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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Europeans React to Changing American Booster Rocket Competition: Ariane 5-ME

Credit: CNES
The first European ministerial level in four years to discuss space projects ended among the 20-nations involved with the European Space Agency to discuss the funding of future projects with the Ariane 6 decisions delayed until mid-2014 and a new Araine 5-ME projected to launch in 2017.
 
The French and the Germans are bridging cleavage of opinions over the development of a new Araine 6 booster rocket in the face of a fast-shifting satellite market, growing strength of the US commercial launch sector, and the European government financial pressures.
 
Development of a new rocket launcher - the Ariane 6 - was discussed as advanced by the French. France was pushing for a smaller, sleeker Ariane 6, which would require investment of about four billion euros, culminating in a maiden flight in 2021. On the other hand, there is a German-backed option, an Ariane 5 ME (for "Midlife Evolution"), which would be ready by 2017 at a putative cost of two billion euros (video).
 
A compromise approved the "ME" and over the next two years study how its technology could be used in a future Ariane 6 to save money. According to France 24, the BBC and Spiegel, the Ariane 5ME compromise appears to have won the day.

The Ariane 5 booster has been lofting about half of the telecommunications satellite market to orbit from South America's French Guiana launch site the past several years. The Soyuz-2 booster has recently been added to the spaceport stable as well.
 
Elon Musk
Entrepreneur Elon Musk recently told the BBC that the Ariane 5 rocket stands "no chance" in the face of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy systems from his own SpaceX outfit, as it's more expensive to use -- and the contrast will only get worse when a cheaper, next-generation Falcon 9 arrives, he says. Musk echoed France's position that Ariane should skip a mid-life upgrade to its vehicle and jump directly to a less expensive Ariane 6.
 

ESA Council meeting at ministerial level press conference held Wednesday, November 21, 2012. ESA's members are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada takes part in some projects under a Cooperation agreement. Poland exchanged Accession Agreements with ESA in September 2012 to become the 20th Member State.

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