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Arianespace’s chief condemns the idea of independent private European rocket companies

Stéphane Israël, the head of Arianespace, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) commercial rocket division, yesterday strongly condemned the idea of allowing independent private European rocket companies to develop and compete with his government operation.

“It is not possible to copy-paste the US model,” he said. “It is not possible. The level of space spending in the United States is five times higher than in Europe, and the private capital is not the same. So if the answer is to say let’s do what the US has done, I think we will not manage to do it.”

Moreover, Israël said the European Space Agency must resist supporting microlaunchers to the point where these companies might compete with the existing capabilities.

“A huge mistake would be that this focus on microlaunchers destabilizes Ariane 6 and Vega C—it would be a historic mistake,” he said. “Microlaunchers can be of support to boost innovation. But we should not make any confusion. This launcher will never give autonomous access to space to Europe. They’re on a niche market representing maybe 10 percent of the market, and less than that when it comes to European needs.”

He said this in Brussels at the 15th European Space Conference, where it appears he was trying to convince the ESA to block any competition with Arianespace.

Israël might say this, but not only has his track record in predicting the success of commercial space in the U.S. been bad, other European governments are not taking his advice. Both Germany and the United Kingdom have several rocket startups gearing up for their first launches this year, with others in Spain and France not far behind. Moreover, Israël doesn’t have much to offer in competition. Arianespace’s Vega rocket, intended to be a low cost option, has failed on three of its last eight launches. The Ariane 6 rocket is years behind schedule, and has not yet launched. And both are overpriced and cannot compete, not only with the American rocket startups but with India’s government rockets.

Moreover, those European governments have in recent years been taking control and power away from Israël and Arianespace. Unlike earlier rockets, the Ariane 6 rocket is not controlled or owned by Arianespace. Instead, it belongs to ArianeGroup, the partnership of Airbus and Safran that is building it. Arianespace’s role in operating it will be greatly limited, once it begins flying.

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11 comments

  • sippin_bourbon

    I think he is right.

    The needed capital and the desire to spend it does not exist in Europe.
    The European market is not the same. So competition between private and public agencies will not work.

    When the private start ups get momentum, he will see the need for Arianespace evaporate, because there will be cheaper options.
    It will no longer be needed. NASA, which has decades of National Pride behind it, as well as selectively placed locations in key voting districts, has built in guarantees for long term funding. ESA, to my knowledge, does not. And so he wants to block the private start ups to keep his job.

  • pzatchok

    I can see his argument about government funds for private systems but not any argument against private funding for private companies.

    He is just afraid that they will eventually take his lunch(launch) money away.

  • Ray Van Dune

    “Microlaunchers can be of support to boost innovation. But we should not make any confusion. This launcher will never give autonomous access to space to Europe.”

    By “autonomous access” he means independent manned missions. And Ariane 6 or Vega C will? I don’t see the political will to pour billions into that, while their citizens watch Aussies and Brazilians going into space on US ships and doing research and development in US space stations / labs /factories.

    After a belly full of that, elites like him will probably seek to hitch a ride with the Chinese. After all “autonomous” to them really only means independent of you-know-who!

    I just hope the US doesn’t stupidly help pay for international communism to spread off Earth!

  • George C

    It is exactly when you don’t have much money that you want the efficiency of private finance, risk and ownership.

  • Edward

    There is far more capital available outside of NASA [for use by commercial space marketplace] than there is inside of NASA.’ — paraphrased from an interview with NASA Administrator Bridenstine on the Ben Shapiro radio show on Monday 3 August 2020.

    I suspect that this is true in Europe, as well. How well funded is ESA and how much private capital is available throughout Europe? Although I don’t mind Europeans coming to America to launch their space business hardware, I think it would be better all around if Europe had its own commercial launch industry to satisfy their own launch needs. It would provide a free market alternative whose competition would continue to drive American companies to continue to improve their services and prices as well. Better all around.

    From the article:

    The chief of Arianespace could not be more clear: He does not want any competition for Vega C and Ariane 6, nor does he believe any commercial European company should have a chance to compete for the development of a next-generation reusable rocket.

    The chief of Arianespace could not be more clear: He believes in central control, central planning, and government monopoly rather than free market forces. Too bad for him, because Europe is in competition with other countries and with free market companies, and those who are allowed to choose launch services from outside Europe will find he best deal for themselves rather than be trapped with worse deals using Europe’s limited supply of launchers.

    With a lift capacity of about 2 metric tons to low-Earth orbit but a price of nearly $40 million, the Vega rocket is not price-competitive with commercial rockets nor India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

  • Robert Pratt

    Laughable. Stick with that bureaucracy driven model from Brussels and you’ll be about as behind on space science as much of Africa is on clean water.

  • BLSinSC

    Arianespace ? HMM, I recall a not so distant group of ARYANS! (in Nazi ideology) a white non-Jewish person, especially one of northern European origin or descent typically having blond hair and blue eyes and regarded as belonging to a supposedly superior racial group. Is the NAME somehow just a COINCIDENTLY altered spelling??

  • Capital markets in Europe “should” be tighter than in America because their demographic is older. Old people do not invest in risky ventures such as rockets. I have no evidence of this, but it makes sense.

    In the same vein, however, old people are not taxed much, either. They generally receive taxes, not pay them. That means that public funding is in just as much, if not more, trouble than private funding.

    The “there is not enough private capital, so let’s use public capital” argument doesn’t make sense.

  • Patrick Underwood

    “Every bad idea is French.” -Laurence Fox

  • Star Bird

    Okay when can we start building the Star Bases and Deep Space Stations like D.S. 9 and K-7 ?

  • Jeff Wright

    Well, I can understand some of the resentment.

    Some state sponsored ideas:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAC_TSR-2

    What the Brits were stuck with:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Dynamics_F-111_Aardvark

    This is why Europe doesn’t just let Musk handle their launches.

    Say you have this neighbor—and his name is Elon.

    He will let you ride to work…let’s even say he does it for very little carpool money.

    But if your are any kind of man—you find the situation untenable.

    You want YOUR car.

    He can have his—but you have yours.

    With the Avro Arrow and TSR 2 falling awak for the F-111 some American businessman pawns on you—you want your European rocket to be its own thing—-because of the bad taste in your mouth.

    So both those very different political ideas—having something that is yours—but being burned by having to rely on the caprices of the market that gave us the F-111—aviation’s latest Brewster Buffalo—you want launchers with a good background—and out of European pride.

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