Europe’s Launch Vehicle Revolution Will Take Time

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

Space News provides an update on the European effort to transfer authority for producing the new Ariane 6 launch vehicle to industry.

Airbus Defence and Space on Jan. 8 said its new joint venture with Safran, Airbus Safran Launchers, would purchase the French government’s shares in the Arianespace launch service provider “in the coming weeks” and by the end of the year would assume total control of the design and future production, operation and commercial sales of the next-generation Ariane 6 launcher.

Just five weeks after European governments agreed to spend more than 8 billion euros ($10 billion) on Ariane 6 and the maintenance of the current Ariane 5 vehicle and other rocket-related investments, Airbus appeared to be pressuring the French government to sell its 34 percent Arianespace stake sooner rather than later. The government’s ownership is held through the French space agency, CNES.

“Today we already have control of Arianespace,” Airbus strategy director Marwan Lahoud said in a press briefing organized by the French aerospace industries association, GIFAS, of which he is the current president. “Our joint venture by itself has the majority of Arianespace’s capital. We are in the process of acquiring CNES’s shares, which should be completed in the coming weeks.”

Airbus Safran Launchers now controls 41 percent of Arianespace’s equity. CNES’s 34 percent stake gives it blocking-minority power.

CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall, a former chief executive of Evry, France-based Arianespace, was vague about the timing of the cession of the CNES stake in Arianespace, saying discussions are underway but that there was no reason to rush things.

Under the new system, industry will be responsible for designing, building, marketing and launching Ariane 6 in a manner similar to the way Airbus builds and sells plane. Under the old system, government employees designed the rocket, turning it over to Arianespace and a group of contractors to build, market and operate.