2015 was another record year for Arianespace, with the launch consortium posting revenues of EUR1.44 billion. During the year, the company signed orders for 33 launches worth EUR2.5 billion, which increased its order backlog to EUR5.3 billion.
In terms of actual launches, Arianespace carried out 12 launches from the Guiana Space Center in 2015, a record since the introduction of the family in 2011.
As it works off its backlog, the company is looking to launch 11 rockets in 2016, composed of up to eight Ariane 5, one Soyuz and two Vega launches.
Another feather in the company’s cap is its track record of 69 successful Ariane 5 launches in a row over the past 13 years. Such stability makes Arianespace a very attractive company for satellite service providers looking to entrust their pricey hardware. This is particularly true compared to the Russian-built Proton, an Ariane 5 competitor that has suffered from a series of launch failures in recent years.
With a new competitor on the scene – SpaceX, Arianespace’s partners have had to develop a response. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was developed for efficiency and undercuts Ariane 5 on price by some 30 percent. Future price cuts could be even more extreme, considering SpaceX is developing a reusable version of the Falcon 9. This competition has led Airbus Defence and Space and Safran to form a new joint venture aimed at dealing with the cost issues brought on by the U.S.-based SpaceX.
By changing its structure to a single concept-to-flight company, the Airbus Safran Launchers venture hopes to get the new Ariane 6 flying nine times yearly for about EUR70 million per launch, from 2021. Currently, a single payload launch costs some EUR150-EUR200 million.
“The optimal solution is to industrialize the process, with one prime contractor that designs, builds, sells and operates the launchers, with a supply chain – much as we do with Airbus today,” Airbus Group chief strategist Marwan Lahoud said.
At the moment, Airbus Safran Launchers holds 41 percent of Arianespace. The venture is in the process of negotiating with the French government over acquiring that country’s 34 percent shareholding in Arianespace. A deal is expected to be completed in the fall of 2016. Once it is consummated, Ariane rockets will be built by Airbus Safran Launchers, with Arianespace, as a subsidiary, handling the marketing and launch services.
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