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Europe To Consider Radically Streamlined Supplier Base for Next-generation Ariane 6 Launcher

The Ariane 6 will be presented to ESA governments in December for full-scale production approval. Credit: ESA artist's concept

PARIS — A radically simplified European rocket manufacturing organization that cuts the number of companies involved in Ariane rocket construction by two-thirds and permits a next-generation Ariane 6 rocket to meet its aggressive cost targets will be presented to European governments in March, officials from the French space agency, CNES, said Jan. 6.

The new vehicle, now under a predevelopment program funded mainly by France, will be presented to European Space Agency (ESA) governments in December for full-scale production approval.

In a press briefing here, CNES Director-General Jean-Yves Le Gall said the Ariane 6 design of four solid-fueled boosters topped by a cryogenic upper stage should permit the rocket to be built and launched at the target cost of 70 million euros ($95 million).

The vehicle is designed to launch 10-15 times per year, carrying one satellite at a time. The four identical solid-fueled rockets, Le Gall said, mean industry will be producing between 40 and 60 booster stages per year, which will provide a sufficiently large production volume to keep costs down.

The current 150-company team building pieces of Ariane 5 will be brought down to about 50, one CNES official said.

Also to be decided by ESA governments in December is what direction Europe should take in long-term space exploration. France has reluctantly agreed to continue financing the international space station until 2020 in return for Germany’s participation in the Ariane program. 

But extending the station’s life to 2027 or 2028 has not yet found a consensus, Le Gall said.

Asked whether France, which is spending some 270 million euros per year on the space station, would favor an extension to 2028, Le Gall declined to answer outright, saying France’s priority is to find an agreement with Germany with respect to the station.

It is not yet certain, Le Gall said, whether Germany wants to continue its leading role in Europe’s space station effort beyond 2020.

In a written response to SpaceNews inquiries, Johann-Dietrich Woerner, chairman of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, agreed that Germany has not yet decided whether to urge its space station partners — the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada in addition to the rest of Europe — to keep the station operational to 2028. Germany is Europe’s biggest space station supporter.

How much money CNES will have at its disposal for the December ESA conference is unclear, but Le Gall said the agency’s 2014 budget, just approved by the French government, demonstrates France’s continued belief in the value of space investment.

For 2014, CNES has been given a budget of 1.66 billion euros, up 2.9 percent from 2013. Inside that budget, CNES’s contribution to the 20-nation ESA is scheduled to rise by 1.5 percent to 811 million euros.

The budget for CNES’s national program, meaning French-only efforts or international programs managed outside ESA, is down slightly, to 737 million euros.

The big difference in 2014 is the role of the French public bond fund, called Program for Investing in the Future (PIA), which has earmarked 111 million euros for satellite- and rocket-related investment in 2014, up 56 percent from the figure last year.

Le Gall highlighted the French government’s recent decision to make electric propulsion for satellites one of 34 program priorities for a government initiative called the New Industrial France. He said a first order for an all-electric satellite built with these funds is likely in 2015, with a launch in 2017.

In addition to these monies, CNES does contract work for ESA and other government and commercial organizations that in 2014 is expected to generate revenue of 468 million euros.

CNES distributes 80 percent of its total 2.13 billion euros in cash resources, including proceeds from the paid contract work, to industry, he said. Some 16,000 jobs in France are directly related to the space industry — 40 percent of the total European space workforce of some 40,000 jobs, he said. CNES itself employs 2,450 people.

In addition to coming to an agreement on the space station and the future of Europe’s launch investment, France and Germany will need to find common ground on the future relations between ESA and the European Union’s executive commission.

The extremes in this debate have been that ESA should not be touched — the German view — and the French position that ESA should adopt European Union (EU) contracting rules and perhaps evolve into an EU agency.

Le Gall said the two nations’ views on this have just about merged, and that France accepts that ESA should retain its special role with the European Union as a principal customer.

In his written response to questions, Woerner said Germany wants ESA to remain an independent intergovernmental organization “with appropriate instruments to handle EU projects as an implementing agency.”

 

Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes

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