Auditor condemns Ariane 6


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Capitalism in space: France’s independent government auditor has issued a new report that badly slams Arianespace’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, accusing its design as being too cautious and too expensive, thus guaranteeing it will fail to compete with the reusable rockets now in use as well as being developed in the U.S.

This is the scathing assessment of France’s independent state auditor in a report that picked apart the flawed economic model behind Ariane 6, the next generation of rocket-launchers set to start operating in 2020.

It made the point that Europeans, who have taken part in developing the launcher, went for a “cautious” approach and invested in the kind of controlled technology that potential clients in the continent had no faith in, even back in 2014. This means that Ariane 6 is stuck in the past and “risks not being competitive over the long term.” Its U.S. rivals are way ahead and already testing future disruptive technologies. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text is proven by the apparent unwillingness of Arianespace’s European partners to sign contracts for Ariane 6.

This isn’t really news. See for example this February 13, 2018 report on Behind the Black. Or this one from September 2017, where ArianeGroup first outlined the prices they expected to charge for Ariane 6. Then, I predicted what France’s auditor has only now realized:

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…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. [emphasis mine]

Based on recent stories, it seems that ArianeGroup has been unable to force European space agencies to buy Ariane 6. Thus, the rocket faces failure, before it even launches.

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3 comments

  • Robert Pratt

    A great you told ’em so!

  • Edward

    I seem to recall that there was early discussion, a few years back, about redesigning Ariane 6 to be more competitive with Falcon and perhaps New Glenn. It was a conscious choice to not compete, so this report should be no surprise. My recollection is that the company and its major investors were unable to convince the European overseers (government(s)) to allow them to do as they wished, resulting in this poor choice.

    Rather than becoming subsidy-free, Arianespace may need continued subsidies until they can correct this disaster with Ariane 7.

  • Edward: Your memory is mostly correct. What happened is that Airbus and Safran formed a joint partnership ArianeGroup and told Arianespace that they would only participate in building Ariane 6 if they had a controlling interest in the rocket, and were in control of how it was built. ESA agreed.

    ArianeGroup however seems to be more like the big space companies in the U.S. (Boeing, Lockheed Martin), more interested in maintaining the status quo, their jobs, and their access to government funding, then actually compete on the open market. The audit criticized this fact also.

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