Two new European rocket startups sign deal with France to launch from French Guiana

The French space agency CNES today signed agreements with two different European smallsat rocket startups, Spain’s PLD Space and Germany’s Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), allowing each to launch from France’s old launchpad in French Guiana that was used in the 1970s by its long abandoned Diamant rocket.

From the RFA press release:

Until now, the launch pad in Kourou has only been used by CNES for its Diamant rocket in the 1970s. Now the launch complex is to be given a new purpose, in the tradition of opening access to space through innovative and groundbreaking ventures. As such, RFA is one of the first NewSpace companies to be given the opportunity to use it. The new launch pad will be upgraded and equipped in the coming years with the aim of being used for launches from 2025.

These agreements are part of a slew that have come out of Europe in the past year or so that all indicate that the European Space Agency (ESA) and its partners have finally abandoned any attempts to build rockets, and are instead looking to private enterprise to do it for them. First Germany encouraged private rocket startups, independent of Arianespace and ESA. Then Spain followed with PLD Space. Then Arianespace, the commercial arm of ESA that for decades built all rockets for ESA, announced it was making agreements with these startups to have them launch payloads instead.

These new deals today indicate that France has now joined the rush to private enterprise, which is a very significant development as France as always been the leader in having ESA build its own rockets through Arianespace. It appears it is now looking away from government-run space.

All these actions are also suggest a dim future for ArianeGoup’s Ariane-6 rocket, built under the old system but with an attempt to give private enterprise more power, with ArianeGroup, not Arianespace, owning and controlling it. Its design however was dictated largely by ESA, thus resulting in a rocket that is too expensive and therefore not competitive.

The long term result will be greater competition, both in Europe and worldwide, which in turn is going to fuel a renaissance in rocket development, which in turn is going to speed the exploration and colonization of the rest of the solar system.

Hat tip to BtB’s stringer Jay.