Well, it looks like the burgeoning commercial space industry in the United States is beginning to have a major impact overseas. Space News reports:
The European Space Agency (ESA) will select two competing proposals by late June to design a next-generation rocket that, if accepted by European governments in November, could succeed the current Ariane 5 heavy-lift vehicle within 15 years, ESA officials said.
The 19-nation agency is taking a new approach to launcher design by asking industry from the start to design a cost-effective rocket that would appeal to owners of satellites, both commercial and governmental, without regard for where the vehicle’s contractors are located.
ESA earlier this year canvassed European satellite operators, asking them to describe the kind of vehicle they would be most likely to use. The result: a launcher that would be available without overly long delays and that would be capable of launching satellites weighing 3,000 to 6,500 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, one at a time.
Perhaps the most surprising element to the ESA solicitation, which was issued in early April and calls for responses by the week of May 21, is that it frees industry from the obligation to follow ESA’s geographic-return principle….
As currently envisioned, Ariane 6 bears a strong resemblance to the rocket that resulted from ESA’s consultations with European satellite owners. The initial Ariane 6 work is for a modular vehicle capable of lifting satellites weighing between 3,000 and 8,000 kilograms into geostationary orbit, the destination of most telecommunications satellites.
It’s all rather ambitious except for the timeline: 15 years. That raises the question, wouldn’t ESA be driving up development costs by stretching out the project so long? Just having to pay that many people for so long, and then you factor in inflation, and the cost of continuing to operate Ariane 5 for that much longer….does that sound like you’re really saving money?
And by the time you build the thing, who knows what your competitors have been doing in the meantime. Or how the market will have changed in the interim. You finally get the thing flying and it’s out of date because it’s based on old assumptions.
I realize that with Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega all now launching out of Kourou, there’s no immediate rush to build a new rocket. It seems like a sound, bottoms-up commercial approach done on a government schedule that defeats some of the purpose.
Read the full story.