France’s space minister, Genevieve Fioraso, has thrown considerable confusion over French plans for an updated version of the Ariane rocket launcher. The new version, Ariane 6, is going to cost €3 billion ($4bn) to develop, with 50 per cent of the cost funded by France (Germany 25 per cent, Italy 15 per cent, Switzerland & Belgium with 5 per cent each). Ms Fioraso has said no formal decision on the future of Arianespace will be made until – at the earliest – this summer. That decision will include whether the new rocket has a chemical or solid propellant.
The problem is that all the funding nations are cash-strapped and there is still confusion over the design and likely end-result costs for Europe’s Space Agencies and commercial clients. Jean-Yves Le Gall, the former CEO at Arianespace, in a briefing for the French Senate’s Foreign Affairs & Defence Committee, that the end cost should not exceed €70 million ($96m). This target is already much higher than that being charged by arch-rivals Proton and SpaceX.
However, the final bill doesn’t stop at €3 billion, because there’s another €750 million needed to build new ground infrastructure at Kourou.
What is clear is that the Italians are not sure they want to make this degree of commitment, while Germany – which can pay – is unsure as to whether it will benefit commensurately from the workflow for the new rocket’s design.
The European Space Agency’s 20-member governments will hold a ministerial meeting in December to make a decision.