Rocket company Arianespace is the pride and joy of Europe’s space agencies, and in particular, the French government, which sees the Ariane rocket as a pinnacle of its engineering prowess.
But Arianespace is under severe threat from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and news that Germany’s DLR Aerospace Centre – a heavyweight contributor to the European Space Agency/ESA – is looking at switching launch commitments from Arianespace to SpaceX has caused consternation.
The worry is that without regular business from the scientific community, and in particular the ESA, could spell the end of life for Arianespace. Its CEO Stephane Israel, speaking on November 24th, admitted that if Europe switches its support for Arianespace then the rocket company is unlikely to make it through the next decade. Israel is looking for a guaranteed five large satellite launches a year for 2018 and the following years.
Set against these demands is SpaceX, with its lower costs and much more frequent access to space – SpaceX is talking about 18-20 launches per year.
The German Aerospace Centre says it wants to support Arianespace, “or else it will become like Nokia”, but argues that costs must come down and launch frequency improved.
Arianespace is developing its own reusable rocket (Ariane 6) which should be ready for business with a maiden flight in 2020-2021.