Tag Archives: European Space Agency

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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European satellite designed to test space junk removal released from ISS

Europe’s RemoveDEBRIS satellite was released from ISS yesterday in preparation for its testing a variety of technologies for removing and deorbiting space junk.

The article at the link does a terrible job trying to describe this mission. Better to return to a news story from 2016, when Europe first announced this project. The video from that story, embedded below the fold, does an excellent job detailing the four experiments, which are mostly aimed at testing technologies that could be added to satellites that would make either their capture or deorbit easier.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of this mission however is how it got into space. It was launched as part of a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission. It was deployed by NanoRacks, using its privately developed deployment system attached to Japan’s Kibo module.

Launch from ISS means that the satellite’s deployment and orbit were far more controllable than if it had been launched directly into space as a secondary payload during a rocket launch. NanoRacks is selling this approach commercially, and this satellite is the largest deployed by them to date.
» Read more

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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.

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European push for more space regulations under international law

In the European space community and governmental circles, there appears to be a new push to revise the Outer Space Treaty, focused specifically on increasing the treaty’s regulatory power in the area of large satellite constellations and space junk.

This week [the city of] Darmstadt hosts a closed-door, governmental meeting of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). Whether it was planned or not, the IADC is set to discuss a much-needed renewal of international space law, which is, experts admit, rather vague. But how far they will go is anyone’s guess.

…There is a palpable sense that the space community needs enforceable international laws and regulations, rather than – or merely to bolster – its current inter-agency agreements. They’ve served us so far, but few countries have actually signed up to them. That leaves a lot of wriggle-room, especially as space becomes increasingly commercialized.

Most of our space activities are governed by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. It’s a short document that primarily seeks to ensure space operations are “peaceful” and for the good of all humanity. It is complemented by other agreements, including a set of documents on mitigating space debris. “We have a good, coherent set of justified rules and we don’t intend to alter them drastically,” said Christophe Bonnal of the French Space Agency, CNES, and the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) in closing remarks last week. “But we will improve them at the IADC meeting to include mega-constellations.”

It appears to me that this is a push-back against Luxembourg’s recent announcement that it is going to request a renegotiation of the Outer Space Treaty to allow for property rights in space. What this article is advocating instead is that the treaty increase its control and regulatory power over private satellite constellations, which at present are not covered by the treaty.

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ESA contract for hypersonic engine research

The competition heats up: The European Space Agency has signed a research contract for 10 million euros with Reaction Engines to build a ground-based prototype of its hypersonic rocket engine.

While ground testing is always necessary, I am not sure what they gain by building a solely ground-based prototype. Hypersonic engines use the oxygen in the atmosphere, much like jet engines. Their operation however is dependent on altitude as well as the speed in which they are traveling, neither of which is easily tested on the ground.

This project is also one part of the United Kingdom’s new space agency program.

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Europe aims for the Moon

The new colonial movement: The head of the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a video interview this week that building a lunar base is their next major goal.

The head of the multinational agency, Johann-Dietrich Woerner, said the village would “serve science, business, tourism and even mining purposes.” In a video interview posted on the agency’s website, Woerner said a permanent lunar base is the next logical step in space exploration. He said the village could replace the International Space Station in the future. The ISS has been continuously occupied since 2000. It was originally set to be decommissioned by 2020, but its operation has been extended through 2024. The agency said it could take 20 years before the technology is ready to make the Moon village happen.

My next words might sound familiar (see the post below), but few technical details were provided in the video. Instead it appears from the article and the actual interview that the focus here is to establish a bureaucracy, not design rockets or spaceships. I suspect Woerner is looking for projects that can justify the existence of ESA and its bureaucracy, not actually build anything. That he thinks it will take 20 years to make it happen, based on our technology today, is strong evidence of this, since the pace of innovation in the past decade suggests instead that such a Moon colony could happen far quicker, once private space starts making real money in orbit.

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Europe might end its ISS partnership in 2020

Despite agreements by Russia, Canada, and Japan to extend their ISS partnership with the U.S. through 2024, both France and Germany of the European Space Agency (ESA) are having second thoughts and might pull out in 2020 instead.

In separate statements Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, the heads of the French and German space agencies said a detailed study is under way to assess the future operating cost of the station, and whether the cost can be justified given the pressure on near-term budgets.

Pascale Ehrenfreund, chairman of the board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, which is Germany’s space agency, said DLR would make no promises until after a full review of ISS’s value. “In view of the high cost involved and the resulting implications on budgets of [European Space Agency] member states, we have to evaluate very carefully costs and benefits of a continued participation in the ISS,” Ehrenfreund said in a Jan. 5 statement in response to SpaceNews inquiries. “It’s only based on this evaluation that we will be able to take a definite position.”

Germany has been Europe’s ISS champion — its biggest paymaster and most vocal booster — for more than 20 years and at times has had to strong-arm France into boosting its support under threat of reduced German backing of Europe’s Ariane rocket program, a French priority.

Eventually, all the partners running ISS with the U.S. are going to come to this decision, which means the U.S. government should begin thinking about what it does at that time. I say, when that time comes the government will privatize the station, giving it to the private companies best able to make a profit from it. And by 2024 the U.S. is likely to have a number of companies quite capable of doing so, from SpaceX to Blue Origin to Bigelow.

There also will be no reason to destroy the station at that time. Being modular, much of it is relatively new, and what is old could be replaced with relatively simplicity. This is a national asset that should not be abandoned nonchalantly.

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A streamlined Arianespace to build Ariane 6?

The competition heats up: The merged Airbus/Safran rocket division has surprised the European Space Agency with a proposed new design for Ariane 6.

The Airbus-Safran proposal, if carried to its logical end, would mean a single company building Ariane vehicles, with fewer subcontractors and much less government oversight. It would likely mean the end of the CNES launcher division as industry takes more control of Ariane design and operations.

In other words, the contractors who build the rockets for ESA want more power over that construction. They want less government oversight, and more ownership of the rocket they build.

Sounds like what’s happening in the U.S., doesn’t it? Giving ownership to the rocket builders means they not only have more flexibility and thus can be more efficient, it makes it easier for them to innovate in both construction and sales.

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Arianespace, under severe competitive price pressure from SpaceX, begs for more subsidies from ESA.

The competition heats up? Arianespace, under severe competitive price pressure from SpaceX, begs for more subsidies from ESA.

In comments responding to a Feb. 11 audit of the French Accounting Court, Cour des Comptes, Israel said that since 2005 Arianespace has improved its competitiveness to the extent that some €200 million ($273 million) in annual subsidies from the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA) have been halved. In addition, the reliability of the Ariane 5, which has seen 58 consecutive successes since 2002, has allowed the company to increase launch prices. The company also has reduced costs with a recent bulk buy of 18 Ariane 5 rockets that saved Arianespace 5%.

Nevertheless, Israel said the arrival of the medium-lift Falcon 9 as a competitor at the low end of the commercial communications satellite market, with prices substantially lower than what Arianespace charges for Ariane 5, means the company may be forced to ask ESA governments to increase price supports beyond the current €100 million per year. [emphasis mine]

In other words, this government-funded boondoggle doesn’t know how to compete effectively on the open market, and wants an additional government bailout to keep its head above water.

Note also the text in bold. Several commenters on this website have repeatedly insisted that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 was not the bargain claimed, despite numerous examples in the past three years of their competition saying they were that inexpensive. This statement by Arianespace’s CEO reaffirms the fact that SpaceX is cheaper, and is forcing major changes to the launch industry.

In related news, French government auditors have found much wrong with Arianespace’s current long term commercial strategy.

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