ESA Ministers Agree to Build Ariane 6 & Vega-C, Continue ISS Support

Credit: ESA
Credit: ESA

European space ministers have agreed to spend about $10 billion over the next decade to develop the new Ariane 6 launcher and to upgrade the Vega launcher in what ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain called a “revolution” in the way rockets are developed.

Under the agreement, ESA will give industry the responsibility for designing the new Ariane 6 rocket and commercializing it. In addition to funding the development, ESA will guarantee five government launches per year while industry will responsible for finding six more launches.

The goal of the launch arrangement is to end the subsidies that European governments currently pay to Arianespace that allow the company to avoid annual financial losses.

Ministers meeting in Luxembourg agreed to spend nearly 8.2 billion euros ($10.15 billion) on rocket development over 10 years. The work will include Ariane 6, Vega-C and continued support of the existing Ariane 5 and Vega launchers.

A new joint venture formed by Airbus Defence and Space and rocket motor builder Safran will lead the rocket development effort. Dordain said Ariane 6 and the enhanced Vega-C will share the “same DNA” in that they will have elements in common.

Vega-C is scheduled for its inaugural flight in 2018. The first Ariane 6 launch is scheduled for 2020.

Minsters agreed to spend 800 million euros ($990.5 million) to support the International Space Station (ISS) through 2017. They deferred a decision to extend ISS operations beyond 2020 until the next ministerial meeting in 2016.

Approximately 200 million euros ($248 million) of the ISS budget will fund the development of a service module for NASA’s Orion deep space vehicle in time for a flight test in 2017 or 2018.

ESA had asked for 820 million euros ($1 billion) to cover ISS operations and the service module development. The 20 million euros ($24.7 million) will be taken out of ISS operations.

Dordain called the shortfall a “manageable” issue that would not have a major impact on ISS operations.

Minsters also secured funding for the 2018 ExoMars mission. The first part of ExoMars is set to launch to the Red Planet in 2016.