Tag Archives: Ariane 6

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Europe’s satellite makers want Ariane 6

Europe’s six biggest satellite makers have written Arianespace to demand that the company build its next generation Ariane 6 rocket by 2019 or face a significant loss of business.

Given the advent of electric propulsion and the dramatic launch-cost reduction offered by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the operators say, the new Ariane 6 needs to be in service by 2019 or face the risk that Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium will be permanently sidelined. The letter was signed by six members of the European Satellite Operators Association. Signatories included the chief executives of Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat, Inmarsat, Hispasat and HellasSat.

This letter is clearly intended to help prod Arianespace into making a decision on whether to build a new rocket, Ariane 6, or upgrade Ariane 5. Right now the company’s partners have been unable to come to an agreement about what to do.

Indecision in Europe about their future commercial rocket

The competition is burning them up! With Germany and France unable to come to an agreement about the next Arianespace commercial rocket, the company is considering cancelling a December conference that was supposed to settle the issue.

The basic division remains despite the German government’s alignment with the French view that Europe needs a lower-cost rocket to maintain its viability in the commercial market — which in turn provides European governments with a viable launch industry.

Despite the consensus over the longer term, the two sides remain split on whether European Space Agency governments should spend 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) to complete work on a new upper stage for the existing Ariane 5 rocket, which could fly in 2018-2019, or abandon the upgrade to focus spending on a new Ariane 6 rocket, whose development would cost upwards of 3 billion euros over 7-8 years. [emphasis mine]

Though SpaceX is not mentioned in this particular article, numerous previous articles on this subject (such as this one) have made it very clear that it is SpaceX’s low prices that are driving the need for Arianespace to cut costs. The problem, as this article makes very clear, is that Arianespace’s partners can’t figure out how to do it, at least in a manner that will still provide them all an acceptable share in the pie. The result might be that the entire partnership falls apart.

A streamlined Arianespace to build Ariane 6?

The competition heats up: The merged Airbus/Safran rocket division has surprised the European Space Agency with a proposed new design for Ariane 6.

The Airbus-Safran proposal, if carried to its logical end, would mean a single company building Ariane vehicles, with fewer subcontractors and much less government oversight. It would likely mean the end of the CNES launcher division as industry takes more control of Ariane design and operations.

In other words, the contractors who build the rockets for ESA want more power over that construction. They want less government oversight, and more ownership of the rocket they build.

Sounds like what’s happening in the U.S., doesn’t it? Giving ownership to the rocket builders means they not only have more flexibility and thus can be more efficient, it makes it easier for them to innovate in both construction and sales.

The European partnership building the new Ariane 6 rocket struggles to keep its costs down to compete with SpaceX.

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.

The battle between France and Germany on how to replace the Ariane 5 rocket continues.

The battle between France and Germany on how to replace the Ariane 5 rocket continues.

To save money and lower cost, France wants to build a rocket that mostly uses solid rocket motors. Germany however has a problem with this.

German government officials have said they will have difficulty supporting the current Ariane 6 design, which features four identical solid-fueled stages — two as strap-on boosters, and two as the vehicle’s first and second stages — topped by the cryogenic upper stage powered by the same restartable Vinci engine that is the main element of the proposed Ariane 5 upgrade. Germany, through its space agency, the German Aerospace Center, DLR, has said it would prefer a liquid-fueled first stage for Ariane 6 as such a stage could be built in Germany and thus assure a large German industrial role in the program. Without such a role, DLR has said, German support for Ariane 6 might not be forthcoming.

The story above says that France is willing to negotiate with Germany over this, but if they do, they guarantee that Ariane 6 will be a costly rocket to build, making it very unattractive to satellite customers.

European satellite operators are pressing Arianespace to find ways to immediately reduce the cost of launching satellites on now Ariane 5 and in the future on Ariane 6.

European satellite operators are pressing Arianespace to find ways to immediately reduce the cost of launching satellites on now Ariane 5 and in the future on Ariane 6.

And why are they doing this? To quote them:

“What is sure is that Europe deserves and requires a [reorganized launcher sector] ahead of 2019, the letter says. “[C]onsiderable efforts to restore competitiveness in price of the existing European launcher need to be undertaken if Europe is [to] maintain its market situation.

“In the short term, a more favorable pricing policy for the small satellites currently being targeted by SpaceX seems indispensable to keeping the Ariane launch manifest strong and well-populated.” [emphasis mine]

It seems that they take very seriously the competitive challenge being presented by SpaceX.

According to the former CEO of Arianespace, now head of the French space agency, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 costs significantly less to launch than the Ariane 5

According to the former CEO of Arianespace, now head of the French space agency, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 costs significantly less to launch than the Ariane 5.

How big is the difference? Jean-Yves Le Gall, who until mid-2013 was chief executive of Evry, France-based Arianespace and is now president of the French space agency, CNES, addressed the point in Feb. 25 testimony to the French Senate. According to Le Gall, launching a satellite on an Ariane 5 costs around 100 million euros ($137 million). After subtracting the amount of European Space Agency subsidies to Arianespace, the per-satellite cost drops to about $100 million, he said.

Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX, he said, would charge $60 million to $70 million to launch the same satellite aboard the Falcon 9. In fact SpaceX has charged even less than that to its first few commercial customers.

It is for this reason that Arianespace is struggling to decide how to build its next generation rocket. They have find a way to do it cheaper, something that is very difficult for this multi-headed European conglomerate to do.

The European Space Agency has now released its first cost estimates for upgrading and replacing its Ariane 5 rocket.

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.

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