane 6

The competition heats up: Airbus Safran have come to an agreement with the European Space Agency on building Ariane 6, Europe’s next commercial rocket.

The key part of the deal is that ESA and Arianespace will be ceding ownership of the rocket to Airbus Safran.

The French government is likely to approve the sale of CNES’s 34-percent stake in the Evry, France-based Arianespace launch service provider to Airbus Safran Launchers at about the same time as the Ariane 6 development contract is signed.

With that sale, Airbus Safran will control Arianespace, which means they will also own the rocket they are building for Arianespace. This is fundamentally different than the situation with Ariane 5, which Airbus built for an Arianespace owned and run by the many-headed ESA. The result was a bloated government-run operation that never made a profit.

Now Airbus will own it instead. They have already indicated that they will trim the costs at Arianespace. More importantly, with ownership will come the freedom to compete effectively in the much more competitive launch market created by the arrival of SpaceX. No need to get permission from ESA to do things.

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Arianespace admits it is in a head-to-head competition with SpaceX

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.

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Airbus Safran demands full ownership of Ariane 6

The competition heats up: One of the heads of Airbus Safran that is offering to build Europe’s next rocket, Ariane 6, has said that they must have full control of the rocket and project or they won’t do it.

“We are now a few weeks from the submission of a bid, and of course at this stage everyone defends his camp,” Lahoud said. “It is said that industry needs to make a financial contribution. We have said it’s possible we will contribute, but on condition that [development] not be conducted under the former system.

“We want responsibility for the design, the production, the commercialization and operations to be in the hands of industry, and not in a sort of mixed-economy creation that borrows more from the United Nations than from what our competitors do. Under these circumstances, and only under these circumstances, will there be a business case that allows us to invest, and to defend before our boards of directors the fact that corporate cash needs to be spent.”

In other words, they will not build something that will be under the complex bureaucratic control of the many-headed European Space Agency. Under that framework, they don’t think they can compete, so why bother?

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ESA and Airbus Safran in budget dispute over Ariane 6

The competition heats up: The deal between ESA and Airbus Safran to build Europe’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, to compete with SpaceX for the launch market is now threatened because Europe wants the company to pay more for development than the company expected.

[ESA launch director Gaele] Winters acknowledged that Airbus Safran Launchers has not agreed with ESA’s assessment that industry’s share of the development cost is around 400 million euros. “They told us they have not signed off on the 400 million [euros], and this is correct,” Winters said. “It is an assumption we made, which we will look at next during the full Program Implementation review scheduled for mid-2016. Industry is prepared to invest in the program, and one important condition is that we need to be sure they have a fair rate of return on their investment.”

Winters said ESA is sensitive to the fact that additional costs borne by industry will find their way into the Ariane 6 pricing structure, which would undermine the vehicle’s competitiveness on the international commercial market.

If Airbus Safran wants to own the rocket, they must be willing to pay for some of its development, as have SpaceX and the other new American commercial space companies. This is the price for having the right to make money from the rocket outside of its European government customers. It seems, however, that Airbus Safran is balking at that reality. They are used to having everything covered by ESA, and are now unhappy they might have to lay out some bucks themselves.

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Airbus-Safran demand total control of Arianespace

The heat of competition: The European joint-venture between Airbus and Safran is now demanding that be given total control of Arianespace and the development of the new Ariane 6 rocket.

From Airbus’ perspective, the production of rockets in Europe should be done the same way commercial Airbus aircraft are built. “The launcher business in Europe in the beginning of 2014 was one in which the vehicles were designed by government agencies, commercialized by a company called Arianespace, produced by an ensemble of companies, and then launched by Arianespace. This is not an optimal situation,” [Airbus strategy director Marwan] Lahoud said.

“The optimal solution is to industrialize the process, with one prime contractor that designs, builds, sells and operates the launchers, with a supply chain — much as we do with Airbus today.”

Essentially, this would be a shift in ownership of the rocket, moving from the government to the private company. We have seen the same process in the U.S., with the new commercial space products no longer controlled or designed by NASA. The result has been lower cost, faster development, and greater profits.

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Airbus attacked by French lawmaker for talking to SpaceX

The competition heats up: A French lawmaker lashed out at Airbus for daring to consider SpaceX as a possible launch option for a European communications satellite.

The senator, Alain Gournac, who is a veteran member of the French Parliamentary Space Group, said he had written French Economy and Industry Minister Emmanuel Macron to protest Airbus’ negotiations with Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for a late 2016 launch instead of contracting for a launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket. “The negotiations are all the more unacceptable given that, at the insistence of France, Europe has decided to adopt a policy of ‘European preference’ for its government launches,” Gournac said. “This is called playing against your team, and it smacks of a provocation. It’s an incredible situation that might lead customers to think we no longer have faith in Ariane 5 — and tomorrow, Ariane 6.”

Heh. SpaceX really is shaking up the launch industry, ain’t it?

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New joint venture to build Ariane 6

Faced with stiff competition from SpaceX, Europe has handed the construction its next generation rocket, Ariane 6, from Arianespace to a joint venture between the European companies Airbus and Safran.

The new venture will be dubbed Airbus Safran Launchers, and will take over as Europe’s launch company.

I had known that Airbus and Safran had proposed this venture to build Ariane 6, but until I read this press release I hadn’t realized that the agreed-to deal to build Ariane 6 means that Arianespace has essentially been fired by Europe as the company running Europe’s rocket operations. Arianespace, a partnership of the European Space Agency’s many partners, was never able to make a profit, while its Ariane 5 rocket costs a fortune to launch. They have now given the job to two private companies who have promised to rein in the costs. We shall see what happens.

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Europe agrees to build Ariane 6

The heat of competition: Faced with a stiff challenge from SpaceX, the European partners in Arianespace have worked out a deal to replace the Ariane 5 rocket with Ariane 6.

The official announcement will be made in next few days, but with Germany agreeing to the French proposal, the partnership can now proceed.

The result will be a government rocket which will likely only launch government payloads, since it will likely also cost too much to compete with SpaceX and the other new lower cost commercial companies like Stratolaunch, now developing in the U.S.

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Italy’s legislature rejects additional funding for space

The Italian legislature has refused to add an additional $250 million to the budget of its space program, money requested to help pay the country’s share in the development of Arianespace’s next generation commercial rocket, Ariane 6.

The money was also needed for several other ESA space projects. Not having it puts a question mark on Italy’s future in space. The article also illustrates how the committee nature of Europe’s cooperative space effort makes it almost impossible for it to compete in the commercial market.

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SpaceX vs Arianespace, according to the TV industry

The heat of competition: A television industry trade journal looks at Arianespace’s future plans and finds them wanting, when compared to SpaceX.

Compare that [SpaceX’s] success with the money that’s been poured into Arianespace, and the lack of progress (perhaps wholly understandable when being managed by a Euro-committee!). Ariane’s mid-way ME version (for Midlife Extension) has been on the drawing board since 1995. And at a considerable investment, and for an initial scheduled flight of only 2017-2018.

The Ariane-62/64 concept calls for as much of the “ME” design to be incorporated into the 62/64 versions. But the planned launch of the first A-62 is not for some time; some observers suggest at best 2021-22. That’s more than 20 years of planning, development and immense costs.

Read the whole thing. It illustrates the almost impossible challenge faced by Arianespace — a company designed by a committee of nations and run to distribute funding as widely as possible to those nations. For that company to successfully reshape its approach quickly so that it can successfully compete with SpaceX seems quite unlikely, and will likely result in Arianespace evolving into Europe’s government launch service, with the commercial market shifting back to the U.S.

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Controversy surrounding IXV flight cancellation

Italian officials are suggesting politics or incompetence for the sudden cancellation Wednesday of the November test flight of Europe’s IXV experimental spaceplane.

ESA and CNES officials up to now have either declined to comment or, in the case of ESA, said they were at a loss to explain why a program whose mission profile has not changed in several years is now suddenly stalled for [range] safety issues that in principle should have been aired and resolved long ago.

One official, saying he could not believe that the two agencies simply forgot to evaluate the safety issues, said he preferred to suspect political motives. “Look, we are about to send a spacecraft and lander to Mars, in one year,” this official said. “Europe has rendezvoused with a comet a decade after the [Rosetta comet-chaser] satellite was launched. You want me to believe that somehow the agencies just forgot to evaluate safety? That is too far-fetched. I would rather believe there is some political motive.”

The claim is that no one ever evaluated the range issues in sending the Vega rocket to the east instead of its normal polar orbit trajectory. The Italian officials are suggesting that either the officials who cancelled the mission are incompetent, or that their competition with France within ESA over launch vehicles (Ariane 6 vs Vega) prompted the cancellation.

Europe’s lead launch-vehicle nation is France, which initially balked at participating in the Vega program. A French minister said that in Europe, launch vehicles are French. The French government declined to allow the export, to Italy, of the avionics suite that guides Vega, forcing Italy to develop its own. Italy has since done so and successfully flown it on Vega. As it stands now, one official said, France must accept the idea that with Vega, Italy has led development of a vehicle that at least in principle resembles an intercontinental ballistic missile. “Some people don’t like that,” this official said.

Either way, this cancellation combined with the difficult and extended disagreements within ESA over replacing Ariane 5 suggest that the future of this European partnership is becoming increasingly shaky.

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Europe struggles to contain costs on its next generation rocket

New budget estimates for replacing Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket now say that they will have to include the construction of an entirely new launchpad, raising costs.

Nonetheless, Europe is trying to keep its per launch cost down and competitive.

ESA and the Airbus-Safran joint venture that proposes to manage Ariane development also floated per-launch costs that were lower than previous estimates. The lighter-version Ariane 62, with two solid-rocket boosters, could be built for as little as 65 million euros assuming a nine-per-year launch rhythm, officials said. The heavier Ariane 64, intended mainly for the commercial market and capable of carrying two satellites weighing a combined 11,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, could be built for 85 million euros each, again assuming a nine-per-year production rate.

These numbers are tiny compared to what they have charged in the past, and though higher than SpaceX’s, are within a price range that will keep them in business, assuming they can achieve them.

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