Safran in space
What were the conclusions of ESA's ministerial-level council meeting on December 2 in Luxembourg? The decision to develop the Ariane 6 launcher was approved by Europe's research ministers, who green lighted the program, with a first launch expected in 2020. Ariane 6 is the fruit of the shared vision by Europe's government agencies (CNES, ESA) and industry.
The program aims to meet market expectations by developing cost-effective solutions for the launch of medium and heavy payloads. In addition to greater competition (especially from the U.S. company SpaceX and its Falcon 9 launcher), the launch vehicle market is characterized by growing demand, driven for example by the development of Internet via satellite, and an increasing number of TV channels broadcast via satellite. The new European launcher will be available in two versions:
- Ariane 62 for the launch of lighter satellites, up to 5,000 kg, mainly for government missions (Earth observation, scientific and military programs, etc.).
- Ariane 64, capable of launching heavy satellites, or carrying out dual launches for private operators (telecom satellites, for example), with payload capacity (into GTO) of 10,500 kg.
Immediately following the ministerial-level meeting, Airbus Group and Safran announced the creation of "Airbus Safran Launchers", their joint venture in this market.
They had already announced the creation in principle of this 50/50 joint company back in June, and since then it has been submitted to the representatives of the employees concerned. On December 3, 2014, Airbus Group and Safran created a joint venture that will initially manage their civil space programs, and combine their main launcher assets. Named Airbus Safran Launchers, this new company will start operations on January 1, 2015 and will have 450 employees, two-thirds from Airbus, and one-third from Safran (about 100 from Snecma Vernon and 40 from Herakles Le Haillan). Airbus Safran Launchers aims to maintain the exceptional quality and reliability of Ariane 5, while developing a more competitive family of new-generation launchers, to consolidate Europe's leadership in the space industry. The new company will eventually incorporate the main production facilities for launchers and strategic missiles from Airbus Group and Safran, in France and Germany, and will count about 8,000 employees.
What are the next steps?
A key point from the governance standpoint, the creation of this joint venture also assumes an agreement in principle to transfer the shares in Arianespace held by French space agency CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales), representing 35% of share capital, to Airbus Safran Launchers. In other words, to develop all possible synergies within the scope of the joint venture, we want to take charge of all space propulsion activities: from the launcher design through launch operations, along with sales and marketing. During the first half of 2015, all parties – Airbus, Safran, the French state investments agency (Agence des Participations de l'Etat), CNES and ESA – must reach an agreement on the procedures for this operation. Governance will be based on a public-private partnership, operating completely openly, and more simply than it does today. It's also thanks to this more efficient organization that Ariane 6 will be more competitive than its predecessor. Airbus Safran Launchers will then start a second phase in January 2016, as we will then incorporate in Ariane 5 all synergies generated by the joint venture. Looking further ahead, after a four or five year development period, Ariane 6 will make its first launch in 2020, and the program should reach full production capacity in 2023. As from this date, the launcher should be competitive enough to remain the world leader in commercial launches and meet governmental launch requirements, without having to call on operating subsidies.
To visit the French Space Agency CNES Website, click here: CNES website
What changes will we see on the new launcher?
It will offer an optimized architecture: the first stage will comprise P120 solid boosters (two on Ariane 62 and four on Ariane 64), produced by Herakles and Avio through their 50/50 joint venture, Europropulsion. Adapted from the solid rocket motors on the Vega launcher, they will also be used on the next upgrade to the Italian light launcher. The cryogenic main stage, based on the Ariane 5 ECA* main stage, will be powered by a Vulcain 2+ engine built by Snecma. The upper stage will be able to reuse the Vinci cryogenic restartable engine being developed by Snecma for the Midlife Evolution version of Ariane 5. This focus on synergies for every stage is one of the keys to reducing the average cost of an Ariane 6 launch by 40% in relation to its predecessor. It's also worth noting that nearly all developments carried out for the Ariane 5 ME (Midlife Evolution) will be reused on Ariane 6.
*The Ariane 5 version capable of boosting 10 metric tons into geostationary transfer orbit.