Martin Halliwell, CTO at satellite operator SES, has issued a blunt warning to Europe’s space agencies, especially the French, that planned redesigns of the giant Ariane rocket launcher are not ambitious enough. Airbus Defence & Space and rocket-engine builder Safran has just created a joint-venture to build an Ariane-6 rocket, and in the process scrap the current upgrade scheme which has cost Europe’s European Space Agency partners millions in abandoned investment.
But even these new plans are inadequate, implied Halliwell. “The designs they have put forward, and the price points they have put forward, are a little lacking in ambition, we believe,” Halliwell said. “They will not get us where we need to go in the time scale we require.”
Halliwell, speaking at an SES investors day on June 25th, said that over the past 12 years, the European Space Agency had needed a budget of $1.6 billion in order to complete design work on a new upper stage rocket engine (the Vince engine). Halliwell said that in that 12 years SpaceX of California had come from nothing and created a complete rocket launch system.
“Europe has to change gears, and get going,” Halliwell said. “I think they are now, finally, getting the message. They have to step back and make this thing happen. This Airbus and Safran move is the first real reaction. They are saying, ‘Look, we’re not going to survive if we stay like this.’”
SES is already committed to using SpaceX, and CFO Padraig McCarthy told investors that the costs of building and launching its newer satellites had fallen by about 5 per cent because of the reduced costs of launching.