EADS Reorganizes, Acknowledges Success of SpaceX

Falcon 9 lifts off with the SES-8 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 lifts off with the SES-8 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

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.

  • savuporo

    You’d have better chances if there actually was dozens of companies across Europe all fielding their own launch vehicle programs

    But trying a committee approach a couple more times is surely going to be interesting to watch

  • Duncan Law-Green

    If at first you don’t succeed… have another meeting.

  • justchaz

    Why? You think there is any entity, not to speak of a space entity that runs by dictatorship? If so you either have never worked for a Fortune X company or know nothing abut problem solving in large organizations.

  • mfck

    Leadership is not dictatorship. Dictator is a failing leader holding onto power and position. True leaders are hard to come by. True leaders that can lead an Industry (a multidisciplinary task) are even harder to find. EU space program is an average state of things. It could be worse. Much worse (look at Russia). You have only one Musk in a Generation… if not in a century.

    Don’t know what I wanted to say though….

  • justchaz

    Big of you to acknowledge you lost your argument. My reply was to your cynicism about meetings when meetings are exactly what is held in organizations when there is a problem to be solved, since no one person has or should dictate all the answers, Musk’s company not excluded, be it technical or financial. Meetings are how ideas are filtered through expert minds before any action is taken. Apollo 13 rescue, even in time limited crisis, was devised in discussions.

  • Carolynne Campbell

    Thank you Mr. Musk. For EADS to make such a public statement of its own maladies, and to acknowledge the seriousness of the new competitive market created by SpaceX is quite momentous. The shake-up was much needed as complacency and arrogance have long reigned in the upper echelons of European and UK space agencies.
    Mind you, re-branding does not always mean new thinking,
    Unfortunately, we will now be plagued in the UK by even more EADS ‘Old boys’ looking for positions of influence in public agencies and possibly stifling innovation even more. The UK Space Agency looks like an EADS Alumni association, and has little or no interest in anything that can’t immediately be hi-jacked by their old buddies at EADS Astrium, but at least SpaceX has caused ripples that will probably result in a more practical approach. Hopefully, the ‘old guard’ will retire into well deserved oblivion.
    Mind you, clustering proven reliable smaller engines is not a SpaceX innovation -sensible as it is. That’s exactly what Korolev did with his engine many decades ago,. It worked then and it works now.
    SpaceX is pushing the rest of the world to get its act together, and that is a very, very good thing.

  • windbourne

    very well spoken.
    SpaceX, and I think Bigelow Aerospace, are shaking up the entire space industry to its core.

  • savuporo

    Completely agreed – and it requires a careful orcherstration or very good luck for meetings to bring out the spark that is needed.

    Often what is easily more effective is a smart leader with a hunch ( often not his own, Tesla was not conceived by Musk ), that happens to be correct.

    Also note, the higher the stakes in the meetings, the more risk averse people normally are.

  • mfck

    First of all, I was not arguing. I was just reflecting on what you said. Second, your reply was not to MY cynicism, but Duncan’s (?). Big of you to take credit for a win in an argument that never happened. Pay attention)

  • mfck

    Not that I don’t agree, but what exactly has Bigelow shaken up until now? Cause I think I’ve missed it. Please indulge me with the details.

  • Aerospike

    Guess he stirred a little bit of dust in Nevada when he expanded the Bigelow Aerospace facilities… soon followed by layoffs due to the anticipated business just not being there.

    I’m a big fan of Bigelows approach/products, but so far (despite those two demonstration satellites) his modules are a paper-tiger or to borrow a word from the IT industry: vapourware.

  • mfck

    OK. Maybe I haven’t missed anything at all then…

  • They would do well to apply this lesson learned to their Ariane 6 development as well. Simply adding a second or third already existing Vulcain engine to the already existing Ariane 5 core would greatly reduce the development cost of the Ariane 6, perhaps to a few hundred million rather than the multi-billions being estimated for their solid fueled version.
    There is also the fact SpaceX is threatening even greater price reductions through reusability which the solid version of the Ariane 6 can not match, while the liquid fueled one can.

    Bob Clark

  • windbourne

    Transhab was killed by neo-cons. Clinton was able to get them to agree to sell it off. Bigelow bought this and has been pushing hard for human launchers from all over.
    Now, because of the experience that he had with Russia, he now pushes for American Human launchers. So, we are now looking at 2-3 different systems coming on-line over the next couple of years. That will enable him to launch Alpha in LEO in 2015.
    BUT, that is also causing other nations/companies to gear up.
    For example, the russian gov is working on CSS or commercial space station.
    And then several european companies have announced stuff, but they went the same route as the EADS Astrium.

    The thing is, that the ISS requires 1 maybe 2 human launchers. That has been handled by Russia for a time (at 6 a year), but within 3 years, America will be re-launching. And within 4 years, America will have a total of 3 different launch vehicles.
    They need some place to go. Having multiple private space stations will allow these companies to drive down their price / launch rather quickly.
    That will give them a huge competitive advantage over others. IOW, SpaceX is about to bring COmmercial launches back to America, while Bigelow will make America the cheapest human launch systems going. Even Atlas/Delta will be cheaper.
    The point is, that nations and space agencies will work to build even more private space stations. IOW, give more destinations for their launchers.

    I wonder what the prices of launch systems in Russia, Europe and China will be in 4 years.

  • Kam Chuanhui

    The European space programme is a jobs programme. That’s the reason why the Ariane programme, building an Airbus etc requires the participation of a dozen countries. Fundamental changes seems extremely unlikely in that respect. You can only improve supply chain efficiency so far but what is happening is changing the business itself.

  • Aerospike

    I agree that the European launcher program is in many aspects a jobs program, but mentioning Airbus along those lines seem wrong to me. Isn’t Airbus highly competitive compared with the purely commercial Boeing? (The civil airplanes part of it. Defense programs are in their own strange ecosystem everywhere on the world).

    Airbus (EADS Astrium until recently) is also the main contractor on Ariane , so it’s not like the know-how in private companies isn’t there. ESA just has to once again look over the pond to NASA and take inspiration in COTS/CCDev: Give Airbus (realistically, there isn’t much competition inside Europe at this time) a set of requirements that a new launcher has to meet, and let them come up with their own proposal(s).
    Stop designing rockets in political meetings, let private companies do it!

  • justchaz

    Yes I should pay attention but since this is the first time it has happened to me, I think I mostly do, I also apologize but take no lesson from a human incident.

    To say a dictator is a failing leader is fallacy. True leaders on one matter are also failed people in others. Musk is not unimpeachable and requires meetings to sort through his best constructed thoughts on complex machines. Hyperloop is a good example.