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Arianespace 6 future clouded

March 20, 2014

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.

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