Tag Archives: ArianeGroup

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Arianespace orders last ten Ariane 5 rockets

Capitalism in space: Arianespace yesterday announced that it has purchased the last ten Ariane 5 rockets as part of the company’s transition to its new Ariane 6 rocket in 2020.

These rockets appear to be for launches from 2020 to 2023, during a time period when they will be testing Ariane 6 and initiating its first operational flights.

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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.

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Europe finally begins to realize that reusability cuts costs

Capitalism in space: Faced with stiff and increasing competition from SpaceX, European governments are finally beginning to realize that their decades of poo-pooing the concept of rocket reusability might have been a big mistake.

In what was likely an unexpected question during a Nov. 19 interview with Europe 1 radio, French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire was asked if SpaceX meant the death of Ariane.

“Death? I’m not sure I’d say that. But I am certain of the threat,” Le Maire said. “I am worried.” Le Maire cited figures that are far from proven — including a possible 80% reduction in the already low SpaceX Falcon 9 launch price once the benefits of reusability are realized. “We need to relfect on a reusable launcher in Europe, and we need to invest massively in innovation,” Le Maire said.

Then there was a report out of Germany that has concluded that SpaceX commitment to reusability is about to pay off.

The article also cites those in Europe and with the U.S. company ULA that remain convinced that they can compete with expendable rockets. In reading their analysis, however, I was struck by how much it appeared they were putting their heads in the sand to avoid facing the realities, one of which has been the obvious fact that SpaceX has been competitively running rings around them all. This is a company that did not even exist a decade ago. This year it very well could launch more satellites than Europe and ULA combined.

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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.

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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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ArianeGroup’s transition to Ariane 6 rocket

Link here. It appears that this transition not only includes replacing Ariane 5 with Ariane 6, but also the phase out of Russian Soyuz rockets by 2022. This loss of business is going to hurt Russia, as the government there desperately needs cash with the drop in oil prices.

The article also noted that ArianeGroup will charge two prices for Ariane 6, depending on configuration and payload, $85 million and $130 million per launch. These prices seem high, but because they likely cover the launch of two satellites, customers will be charged half these amounts, $40 million and $65 million, which is competitive in today’s market.

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 below 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.

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Arianespace announces new launch contracts

Capitalism in space: Arianespace today announced it has won a new launch contract for two different satellites, bringing its launch manifest to 53.

The press release contains a lot of interesting tidbits:

  • They plan to complete 11 launches in 2017, which is slightly above their yearly average in the past six years.
  • In 2018 they presently have only 7 launches planned, the lowest number since 2013.
  • Of the 53 launches, Ariane 5 will do 17, Soyuz 27, and Vega 9, suggesting a shift away from Ariane 5, which has been the company’s mainstay.
  • The private joint partnership of Airbus and Safran, now called ArianeGroup, has taken control of the business, and has begun streamlining it.
  • Arianespace has now been relegated to only handling “customer relations” and launch operations.

Overall, it looks like this European private/government partnership is doing reasonably well in the new very competitive launch market. I still expect their business to shrink in the coming years, but I think they will be around for awhile.

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ESA discovers the wonders of capitalism!

Three stories today illustrate how competition is revolutionizing and energizing the European aerospace industry:

The first two stories are clearly examples of the new competition within the launch industry. The first describes the effort by ESA and Airbus-Safran, a partnership now dubbed ArianeGroup, to get the Ariane 6 rocket built fast and cheaply, under pressure as they are by SpaceX’s lower prices.

The manufacturing consortium is looking for a 40% cost reduction, at least, in the Ariane 6, compared with the Ariane 5. In part that is coming from exploiting new materials and new manufacturing techniques (3D printing, friction stir welding, augmented reality design, etc) and in part by maximising the common use of elements in both the 62 and 64 variants. Avio’s solid-fuelled booster is also the same as the first stage on the company’s Vega rocket, which launches much smaller satellites.

But a big cost saving will come from simply employing fewer people. “There is a transition from Ariane 5 to Ariane 6 (from 2020 to 2023), but from 2024, 2025 onwards – our workforce will be 30% less than today,” explained Hans Steininger, the boss of MT Aerospace, which is making the rocket’s huge metallic propellant tanks.

The second article describes how ESA is suddenly changing its reusable mini-shuttle program from a typical, staid, dead-end research project (where they do a series of test flights with no thought towards using what they learned) to a private mini-shuttle available for lease by researchers of all stripes.

By 2025, ESA officials said, Space Rider could be operating commercially, flying science payloads and bringing them back to Earth for roughly $9,200 per kilogram. Arianespace, the Evry, France-based launch services provider, would likely serve as Space Rider’s operator, offering industry and government customers the opportunity to fill the spaceplane 800-kilogram payload capacity with microgravity science, materials testing, telecommunications and robotics demonstrations.

Previously, the plan had been to test fly this spaceplane without selling its cargo capacity. Now they want to make money on it, right from the beginning.

The third article meanwhile illustrates that the old way of doing things is still a factor in Europe’s space effort. Europe’s Galileo GPS satellite network has been delayed badly by faulty atomic clocks. They are replacing them, and are preparing to resume launches. However, in ordering 8 new satellites they have also decided to keep OHB, the same contractor who provided the faulty atomic clocks, rather than give the contract to a competitor or at least split it between two contractors.

The contract, expected in late 2016, was delayed as the commission and the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA) debated whether to maintain OHB as Galileo’s sole supplier or to award all or part of the contract to competitor Thales Alenia Space Italia.

In the event, the commission and ESA agreed that the savings realized from ordering recurrent-model spacecraft from OHB, and the schedule assurance this provided, outweighed arguments on behalf of dual sourcing. “Dual sourcing is always important but it needs to be weighed against other program requirements” including cost, said Paul Verhoef, ESA’s director of navigation. Verhoef said ESA and the commission may pursue dual sourcing for the next round of Galileo orders, when a new design will be used for the system’s second generation.

I suspect that as competition continues to prove its worth ESA will move to accept the idea of competition in the building of future GPS satellites. For right now, however, this change was more than this large government bureaucracy could handle.

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