Space News reports on the status of Italian rocket builder Avio S.p.A., whose future is dependent on its owners efforts to sell it and ESA’s decision later this year on whether to proceed with development of the Ariane 6 launch vehicle.
Italy’s space strategy will be key to the outcome of a scheduled December meeting of European Space Agency ministers on the future of Europe’s launch sector and its participation in the international space station.
The launcher discussions center on the future of the Ariane rocket line and in particular on whether to start immediate development of a next-generation Ariane 6 rocket. The current design of Ariane 6 features four identical solid-propellant stages and one cryogenic upper stage.
The evolution of the Italian-led Vega small-satellite rocket, also mainly powered by solid propellant, is tied to Ariane 6, in which Italy could play a major role with Avio ending up as a provider of solid propellant to Ariane 6 in addition to Vega.
Avio’s owners have been seeking to sell the company for more than a year. Holding up the sale has been the Italian government’s indecision on whether to oblige Avio to retain substantial Italian ownership, in which case the Italian government would need to assist in financing a sale, or to allow its purchase by French contractors.
France has been arguing that Ariane 6’s design should be reconsidered, with liquid stages replacing the solid-fuel ones in the current design. French companies have consider expertise with liquid propulsion systems.
The uncertainty over Avio’s future comes as the Italian space agency ASI was rocked by the resignation of its president, Enrico Saggese, in the midst of a broad-based corruption investigation targeting ASI and the aerospace industry. The allegations involve the misuse of ASI funds and irregularities in contract awards.
Saggese has denied any wrong doing and says his resignation was required so he could defend himself against false charges. He has been replaced on a temporary basis by Aldo Sandulli, a law professor from a Naples university.
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