Arianespace says that it has received an order from the European Space Agency (ESA) for two inaugural launches on its ‘next generation’ Ariane 6 rocket.
Arianespace, with its new commercial structure (Airbus Safran Launchers) is in the process of developing this new rocket system, in conjunction with ESA. It is scheduled to make a debut flight around 2020-2021. This particular contract covers flights of Ariane 62 rockets, a lighter version of the heavier Ariane 6.
The satellites themselves include a pair of ‘Galileo’ satellites for Europe’s satellite-based navigation system, itself an alternative to the USA’s GPS system. A total of 18 Galileo satellites are already in orbit.
The ESA contract is in the name of the European Union and European Commission which manages the Galileo system.
But the deal opens the way for Ariane’s version 6 to also be used for commercial satellite launchers, and is specifically designed to be less expensive than the current Ariane 5 rockets and thus compete more directly with Elon Musk’s SpaceX system.