ESA Puts Price Tag on Ariane 5 ME Completion

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PARIS — Europe needs to find about 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) to complete development of an upgrade to its current Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket, which would fly in 2018 and be capable of lifting satellites weighing 11,000 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit, European Space Agency Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said Jan. 17.

The Ariane 5 upgrade, called Ariane 5 ME, will be on the table for ESA governments to decide, alongside the new Ariane 6 rocket, at a meeting scheduled for December in Luxembourg.

In a press briefing in Paris, Dordain said it is too early to say how much Ariane 6 will cost to develop. Government and industry estimates have ranged between 3 billion and 4 billion euros, with an inaugural flight in 2021.

Whether ESA governments have the appetite to approve up to 5 billion euros in new rocket development remains unknown.

The key design driver for Ariane 6 is that it be built and launched for a maximum cost of 70 million euros per launch. To meet that cost figure, ESA and the French space agency, CNES, propose to overhaul Europe’s launch industry sector, reducing the number of participants and forcing them into contracts that will meet the cost target.

ESA governments have agreed to start early work on Ariane 6. Dordain said at a meeting with industry in December that the launch-cost target was feasible, but that it would require the agency and industry to take a blank sheet of paper to how rockets are built and operated in Europe.

It is not just the rocket, Dordain said, but also the ground infrastructure that needs to be revamped to meet the design-to-cost goals.

Dordain said companies working on Ariane 6 will be given, on Jan. 21, a total of 60 million euros in contracts to continue their preparatory work to the end of the year, taking development up to the eve of the meeting of ESA governments.

ESA has asked non-space-industry companies to take part in the Ariane 6 thinking. Dordain said a call for ideas in mid-2013 resulted in proposals from maritime and aeronautical companies, particularly on carbon structures.

Following this, ESA in December issued a request for proposals on Ariane 6 to which responses are due by mid-February. These responses will not include binding price commitments, but will give ESA a better idea on how the Ariane 6 industrial landscape will look.

A meeting of ESA’s ruling council in March will review a preliminary roadmap for Ariane 5 ME and Ariane 6 development and activity between 2015 and 2024, Dordain said. The roadmap will include at least some cost estimates.

A final consultation with industry, and resulting proposals, will start in April and end in June. Dordain said that by July he should have enough data and cost guarantees to give ESA governments a detailed proposal.

Unlike past ESA development projects, Ariane 6 is being designed by industry to meet cost and technical requirements without regard for where the work is conducted. ESA’s contract pillar — geographic return guaranteeing governments that the money they spend at ESA will be returned in the form of contracts to their national industry — has been tossed aside for Ariane 6.

“I have given industry total carte blanche on this,” Dordain said. “I want them to tell me the best way of moving forward, with no constraints.”

Once the rocket’s design and cost have been deemed acceptable by ESA, the agency will approach those governments whose companies are on the winning proposal team and ask for financing.

“Basically, I will go to those member states and say, ‘Good news: Your industry has been selected as among the best for Ariane 6. The bad news is that now you’re going to have to pay for it,’” Dordain said.

 
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