By Bill Ostrove, Space Systems Analyst, Forecast International.
The European Space Agency on August 12 signed contracts for the development of a new launch vehicle designated Ariane 6, its launch base, and an upgraded version of the Vega called the Vega C.
The contracts, signed at ESA’s Paris head office with Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), France’s CNES space agency, and ELV, respectively, cover all development work on Ariane 6 and its launch base for a maiden flight in 2020, and on Vega C for its 2018 debut.[i]
According to Airbus, the contract covering the Ariane 6 is worth EUR2.4 billion ($2.68 billion) and includes two versions of the Ariane 6, known as the Ariane 62 and 64. Of that money, there is a firm commitment for EUR680 million ($758.8 million) for initial development activities, up to the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) scheduled for mid-2016.[ii]
ESA also plans to spend EUR600 million ($669 million) to build a new launch base in Kourou, French Guiana, to support the Ariane 6. CNES has started excavating the site, which will include a new launch complex and launch preparation facilities.
EUR395 million ($440.5 million) has been dedicated to upgrading the Vega launch vehicle. ELV SpA is working with ASL to develop the new P120C solid-propellant motor that will form the first stage of the Vega. It will replace the Ukrainian-supplied RD-869 motor used on current Vega launch vehicles. It will also be used as a side-mounted booster on the Ariane 6. The use of a European-designed motor will increase work share and reduce reliance on imports for the European space industry.
The contracts follow a December 2014 decision at an ESA Council meeting to proceed with Ariane 6 development.
The Ariane 6 is being developed in response to changing launch vehicle market conditions. The rise of new commercial launch providers, especially SpaceX, has increased competition in the launch industry. Although it will be smaller than the Ariane 5, the Ariane 6 will be cheaper and more flexible than its predecessor. ASL also plans to centralize production of the new launch vehicle, introducing efficiencies into the manufacturing process. These changes will enable commercial operator Arianespace to continue to compete in the commercial market well into the future.