The new Airbus-6 rocket is to be built by a newly created joint-venture between Airbus and French engine builder Safran. Officially it will be called Airbus Safran Launchers and will start operations on January 1st. The company will be based just outside Paris and have a staff of some 450 people.
An announcement on December 3rd said this “naturally assumes an in-principle agreement for the transfer to the JV of shares in Arianespace held by” the French space agency, CNES. However, a statement from France’s space minister Genevieve Fioraso said this transfer of CNES’s 34 per cent stake in Arianesopace will not happen just yet.
The new Airbus-6 rocket was formally approved at a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg on December 1st – 2nd, and where project finance under the direction of the European Space Agency is now in place. The new rocket is planned to make its debut flight in 2020.
The meeting, however, decided to skip completely the planning and funding of the ‘intermediate’ Ariane ME expansion plan and move directly to the ‘full’ Ariane 6. A total of €8.2 billion ($10.2bn) will be spent on launch-related programmes with about half going to development costs of Ariane-6.
While this move was generally welcomed by the industry there remained scepticism that the new Ariane-6 could be launched at a profit to the operation. The new outfit will get a guaranteed 5 ‘governmental’ missions a year at a fixed price and assumes it can sustain 6 commercial satellite missions a year, and that these will be made without subsidy.
Worryingly for the company, the whole project is subject to an end-2016 detailed progress review and cost examination. Currently the Ariane-5 launcher gets around €100 million a year in subsidy.