Tag Archives: Arianespace

Arianespace offers to pick up SpaceX business

The competition heats up: In an effort to gain more business, Arianespace is offering to add an additional launch to its 2017 schedule for any satellite companies whose payload launch is being delayed by both SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launchpad explosion as well as a delay in Russian Proton launches due to its own technical issues.

In his remarks it seemed to me that the CEO of Arianespace was almost gloating.

In a Sept. 7 interview with France Info radio, Israel reiterated his confidence in what he portrayed as Arianespace’s more plodding, deliberative — and higher-cost — approach to launches when compared to SpaceX.

Arianespace does not want a reusable rocket for the moment, he said, because it’s not certain that reusability can reduce costs and maintain reliability. The Ariane 6 rocket, to operate starting in 2020, will not be reusable. The company also is wary of the Silicon Valley ethos that champions constant iteration, which he said has been a feature of Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX as well. “We think that the more a launch resembles the preceding launch, the better we are for our customers because we remain in the ‘explored domain’ where everything is understood,” Israel said.

In the short run he and Arianespace might benefit by this situation, but in the long run they will face a shrinking market share if they cannot lower the price of their rockets.

Arianespace sets payload weight record

The competition heats up: Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket successfully launched its heaviest payload ever yesterday by placing two Intelsat communications satellite in orbit.

This was also the first launch by Arianespace since the ESA company was taken over by the private joint partnership of Airbus Safran.

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.

OneWeb to set up operations in Florida

The competition heats up: The head of OneWeb confirmed today that his company is going to establish its base of operations in Florida.

The founder of OneWeb, Greg Wyler, confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel that his company is moving to Kennedy Space Center. Wyler plans to announce more details Tuesday morning in a news conference with Gov. Rick Scott, who will explain $20 million in state incentive dollars for the company. “It’s pretty exciting to see that Florida will be the base for a new satellite network that will extend high-speed access to 54 percent of the globe,” Wyler said in a phone interview.

OneWeb already has $500 million in funding to launch the new satellites, designed to boost internet access globally. It also has contracts with Virgin Galactic and French company Arianespace for launches. The company plans to hire at least 250 people.

The important part of this story for Florida is that OneWeb will be building its satellites there. Whether any are ever launched from Florida will depend on Virgin Galactic ever getting off the ground. Otherwise, most of these satellites will launch from French Guiana.

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.

Second solo Ariane 5 launch in 2016

The competition heats up: In successfully placing a commercial communications satellite in orbit last night, Arianespace also did its second consecutive single satellite launch.

The Ariane 5 rocket is designed to carry two satellites, and normally does so in order to maximize its profit per launch. That they have done two straight commercial launches without a second satellite suggests to me that the competition from SpaceX is taking customers from them. The scheduling of the secondary payload usually suffers because priority is given to the primary satellite. Those customers thus might be switching to SpaceX in the hope they can gain better control over their own launch schedule, while also paying far less for their launch.

Then again, considering how unreliable SpaceX’s own launch schedule has been, it is unlikely these customers will have yet gained any scheduling advantages.

SpaceX loses a launch payload

In the heat of competition: Because of delays, a satellite company has shifted its launch vehicle from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5

The company, ViaSat, still has a contract with SpaceX to use Falcon Heavy to launch later satellites, but they decided they could no longer wait and needed to get the satellite in orbit by 2017, something that SpaceX could no longer guarantee. They had to pay more to fly on Ariane 5, but it appears they were able to negotiate a price break with Arianespace to close the deal.

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.

OneWeb awards major launch contracts

The competition heats up: OneWeb today announced it had raised a half billion dollars in investment capital, and has also awarded two major launch contracts, one to the Arianespace/Russian Soyuz partnership and the other to Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne.

The Soyuz gets 21 launches while LauncherOne gets 39. For Virgin Galactic this contract might save the company, as their effort to fly tourists on SpaceShipOne has badly stalled. The effort to build LauncherOne, however, seems to be gaining steam.

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.

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.

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.

A dozen launches for Arianespace in 2015?

The competition heats up: Arianespace’s launch manifest for 2015 predicts a busy year, with a hoped for pace of one launch per month.

What I like most in the article however is what this paragraph says:

The launch provider won nine contracts for geostationary satellites in 2014, and eight of them are the right size to ride in the Ariane 5’s lower berth, [said Stephane Israel, Arianespace’s chairman and CEO] in an interview with Spaceflight Now.

SpaceX has emerged as the chief rival to the veteran French-based launch company, which started the commercial launch business when it was founded in 1980. SpaceX and Arianespace cinched the same number of commercial launch contracts last year. Partly in response to SpaceX’s bargain prices and partly as an initiative to ensure the Ariane 5 has a steady balance of heavier and lighter payloads, Arianespace cut prices for customers with smaller satellites. [emphasis mine]

I love how competition has lowered costs while simultaneously increasing the launch rate for multiple companies. Before SpaceX arrived to challenge established companies like Arianespace the accepted wisdom in the launch industry was that it was foolish to have more rockets capable of launching at lower costs, because there simply wasn’t enough business to justify it. You’d supposedly end up with idle facilities costing money with no payloads to launch. I always thought that theory was hogwash. Elon Musk and SpaceX have definitely proven it so.

Test flight of Europe’s first prototype space plane has been rescheduled

The competition heats up: Preparations have resumed for a February 11 test flight of a European prototype space plane, initially scheduled for November but cancelled at the last minute because managers suddenly discovered its launch path was going to go over land.

The launch trajectory of the IXV space plane on a suborbital trajectory will differ from the Vega rocket’s previous flights, which flew north from the space center with satellites heading for high-inclination polar orbits. The launch of IXV will head east from Vega’s launch pad, and the geometry of the French Guiana coastline means it will fly over land in the first phase of the launch sequence.

Officials said they slightly adjusted the launch track to alleviate the the safety concern.

The four-stage Vega rocket was stacked on the launch pad at the Guiana Space Center, and the IXV spacecraft was about to be fueled with hydrazine maneuvering propellant when officials announced the delay in October. A ship tasked with retrieving the space plane after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean had already left port in Italy when news of the launch delay was released.

I remain suspicious about the cause of the delay in November. How could they not have known about the launch trajectory until the last second? Instead, I suspect it occurred because of politics higher up in ESA related to Italian, German, and French tensions over the future of Arianespace. The Italians are the lead on this space plane project, to the apparent chagrin of the French, who mostly run the launch facility in French Guiana. Moreover, it appears the Italians have generally sided with the Germans against the French in the Ariane 6 design negotiations. I wonder if the delay was instigated by higher management in an effort to influence those negotiations.

Arianespace and SpaceX neck and neck in race for contracts

The competition heats up: Of the new commercial launch contracts signed in 2014, Arianespace and SpaceX tied for the lead.

Russia meanwhile signed no new deals 2014, suggesting that the recent launch failures of their Proton rocket has significantly soured interest in their services, despite their low launch costs.

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.

Independent Arianespace investigation cites design error as cause of Russian launch failure

A just released independent investigation by Arianespace of the Soyuz rocket launch failure that put two European Galileo GPS satellites in the wrong orbits has concluded that the design of the Fregat upper stage, not an assembly error, was at fault for the failure.

The upper stage was not oriented correctly because fuel lines to thrusters had become frozen.

The freezing resulted from the proximity of hydrazine and cold helium feed lines, these lines being connected by the same support structure, which acted as a thermal bridge. Ambiguities in the design documents allowed the installation of this type of thermal “bridge” between the two lines. In fact, such bridges have also been seen on other Fregat stages now under production at NPO Lavochkin. The design ambiguity is the result of not taking into account the relevant thermal transfers during the thermal analyses of the stage system design.

That the Russian investigation found that this arrangement of feed lines happened once in every four stages that were assembled still suggests sloppiness, if not in assembly then in design. The Arianespace investigation, though thorough, thus appears to me to be trying to provide cover for thier Russian partners here.

More quality control problems in Russia

The investigation into the failure of a Russian Soyuz rocket to place two European Galileo GPS satellites into the correct orbit has found that it was caused by the faulty installation of fuel lines on the Fregat upper stage.

The failure was as simple as clamping together a cold helium line with the hydrazine fuel line, causing the hydrazine to freeze long enough to upset the Fregat stage’s orientation and cause the two satellites’ release into an orbit that is both too low and in the wrong inclination, officials said. One official said the Euro-Russian board of inquiry into the failure discovered that one in four Fregat upper stages at prime contractor Moscow-based NPO Lavochkin had the same faulty installation. ,,,,

Government and officials said the commission is debating how to proceed now that it knows that, as expected, the Fregat failure was not one of design, but of assembly and quality control. [emphasis mine]

In other words, 1 in 4 Fregat upper stations were routinely assembled improperly and no one noticed. The investigation also found that this assembly problem had existed on several past launches but because of the orbital requirements it had fortunately not caused any problems.

I want to emphasize that these kind of sloppy assembly issues have been occurring at a number of different Russian factories and different Russian companies. It seems to be systemic to the entire Russian aerospace industry, and it also appears to be getting worse.

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