Europe Rushes To Fund Ariane Rocket To Fight SpaceX

The European science ministers are hoping to strike a last-minute deal to provide funding for the Ariane rocket. Ministers from the 20-nation bloc are scheduled to meet in Luxembourg on Tuesday to resolve the future of the workhorse Ariane rocket. They will also decide on the future of Europe’s involvement in the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX offers launches for just 50 million euros

Funding for the Ariane rocket is crucial if Europe wants to stay in the commercial space race. Officials have been trying to reach an accord for the last two years. But now Germany has given up on its previous plan for a two-step project to upgrade the current Ariane 5 rocket, making the deal possible. Now ministers are set to approve the full development of Ariane 6 satellite launch vehicle.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is looking to respond to the U.S. rival SpaceX and protect thousands of jobs in the region. Founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, SpaceX offers low-cost satellite launches. Europe needs to bring down the cost dramatically to compete SpaceX. For instance, SpaceX offers launches for 50 million euros, compared to 130 million euros launch price for Ariane 5. With the next-generation Ariane 6, the ESA plans to bring down the cost to 60-70 million euros.

Ariane 6 concept has been proposed

Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders told Reuters that the European deal will be a “new chapter” in the way the 20-nation block approaches space. However, he warned that the bureaucratic structure of the European space industry could force the region to be “marginalized” by international competition. European space industry is still heavily influenced by state agencies. Airbus build the current Ariane 5 launch vehicle.


Ariane ESA Europe

Europe’s Ariane launch vehicles have captured a staggering 50% market share. But rising international competition poses a threat to the region’s space ambitions. Scientists have proposed a new Ariane 6 concept. The ministers are asked to put in $4.7 billion for the development of A6 and an upgrade to the Italian-built Vega rocket. ESA’s total budget for this year was $5.12 billion, much smaller than NASA’s $17.6 billion.

Ministers are also expected to decide whether the ESA will continue to participate in the International Space Station beyond 2020.

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  • Greg Brance

    They are making the same bet that ULA is making – that reusable rockets are not ready. The established launch providers keep hoping that SpaceX seriously stumbles and so far it hasn’t happened. The actual return of payload from the ISS is dependent on the spacecraft not on the launch vehicle. We will still need to see what the turn around time is on re-using first stages and how much work will need to be done to get the 1st stage ready to fly again. Not saying that SpaceX will not figure it out but a lot of things have to happen for a 1st stage to be re-used. The SpaceShuttle was re-usable but took a lot of man-hours to refurbish after each launch. I hope that SpaceX is succesful and proves the established launch providers are making a bad bet. I have no doubt that the 1st time that SpaceX actually succesfully recovers and relaunches a 1st stage some harsh language will be exchanged in meeting rooms for ULA and ESA.

  • bobcat4424

    Not a very good bet. The SpaceX missions to the ISS have all returned experiments and broken equipment to the Earth. This is something that the ESA cannot do, even with an upgraded Arianne. The missions to the ISS have also all tested the soft landing of the booster on open water with success every time. In about two weeks, SpaceX will attempt to recover the booster to a barge. And as far as it not working, one particular booster has been fired 16 times as of this date. That’s a good enough track record to not bet against.

    And on top of that, SpaceX’s restartable upper stage has launched as many as six satellites into different orbits, further reducing costs.

  • Greg Brance

    They are betting that the a re-usable 1st stage booster isn’t going to work nearly as well as SpaceX thinks it is going to work.

  • Boba Fett

    What does NASA’s budget have to do with this? NASA is not a commercial launch provider, is not building a vehicle to launch commercial satellites, etc.. NASA’s budget goes towards Earth Science, keeping the ISS in operation, and development of the SLS, those types of things. Really apples and oranges from the ESA’s budget.

  • bobcat4424

    How is another disposable rocket booster going to be able to compete with SpaceX’s reusable booster? How is Ariana’s upper stage going to be able to compete with the multiply restartable SpaceX upper stage? How is the up-only payload stage going to compete with SpaceX’s returnable capsule? The answer is that ESA is setting themselves up to perpetually chase SpaceX. And from my viewpoint it looks like it is a losing chase.

  • William R. Mosby

    They’d be better off investing in SpaceX. lol
    What are they going to do if or when Elon’s systems become reusable? Assuming the patent battle doesn’t kill SpaceX, that is.