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“No guarantee” over ArianeGroup’s future

January 12, 2024

By Chris Forrester

The launch of Europe’s scientific and commercial satellites has in general been handled by rockets from Arianespace. Currently, the company’s latest rocket, Ariane 6, is very late with its readiness and its first (non-test) flight will not happen – at best – until next winter. The delay has prompted a very direct criticism by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s director general, and in effect the paymaster for the Ariane projects, said: “If [ArianeGroup] have a very competitive launcher then they are in the race. But there is no guarantee.”

A decision made in November 2023 at the ESA-backed Space Summit in Seville ruled that Europe’s space launch activity would be opened up to greater competition.

ArianeGroup is owned jointly by Airbus and engine contractor Safran.

Martin Sion, chief executive of ArianeGroup, which since 2017 has largely lost its dominance of the commercial satellite launch market to SpaceX, said the company was ready for the challenge. “The rules are changing, we will adapt,” he told the FT. “We are used to competition.”

The problem for ESA is that Ariane 6, even when it arrives, is more expensive than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Worse, the base Ariane 6 version is not wholly reusable.

Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO, also told the FT that competition from the likes of SpaceX posed a serious challenge to ArianeGroup, commenting: “As one of the two shareholders, we are worried, as Ariane is today the incumbent. The way to take our share is to make sure Ariane 6 will be a success.”

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