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Head of France’s space agency blames too many subcontractors for high cost of Ariane-6

At a conference yesterday the head of France’s CNES space agency, Philippe Baptiste, strongly blasted the European Space Agency’s (ESA) system of distributing contracting work to many subcontractors in its partner countries for high cost of its new expendable Ariane-6, a high cost that makes it uncompetitive in today’s launch market.

While giving his remarks, the CNES boss explained that “the European space industry, which is largely French, is in danger today. Our industry is not pivoting quickly enough. We must move quickly, reduce cycles, costs, otherwise we will all die.” It should be noted that the hyperbole towards the end of that statement may be exaggerated thanks to its translation from French to English.

On Ariane 6, Baptiste stated that “today, we are too expensive, including on Ariane 6. We are missing several tens of millions of euros, which we cannot find among European subcontractors.”

As the article then notes, this is not a new problem. ESA attempted to reduce it when it agreed in 2017 to give ownership of Ariane-6 to ArianeGroup, a joint partnership of Airbus and Safran, two of Europe’s biggest aerospace companies. The idea was that ArianeGroup would be in charge, and thus less bound to give out multiple subcontracts to many different companies scattered throughout ESA’s European partners.

This apparently did not happen, and the reason is likely because Ariane-6 was still a rocket conceived by the ESA to be run by the ESA, not a private company. That government control is also the reason Ariane-6 was designed not be reusable, even though in 2017 it was very obvious that an expendable rocket would be uncompetitive in the 2020s launch market. The bureaucrats at ESA didn’t want to take chances, so they choose a conservative design.

Baptiste’s remarks today I think help explain France’s decision earlier this week to award contracts to four rocket startups. France has finally realized that its partnership in ESA has been hindering its own space industry, and is now moving to encourage its growth outside of ESA.

There is great irony here. France led the way in creating ESA, because it wanted others to help pay for its space program. Now it rejects that partnership because its partners are simply doing what is natural, demand their own piece of the action.

Regardless, this breakup is good news. It means the European government monopoly on launch services is truly ending.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

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  • Ray Van Dune

    Oh no! “Competition is coming again” for the SpaceX-dominated space launch market!

    Hmmm, let’s ask Tesla about that competition it has been warned about for years! Sure, it’s coming, but not from the EU, and not even from the US, at least anytime real soon. It’s from China.

    Amazing the parallels between the SpaceX and Tesla competitive positions! It’s like something they have in common was guiding both of them to dominance.

    Ps. I have two kinds of relatives: those who own Teslas, and those who don’t. I caution all of them that when they read some bloviation about the EV market in the MSM, add to the end of the article or op-ed, “* … except Tesla.”

  • pzatchok


    The only car company who marketed their car the correct way,
    They sold its strengths(Speed) and did not lie about its range.

    All the others started out marketing their cars as environment savers and gas savers. They over sold their ranges and outright lied about their eventual total costs.

    The whole of the electric car industry outright lied about the total environmental impact of their technology.

  • Jeff Wright

    I heard Tesla car broke the equipment used to test other cars. Mitch’s sister-in-law…a lush drowned in the time it took to cut into one of Musk’s products.

    I just wish it had a regular engine.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    Tesla also stands on its top of class safety record and its commitment to constantly improving its product and production excellence over time. Yesterday’s OTA update added the improved Autopark feature to an already impressive self driving package, a real “gee whiz” moment for me. Also, Tesla leads the pack in responsible sourcing and materials applications, such as moving away from cobalt with its ethical and toxicity concerns and starting a new style lithium refinery in Texas.

    The transition takes time, however, so for the moment shikata ga nai. Personally, I don’t care about the environmental impacts nearly as much as energy independence. Never again will I be subject to the whims of an energy supplier who spuriously gouges their customers for profit. They can buy my energy. That’s a fair tradeoff to me.

    The sarcasm displayed in this article is breathtaking. Andries’ comments in particular just nail it.

    Do the Europeans do a form of cost plus contracting? Is that just business as usual for every government?

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