ArianeGroup completes testing of all three Ariane 6 rocket engines

Capitalism in space: ArianeGroup, the joint private partnership that is building Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket, has successfully completed all testing of the three different engines the rocket will use.

The first stage has a core engine with side strap-on solid rocket motors, while the upper stage has a different engine entirely. All three have now passed qualification tests, allowing full design and construction of the rocket itself.

OneWeb announces new launch schedule, cancels Ariane 6 launch

Capitalism in space: OneWeb, as it restructures itself after its purchase by a partnership of an Indian company and the UK government, has announced a new launch schedule for completing its satellite communications constellation by 2022, with the first launch in December.

The key change is that they have cancelled their deal to fly OneWeb satellites on the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket. From the first link:

Arianespace will conduct 16 Soyuz launches for OneWeb, each carrying 34-36 satellites, to complete OneWeb’s internet megaconstellation by the end of 2022. The revised contract canceled two Soyuz launches, and removed OneWeb as the customer for the inaugural Ariane 6 launch, an Arianespace spokesperson told SpaceNews.

The Ariane 6 cancellation is bad news for Arianespace’s new rocket, which has had trouble garnering customers. I am sure OneWeb was offered a great price to launch some satellites on that inaugural flight, and still OneWeb backed out.

For Russia this announcement is good news, even if they have lost two Soyuz launches. It means the bulk of their Soyuz launches will go forward, pumping money into the Russia’s starving commercial launch industry. This launch contract is essentially the only Russian commercial contract, with SpaceX stealing all of Russia’s former customers, and the bankruptcy had threatened it.

Finally, this announcement shows that OneWeb’s new owners have recognized that they have to get their satellites launched as fast as possible if they are going to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

COVID-19 and launchpad issues delay Ariane 6

The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed today that the first launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocket will be delayed at least six months, to late 2021, due to lock downs related to the Wuhan flu panic, as well as construction issues at the rocket’s new launchpad.

“While we know that the maiden flight will not take place before the second semester of 2021, we cannot at this moment precisely quantify the delay, and we cannot provide an exact launch date,” Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, said according to an ESA translation of remarks at a July 9 press event provided to SpaceNews. The French Association of Professional Journalists in Aeronautics, organized the event at ArianeGroup’s headquarters in Paris.

ESA hopes to have greater clarity on the delays in a few months, he said, according to the ESA translation.

It bodes bad for this rocket that they, at this time, have so little handle on the issues and the length of the delays.

First Ariane 6 launch likely delayed to 2021

Because of delays caused by the Wuhan flu panic, the European Space Agency (ESA) and ArianeGroup now expect that the first launch of their new rocket, the Ariane 6, will likely be delayed from late in 2020 to 2021.

The loss of the flight’s payload is also a problem.

Finally, megaconstellation startup OneWeb had booked 30 small broadband satellites on the Ariane 6 maiden flight, but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, putting the mission in question. Luinaud said if Arianespace can’t find another customer for the Ariane 6 maiden flight this year, it may wait until 2021 to find a payload and avoid flying the rocket empty.

Overall Ariane 6 has been having trouble getting customers. Though it is less expensive that the Ariane 5, it it is entirely expendable and thus remains much more expensive than SpaceX’s Falcon 9. And with the Russians slashing the price of their Russia Proton rocket satellite companies have ample other options. It is for this reason I do not expect Ariane 6 to stick around long. ESA will be quickly forced to replace it with something less expensive and probably reusable.

Europe turns to private enterprise for future space transportation

Capitalism in space: The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced a permanently open call for private companies to develop “space transportation to space, in space, returning from space, or any combination of these.”

To be eligible, the economic operator should demonstrate that its space transportation service is a ‘complete offering’. This means that customers should not need to procure any additional essential service elements such as access to facilities, transport or logistics, to obtain the full service.

The economic operator should take full responsibility for the service project, including finding the funding and resources necessary to develop and deploy the service.

The new space transportation services should justify commercial viability, oriented toward private sector customers, without relying on a guaranteed European institutional demand during the operational phase and with a long-term vision of service provision. Preference will be given to such service projects that are conceived, developed and commercialised in the Participating States.

Though the announcement is filled with the typical hard-to-translate bureaucratic language typical of ESA’s projects, the intent here seems clear. The ESA no longer wishes to do any designing and developing of its rockets, as they have done from the beginning of the space age. This also means they are facing the reality that the Ariane 6 rocket, developed for them by the joint partnership of Airbus and Safran dubbed ArianeGroup, is going to be a financial failure, unable to compete against the lower cost SpaceX and Russian rockets now on the market.

Instead, they are now following what appears to be NASA’s path — the path I outlined in Capitalism in Space — to have ESA act merely as a customer, buying these services from competing private companies (not just ArianeGroup) who will develop the rockets themselves and (most important) own the rockets themselves.

If this is so, it is very good new for the future of space travel. It ups the competition, and it will allow for the development of European rockets able to provide this service at low cost.

The one wrench in the process is that this announcement also includes a bidding process for allowing these new private companies to get development money and technical assistance from ESA. That process appears to have some strings attached that might in the end prevent competing private companies to grow, independent of this governmental body. For example, the submission process allows “ESA to check compliance with Programme objectives and general eligibility. After a positive assessment, ESA will invite the economic operator to submit a full service proposal.” In other words, if you want ESA’s help, you will have to have ESA’s stamp of approval.

Still, this proposal does not require ESA’s help. The agency does appear to be willing to now entertain the use of any rocket system developed by any private operators within the participating ESA’s member nations of Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

OneWeb faces bankruptcy, even as it is about to launch more satellites

According to reports today, OneWeb, one of two companies presently building a constellation of satellites for providing worldwide internet access, is facing a serious cash crunch and might have to file for bankruptcy.

The main investor, Softbank, apparently is short of cash due to bad investments, worsened further by the stock market crash due to the Wuhan virus panic this week. Furthermore, the panic has caused Arianespace, which is launching many of OneWeb’s satellites, to suspend all launches from its French Guiana spaceport.

OneWeb has already launched 74 satellites, with a Soyuz launch of 34 more from Russia tomorrow. While fewer than the 360 that its main competitor SpaceX has launched of its Starlink constellation, OneWeb doesn’t need as many based on constellation’s design to become operational. After tomorrow’s launch, OneWeb will have launched about 18% needed, compared to SpaceX’s 24%.

If OneWeb goes out of business, it will do great harm to both Russia’s launch industry as well as Europe’s Arianespace, both of which have contracts for launching most of OneWeb’s satellites. In fact, for Russia, OneWeb is pretty much the only commercial customer they have. If they lose that it will be a serious financial blow.

Similarly, Arianespace’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, has had problems garnering contracts. Losing the OneWeb launches will also hurt their bottom line.

Airbus to cut 2,362 jobs, citing weak space market

Capitalism in space: Airbus announced this week that it plans to cut 2,362 jobs, citing as the reason “lower performance in space” as well as postponed defense contracts.

This quote from the article is revealing:

Airbus Defence and Space is the third satellite manufacturer to announce layoffs in the past 12 months. Thales Alenia Space said in September it was cutting around 6% of its workforce, following Maxar’s February 2019 announcement that it would dismiss roughly 3% of its employees.

The article however also indicates that 2019 saw a big recovery in geosynchronous satellite orders.

Though not stated, I suspect that part of Airbus’s problem is related to Ariane 6, which it is building in a joint partnership with Safran dubbed ArianeGroup. While designed to be less expensive to build, the rocket is not reusable, and its launch price is simply not competitive. Thus, getting contract orders has been very difficult.

Note also that ArianeGroup announced in November 2018 that it going to cut 2,300 jobs by 2022. I wonder if some of these cuts overlap the newly announced cuts.

Either way, these trims might be a good thing as Airbus and ArianeGroup work to cut their costs. Or they could be a bad thing, indicating that both are having trouble making sales. Only time will tell.

SpaceX wins launch contract for seven SES satellites

Capitalism in space: SES yesterday announced that it has awarded SpaceX’s Falcon 9 the launch contract for the next seven satellites in its next generation communications constellation.

This is a big win for SpaceX, made even more clear by a briefing held yesterday with reporters by Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israel. In that briefing Israel outlined that company’s upcoming launch contracts, where he also claimed that this launch manifest is so full he had to turn down SES’s launch offer.

Because of its full manifest, Arianespace was unable to offer SES launch capacity in 2021 for its next generation of medium Earth orbit satellites, mPOWER. SES announced plans Sept. 9 to fly mPOWER satellites on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. Arianespace launched the 20 satellites in the SES O3B constellation.

It was important to SES to launch in 2021, Israel said. Given Arianespace’s full manifest, it was difficult “to offer the guarantee they were asking for,” he added.

If you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you. Arianespace has been struggling to get launch contracts for its new Ariane 6 rocket. They have begun production on the first fourteen, but according Israel’s press briefing yesterday, Ariane 6 presently only has eight missions on its manifest. That means that six of the rockets they are building have no launch customers. I am sure they wanted to put those SES satellites on at least some of those rockets, and couldn’t strike a deal because the expendable Ariane 6 simply costs more than the reusable Falcon 9.

Europe completes 1st rollout of Ariane 6 mobile launch gantry

The mobile launch gantry that Europe will use for its new Ariane 6 rocket successfully completed its first rollout tests last week.

This gantry is the equivalent of NASA’s VAB building. Within this gantry they will assemble Ariane 6 vertically, then roll the gantry back for launch.

Assembling a rocket vertically I think is more costly, but it also makes it possible for the rocket to launch payloads that must be installed in this manner. Thus, Ariane 6 will have this selling point over rockets like the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, which are assembled horizontally.

Europe finally admits it must build reusable rockets

The new colonial movement: Europe has finally admitted that its refusal with Ariane 6 to make it reusable was a mistake, and has begun a major engineering research project to design and fly two different types of reusable rockets.

This month, the European Commission revealed a new three-year project to develop technologies needed for two proposed reusable launch vehicles. The commission provided €3 million to the German space agency, DLR, and five companies to, in the words of a news release about the project, “tackle the shortcoming of know-how in reusable rockets in Europe.”

This new RETALT project’s goals are pretty explicit about copying the retro-propulsive engine firing technique used by SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 rocket first stages back on land and on autonomous drone ships. The Falcon 9 rocket’s ability to land and fly again is “currently dominating the global market,” the European project states. “We are convinced that it is absolutely necessary to investigate Retro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies to make re-usability state-of-the-art in Europe.”

What is interesting to me is what appears to be some internal politics within Europe surrounding this effort. France is generally the most dominate member of the European Space Agency. Yet, according to the press release for this announcement, France is not involved in these new reusable rocket projects. Instead, Germany dominates, with companies from Switzerland, Portugal, and Spain participating.

It could be that the failure of Ariane 6 to garner customers, due to its higher costs, has forced these ESA partners to push for their own reusable rocket projects.

Either way, the competition in rocket technology is heating up, more evidence that the 2020s will be the most exciting decade in space since the 1960s.

ArianeGroup begins production of first 14 Ariane 6 rockets

Capitalism in space? ArianeGroup has announced it has begun production of the first fourteen Ariane 6 rockets, set for launch beginning in 2020.

Following the initial institutional and commercial launch orders for Ariane 6 obtained by Arianespace since the autumn of 2017, and the resolution of the ESA Council on April 17, 2019, related to the rocket’s exploitation framework, ArianeGroup is starting to build the first series-production batch of 14 Ariane 6 launchers.

These 14 launchers, scheduled to fly between 2021 and 2023, will be built in ArianeGroup plants in France and Germany, as well as in those of its European industrial partners in the 13 countries taking part in the Ariane 6 program.

The April 17 resolution essentially committed the ESA (European Space Agency) to subsidize ArianeGroup should Ariane 6 fail to obtain sufficient launch contracts for the company to make a profit.

Right now, that subsidization seems almost certain, based on the prices ArianeGroup is charging for Ariane 6 and the resulting dearth of sales contracts.

The launch rate announced above illustrates the rocket’s lack of interest. Fourteen launches in three years? SpaceX has been launching that many times in half a year. Granted, Ariane 6 is designed to launch two satellites to Falcon 9’s one, but even so this launch rate is low. And I expect in reality it will be lower than this. I expect them to fail to get launch customers, and will find they have a white elephant on their hands.

ESA agrees to subsidize Ariane 6 should it fail to sell

The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed an agreement with ArianeGroup, the private company building its next generation rocket Ariane 6, to provide subsidizes to the company should the rocket’s inability to get launch contracts continue.

The problem is that ESA had promised ArianeGroup seven launch contracts from its various governments during the rocket’s development, but only three so far have been signed. Ariane 6, though less expensive than Ariane 5, still costs too much (it is not going to be usable), and it appears that too many member nations in ESA don’t want to pay the extra bucks when they can get the same service cheaper from SpaceX.

This lack of contracts has caused ArianeGroup to slow development.

The new agreement gives the company a financial guarantee should the additional four launch contracts not materialize.

“If seven launch service contracts are not signed by the ministerial at the end of November, then the ESA DG [Director General Jan Woerner] will propose for decision to member states to complement the revenues needed for the first Ariane 64,” said [Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation].

In other words, Ariane 6 is going to turn out just like Ariane 5, an expensive rocket that never makes a profit. Moreover, if ESA requires its members to use its cost will handicap Europe’s future space efforts.

This isn’t a surprise. I predicted this likelihood back in September 2017 when ArianeGroup first announced the prices it planned to charge for Ariane 6 launches. Those prices, for launches in the 2020s, were higher than what SpaceX charges now, and were certainly going to be more uncompetitive in the future.

It seems that Europe’s aerospace industry, both in and out of government, can’t seem to understand these basics of the free market. You have to be competitive, and if you are not, the worst way to fix the problem is pour more money into an uncompetitive product. From the get-go they designed Ariane 6 as if it was 1990, when the industry said reusable rockets were impossible. The result is a rocket no one wants to buy, because everyone knows that by the mid-2020s they will have many inexpensive reusable rockets to choose from. Why buy an overpriced dinosaur?

So, instead of pouring subsidies into Ariane 6, as designed, ESA should be demanding for its money new designs from ArianeGroup that make the rocket cheaper to launch.

Europe does not appear to be doing this, however, so expect Europe to be badly crippled in the upcoming 21st century space race.

Ariane 6 gets OneWeb launch contract

Capitalism in space: Arianespace announced this week that it has signed a three-launch contract with OneWeb that will use its new Ariane 6 rocket, including the rocket’s maiden flight.

The launch service agreement specifies the use of the qualification launch of the Ariane 62 version, scheduled for the second half of 2020; the two Ariane 6 options (either in its 62 version, accommodating up to 36 OneWeb satellites, or in the 64 version, up to 78 OneWeb satellites) will be utilized starting in 2023.

The OneWeb satellites will be launched by the first Ariane 62 into a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers before raising themselves to their operational orbit.

Because OneWeb is in direct competition with SpaceX for building the first space-based internet satellite constellation, it has looked for other launch companies to put its satellites in orbit. Thus, the business to launch the company’s planned 650-plus satellite constellation has gone to Arianespace, Russia, Virgin Orbit, and others. This in turn appears to have saved Ariane 6, which is going to be more expensive than SpaceX’s rockets and was therefore having trouble getting launch contracts.

Isn’t competition wonderful? It looks like it is going to take us to the stars.

Europe to build reusable first stage

Capitalism in space: Even as Europe works to develop Ariane 6, their non-reusable next generation rocket, Ariane Group and the French are now considering replacing it with a different rocket with a reusable first stage.

Late last week, the European rocket maker Ariane Group and the French space agency CNES announced the creation of an “acceleration platform” to speed development of future launch vehicles. The initiative, called ArianeWorks, would be a place where “teams work together in a highly flexible environment, open to new players and internationally.”

“In this era of NewSpace and in the context of fierce competition, ArianeWorks will accelerate innovation at grassroots level, in favor of mid-tier firms and start-ups, with commitment to reducing costs a major priority,” a news release sent to Ars states.

As part of the announcement, the organizations released a promotional video for the group’s first step—a so-called Themis demonstrator. The goal of this project is to build a multiple-engine first-stage rocket that launches vertically and lands near the launch site. The rocket will be powered by Europe’s Prometheus engine, a reusable liquid oxygen and methane engine that may cost as little as $1 million to build.

Essentially they are copying SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, except for the fuel. And they admit it. Moreover, this action tells us that the problems Ariane 6 has had getting European contracts has become serious enough that they have finally recognized that it simply cannot compete with the new wave of reusable rockets expected in the next decade. Building a new rocket that does not have a reusable capability is not viable in the coming market.

They should have recognized this four years ago, but better late then never.

Auditor condemns Ariane 6

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.

ArianeGroup successfully test fires new solid rocket motor

Capitalism in space: ArianeGroup, the private consortium building Europe’s next generation of rockets, has successfully test fired the new solid rocket motor it will use for both its Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets.

The P120C is designed and built by a European consortium involving a joint venture known as Europropulsion, a venture between ArianeGroup and Avio, as well as CNES, the Italian ASI space agency, and Airbus Safran. This multinational venture uses the Avio facilities in Colleferro, Italy to manufacture the carbon fiber composite casing, a facility in France to build the ArianeGroup composite steerable nozzle, and the propellant casting and integration facilities in French Guiana to build up and prepare these boosters for flight.

The P120C, through its common use across launch vehicle lines and use of existing facilities, is designed to reduce costs as a competitive response to newer companies like SpaceX that have dramatically lowered launch costs and captured an increasing share of the worldwide launch market, dethroning the ArianeGroup from the dominating position it had held until very recently.

Without doubt they are going to save money using this solid rocket motor on both rockets. I remain somewhat skeptical, however, about whether they will achieve enough cost savings to compete with SpaceX. The seeming lack of interest by their primary European customers for Ariane 6 suggests this. It appears that its price might still be too high.

Ariane 6 might be in trouble

Capitalism in space: Arianespace today announced that they will not be able to begin full production of their next generation rocket, Ariane 6, unless they get four more contracts from the partners in the European Space Agency.

With the maiden flight of the Ariane 6 now 18 months away (in July 2020), Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said the company had anticipated signing a manufacturing contract with ArianeGroup in the second part of last year to begin production beyond the first rocket.

So far, European public entities have purchased three Ariane 6 missions — two from the European Commission for launching Galileo navigation satellites, and one from France for the CSO-3 military imaging satellite — but have not committed to the number envisioned at the start of the Ariane 6 program in 2014.

“We are confident it will happen,” Israël said of the remaining government missions. “But it is not done yet. We are working in this direction. It is now quite urgent because industry has anticipated the manufacturing of these first launchers, but now we need these institutional contracts to fully contractualize the first Ariane 6s.”

I wonder if the fact that the cost for an Ariane 6 launch is expected to be remain higher than a comparable SpaceX launch is the reason they are having trouble getting a commitment from their European partners. Why buy this rocket, when you can get the same service for less?

ArianeGroup to cut 2300 jobs

Capitalism in space: Faced with a significant loss of market share, taken by SpaceX, the European rocket manufacturer ArianeGroup has announced it will reduce its staffing by 2,300 jobs by 2022.

A joint venture by European aerospace company Airbus and the French group Safran, it currently employs 9,000 people in France and Germany. Constructor of the Ariane rockets, the European Space Agency workhorse, ArianeGroup also produces ballistic missiles.

Ariane 5 rockets are soon to be replaced by the Ariane 6 which will be an estimated 40 percent cheaper to make, under pressure in particular from Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

But European buyers have so far ordered only three Ariane 6 rockets ahead of the first scheduled launch in 2020.

The article at the link, produced by a French news service, is somewhat amusing. It repeatedly blames the lack of demand for the Ariane 6 on the U.S. government, which provides business to SpaceX. It doesn’t mention that ArianeGroup’s Ariane 6 rocket meanwhile is being built with government funds from the European Space Agency, and once completed in the 2020s will have a launch price that exceeds that of the Falcon 9 today. No wonder it hasn’t garnered many customers.

Ariane 5 launches BepiColumbo to Mercury

An Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket successfully launched the joint European/Japanese BepiColumbo mission to Mercury this weekend.

BepiColombo consists of two orbiters: Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) and ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), both of which will be carried together by the Mercury Transport Module (MTM).

While MPO will go into an approximately 400 x 1500 km mapping orbit around Mercury, MMO will enter a highly elliptical orbit to study the planet’s enigmatically strong magnetic field.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

28 China
17 SpaceX
8 Russia
8 ULA
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China still leads the U.S. in the national rankings 28 to 26.

Ariane 6 gets first commercial contract

Capitalism in space? Arianespace yesterday signed its first commercial contract for its new rocket, Ariane 6.

The Sept. 10 contract is Arianespace’s first with a commercial satellite operator for Ariane 6, and brings to eight the number of Ariane 6 missions on the company’s manifest, assuming none of the Eutelsat satellites are dual-manifested on the same rocket.

Eutelsat executives have suggested for years that the company was willing to be first in line to embrace Ariane 6, including most recently in June 2017 when the company signed a three-launch agreement for Ariane 5 missions.

Eutelsat spokesperson Marie-Sophie Ecuer told SpaceNews by email that the multi-launch agreement came with “attractive terms” that are “fully aligned with our objective to significantly reduce launch cost,” but declined to say if the company received a discount. To woo customers, SpaceX offered discounts of around $10 million to launch on the first Falcon 9 rockets to use previously flown first-stage boosters.

I question the private nature of this deal, in that Eutelsat is a European company with many legal ties to the European Union. Since all reports I’ve seen suggest that Ariane 6 is not going to be as cheap as SpaceX’s rockets, I wonder if some political pressure has been applied to Eutelsat to sign this contract.

Overall, it increasingly appears to me that Ariane 6 will not get much business outside of Europe because of its cost. Much like Russia, Europe is giving up on its commercial international market share, mainly because it can’t or won’t compete with the newer American companies.

ArianeGroup successfully tests solid rocket booster

Capitalism in space: ArianeGroup today successfully tested the solid rocket booster that it will use on both its Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets in the 2020s.

The test success is good news for ArianeGroup, but this quote is actually more significant:

A compromise reached in May by European Space Agency members funding launch vehicle development will keep production of the P120C in Italy, allowing Avio to produce up to 35 boosters annually. A previous arrangement would have split production between Colleferro, Italy-based Avio and MT Aerospace of Augsburg, Germany.

The economies of scale provided by using the same booster for two rockets and concentrating production in one place are a key aspect of reducing the price for Ariane 6 missions by 40 to 50 percent compared to the Ariane 5 in use today.

Faced with stiff competition from SpaceX, the European Space Agency (ESA) gave ArianeGroup the power to structure operations more efficiently rather than cater to the pork desires of the agency’s many member nations.

Whether either Ariane 6 or Vega-C can compete with SpaceX’s reusuable rockets however remains doubtful. I expect that almost all of ArianeGroup’s customers in the next decade will be ESA member nations, required to buy its more expensive services.

Arianespace lowers its launch forecast for 2018

Capitalism in space: Because of a launch miscue in January and a decision by India to delay a satellite launch, Arianespace today admitted that it will not meet its forecast of fourteen launches in 2018.

Arianespace, majority-owned by a joint venture of Airbus and Safran, has so far conducted only three launches, but expects a busier second half, CEO Stephane Israel said. He now expects around 11 satellite launches for the year.

There might be a similar number of launches in 2019, but it is too early to give a definitive forecast, Israel said, adding the company was now focusing on gaining customers for the lower cost Ariane 6 rocket due to debut in 2020.

The article states the launch cost for Ariane 6 will be 40% less than Ariane 5, which cost $100 million per satellite. This brings the per satellite price for Ariane 6 to $60 million, about what SpaceX presently charges. Whether that can compete with the prices that SpaceX and others will be charging in 2020, when Ariane 6 is expected to become operational, remains unknown.

ArianeGroup chief admits they can’t compete

In a newspaper interview the chief of ArianeGroup, the private joint partnership of Europe’s main rocket contractors Airbus and Safran, can’t seem to understand why competition and lowering prices is a good thing.

Rather than give you one or two quotes, it is better that you click on the link and read the whole. thing. Essentially, the heart of the problem is that ArianeGroup is building their new Ariane 6 rocket as an expendable, not reuseable, and thus they it will not be able to compete in the launch market expected in the 2020s. They made this decision based on the political needs of the European Space Agency rather then financial needs of the launch market. As such, the launch market is abandoning them.

What is amazing is this CEO’s complete lack of understanding of these basic economic facts. It suggests some very deep rot in both ArianeGroup and much of Europe’s commercial aerospace sector. If the person in charge does not understand market forces, who else at the company will?

Europe suddenly realizes that reusable rockets are possible and economical

The head of the European Space Agency (ESA) has admitted in his blog that the agency’s future rockets, Ariane 6 and Vega C, are not going to be competitive because they will not be reusable.

The promise to secure autonomous access to space and reduce the price by a factor of 2 proved sufficiently compelling to secure ESA member states’ agreement to finance the development. At that time, I succeeded in placing environmental concerns and the possible development of reusability among the high-level requirements:

  • Maintain and ensure European launcher competence with a long-term perspective, including possibility of reusability/fly-back.
  • Ensure possibility to deorbit upper stage directly

Due to time and cost pressure, however, these aspects did not make it onto the agenda for Ariane 6 and Vega C. Yet in the meantime, the world has moved on and today’s situation requires that we re-assess the situation and identify the possible consequences. In many discussions on the political level, the strategic goal of securing European autonomous access to space has not changed, however there is a growing sense that pressure from global competition is something that needs to be addressed. With Vega C, Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 approaching completion, it seems logical to complete these launchers in order to at least take that major step towards competitiveness. At the same time, it is essential that we now discuss future solutions, including disruptive ideas. Simply following the kind of approaches seen so far would be expensive and ultimately will fail to convince. Totally new ideas are needed and Europe must now prove it still possesses that traditional strength to surpass itself and break out beyond existing borders. In this sense, the process of discussing and deciding on a launcher system that eschews traditional solutions can send a powerful signal out into other areas as well. I therefore intend to invite innovative, really interested European players to come together to define possible ways forward. [emphasis mine]

Let me translate his bureaucratic wording: “We didn’t think reuseable rockets were practical, economical, or even possible. We took a safe route in designing Ariane 6 and Vega C. We screwed up, and now face a competitive market in which our rockets cannot compete. Thus, we need to move fast to copy the private sector, SpaceX and Blue Origin in particular, or face serious financial consequences.

Unless he forces some major cultural changes in ESA, however, I expect that by the time this government-run operation manages to duplicate the achievements of those two private companies, those companies will have marched on to even more innovative successes.

ArianeGroup successfully completes first engine test of Ariane 6 rocket

ArianeGroup has successfully completed the first static fire engine test of the first stage main engine for its Ariane 6 rocket, scheduled for its first launch in 2020.

They have already been testing of the rocket’s upper stage engine now for several months. The article also notes that this main stage engine just tested is essentially a more efficient upgrade of an Ariane 5’s engine, which explains how they were able to develop it so quickly.

ArianeGroup to begin production of first Ariane 6 rocket

Capitalism in space: Having completed a new review of the design of its new Ariane 6 rocket, ArianeGroup and ESA have decided to begin production for a planned launch in 2020.

I continue to wonder how they expect this expendable rocket to compete for launch business with both SpaceX and Blue Origin flying reusables by 2020. At best, I see the member states of the European Space Agency saddled with the requirement to use this more expensive rocket, which will seriously handicap them in the competition to settle the solar system.

Motor for ArianeGroup’s next generation rockets ready for testing

Capitalism in space: The first full scale solid rocket motor for ArianeGroup’s next generation rockets, the Ariane 6 and the Vega-C, is now ready for testing.

The P120C is the largest solid-propellant rocket motor ever built in one segment. Each P120C will hold over 140 tonnes of propellant in a carbon fibre casing almost 11.5 m long and about 3.4 m in diameter. It is derived from Vega’s current first stage motor, the P80, which holds 88 tonnes of propellant.

The design builds on existing expertise and lessons learned with Vega’s P80, and it increases Vega performance with Vega-C. Two or four P120Cs will be strapped onto Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff.

The use of this solid rocket on both the upgraded Vega-C and the larger Ariane 6 illustrates how the privately controlled ArianeGroup is trying to reduce costs. In the past, Arianespace would have had different companies within the ESA build different solid rockets for Vega-C and Ariane 6 in order to distribute the work to different member countries, even though having two different development contracts would have increased costs.

ArianeGroup struggles with the concept of reusability

Capitalism in space: ArianeGroup, the company building ESA’s next generation rocket Ariane 6, is debating when and if it should introduce reusability into its design.

[Patrick Bonguet, head of the Ariane 6 program,] said ArianeGroup is studying reusability with Prometheus “in order to be sure to take the right path at the right moment.” Those efforts are mostly to prevent Europe from being caught flat-footed in the wake of other reusable launch systems, namely from SpaceX and now also Blue Origin.

Reusability is far from a primary focus, however. “We still have not understood, would we save money by reusing? At least with our launch rate?” he asked. “We hope to launch 12 times a year. If we reuse 12 times, that means we only manufacture one time per year. It is difficult for us to have that.”

Bonguet said reusability would essentially erase the production efficiencies ArianeGroup is striving for, starving the Ariane 6 industrial base of the work upon which it relies. A smaller tip-toe into reusability could come through salvaging Ariane 6’s payload fairings. Swiss manufacturer Ruag Space is developing reusable fairings, which Bonguet said are of interest to ArianeGroup.

I guarantee that by the mid-2020s they will entirely be “caught flat-footed” if they have not begun by then the use of reusable rockets.

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