French Government Prepares to Sell Shares in Arianespace

Ariane 6 variants (Credit: Airbus Defense and Space)
Ariane 6 variants (Credit: Airbus Defense and Space)

The French government is preparing to get out of the rocket business as Airbus Safran Launchers gears up to build the new Ariane 6 rocket:

Airbus Safran Launchers took ownership of 39 percent of Arianespace in January. A statement from the French prime minister’s office Wednesday confirmed government’s plans to sell its nearly 35 percent stake in Arianespace to Airbus Safran Launchers, which would give the company control of 74 percent of the Evry, France-based launch provider.

The French space agency CNES holds the government’s stake in Arianespace, which flies the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket, a Europeanized version of Russia’s Soyuz booster and the Italian-led Vega launcher from the French-run Guiana Space Center on the northern coast of South America.

More than a quarter of Arianespace shares will remain in the hands of smaller subcontractors spread across France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.

The selloff by the French government will end more than 50 years of CNES leadership in rocket design and development, which included the Diamant launcher in the 1960s, making France the third nation after the Soviet Union and the United States to send its own satellite into orbit.

For the first time in Europe’s space program, the new Ariane 6 rocket is designed by the private sector, and will be funded in a public-private partnership between Airbus Safran Launchers and the European Space Agency.