Europe’s Launch Industry at ‘Turning Point’


By Peter B. de Selding

(Excerpt from Article)

The French research minister said Oct. 26 that Europe’s launch vehicle sector is “at a turning point” and must begin investment in a next-generation rocket immediately given the changing competitive landscape.

Addressing an issue that continues to divide France and Germany less than four weeks before a meeting of European governments to decide a multiyear space budget and program direction, Genevieve Fioraso said she is confident that an agreement reconciling German and French concerns will be struck so that preliminary work on an Ariane 6 vehicle will begin in early 2013.

Fioraso said Europe’s pivot toward Ariane 6 could be accomplished without scrapping the results of a four-year program to improve the current Ariane 5 rocket with a more powerful, and reignitable, upper stage.

The Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution program, originally approved by European governments in 2008, still needs about 1.4 billion euros ($1.8 billion) to be completed and made ready for flight. It has been defended tooth and nail by the German government, which wants to preserve its industrial base and is concerned that Ariane 6 is poorly defined and may not afford that protection.

Backing the German position has been Astrium Space Transportation, the Ariane 5 prime contractor, whose industrial base in France and Germany will feel the effects of any strategic move on launchers. Astrium officials have said the Ariane 6 vehicle’s design is insufficiently thought out to start work on it, and that the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution program would improve Ariane 5’s competitiveness.