Europe’s largest defense and aerospace company, EADS, has recently restructured and re-branded its operations and announced a series of planned layoffs designed to make the company leaner and more competitive. In the process, officials have acknowledged the competitive pressures placed on it by SpaceX.
EADS re-organized itself as the Airbus Group, with three divisions that include Airbus, Airbus Defence & Space, and Airbus Helicopters. The Airbus Defence & Space group includes the space company formerly known as Astrium.
Space News reports that in briefings last month, Airbus officials acknowledged the success of their American rival SpaceX.
“They have been able to work on industrialization of the Falcon rocket without being waylaid by development issues,” said one Airbus official, whose company is prime contractor for Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket.
“They needed nine times the power of their Merlin 1D engine for their intended markets. In Europe we would have attacked the issue with a beautiful [research and development] program, costing hundreds of millions, to develop an engine with nine times the power. What did SpaceX do? They put nine Merlin engines on the Falcon 9 first stage. The result: Problem solved.”
An official said Airbus Defence and Space sent two of its best engineers to SpaceX sometime back to take a close look at the Hawthorne operation and to return with an assessment of whether the SpaceX way of business withstood harsh scrutiny.
“They came back and told us: ‘Yes, they’re going to do it,’’ said one official. “When you consider who these guys were — one was our former chief technical officer, Robert Laine — we pretty much knew then what to expect.”
Airbus officials also discussed the challenges ahead in competing with SpaceX, which include upgrading the Ariane V booster so it can carry heavier loads and designing the Ariane 6 successor. Designing the new booster will be easier than restructuring the current Ariane production system — which involves dozens of companies across Europe — to produce a system that can be built and operated competitively.