No Decision Yet on Next-Generation Ariane Launch Vehicle

Artist's impression of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)
Artist’s impression of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)

Space News reports that the future of the Ariane 6 launch vehicle remains uncertain after a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday:

The ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland took no formal decision but agreed to reassess the situation in September after further study of the costs associated with the two designs.

For the moment, ministers from the 20-nation European Space Agency are still scheduled to meet in December in Luxembourg to make final decisions on how to adapt the Ariane rocket system to a new competitive environment. The ministers will also determine Europe’s future involvement in the international space station.

Ariane builder Airbus Defence and Space Group and engine builder Safran have proposed to create a joint-venture company to streamline Europe’s rocket sector and cut costs. The two companies have said their proposed undertaking — which they suggested would only occur if ESA governments accept their Ariane 6 design and management proposal — likely would be enlarged to include Evry, France-based Arianespace and ultimately other Ariane industrial contractors.

Whether Arianespace would survive intact or disappear inside the Airbus-Safran company is unclear, as is whether Arianespace would quit its Evry headquarters outside Paris for another location.

The sort of reorganization being discussed would likely result in layoffs. Nervous Arianespace employees staged a 30-minute work stoppage on Tuesday to indicate their concern over the proposed moves.

Officials are trying to decide between two designs, one that would use solid-propellant stages and another proposed by Airbus and Safran that would use liquid fuel.

Space News reports that spacecraft operators are not pleased with the solid-fuel rocket design. The proposed liquid-fuel design would be better for industrial contributions from Germany, which is the largest contributor to the ESA budget. However, it would reduce the role of Italy.