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ESA Approves $190M in New Spending on Ariane and Vega Launchers

Current estimates are that Ariane 6 will cost about 4 billion euros over 10 years. Credit: ESA artist's concept

BRUSSELS — The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved $190 million in new contracts related to work on the current and future Ariane heavy-lift rockets and upgrades to the Vega small-satellite launch vehicle as part of more than $700 million in contract authorizations, ESA officials said.

The 20-nation agency’s Industrial Policy Committee (IPC), which is ESA’s check-writing authority, endorsed the new spending just weeks after ESA governments gave their approval of the new programs.

ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain had said he would push for quick action on translating the launcher programs into industrial contracts because this work will be used by ESA governments in mid-2014 to make follow-on decisions, particularly whether to begin full-scale development of the next-generation Ariane 6 rocket. Current estimates are that Ariane 6 will cost about 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) over 10 years.

At its Jan. 9 and Jan. 30 meetings, the IPC approved contracts not only for launch vehicles, but also for the start of work on a new-generation commercial satellite platform; on development of an all-electric satellite for commercial use; and on early work to provide NASA with a propulsion module for the Orion crew-transport capsule.

For the all-electric satellite program, called Electra, the IPC authorized payment of 260 million euros to be funded by ESA, with the understanding that an additional 50 million euros would be paid by industry taking part in the program.

OHB AG of Germany will be modifying its ESA-developed Small Geo satellite platform to be able to carry satellites to their final station in geostationary orbit with electric, rather than chemical, propulsion. Bremen-based OHB and ESA will be selecting from several prospective suppliers of the electric-propulsion subsystems, with likely bidders from Britain, France and Germany. Commercial satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg has agreed to be the first customer for Electra.

ESA also has approved a project called NeoSat, which will permit European satellite builders to upgrade their existing platforms to better compete in international markets. The IPC approved 112 million euros in initial funding for NeoSat, which like Electra ultimately will include industrial co-funding.

ESA is developing both an upgraded Ariane 5 rocket, called Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME), and an Ariane 6 successor vehicle at the same time. The effort includes work to assure that both rockets use the same restartable cryogenic upper stage, based on the Vinci engine that has been in development by Snecma of France for several years.

Astrium Space Transportation, as Ariane 5 prime contractor and the presumed prime contractor for Ariane 6, as expected has won most of the early contracts — called Authorizations to Proceed — for the Ariane 5/Ariane 6 work.

The company announced Jan. 30 it had won contracts totaling 108 million euros for Ariane-related work from ESA. It did not disclose individual contract values, but here is what the IPC approved in Authorizations to Proceed:

  • Ariane 5 ME-dedicated work: 31.2 million euros.

  • Common Ariane 5 ME/Ariane 6 upper stage development: 65.7 million euros.

  • Commonality assessment Ariane 5 ME/Ariane 6: 18.5 million euros.

  • Phase A/B1 design of Ariane 6: 20 million euros.

These initial contracts, totaling 135 million euros, are part of a total package of 471.2 million euros that the IPC endorsed for the Ariane 5 ME/Ariane 6 work. The remaining funds will be dispersed as the contracts are negotiated.

The IPC also approved 65 million euros to be spent on Vega upgrades, with an initial contract of 6 million euros to be negotiated in the coming weeks.

The Ariane 5 ME vehicle is scheduled to make its inaugural flight in 2017 or 2018. ESA governments in November agreed to pursue development of this rocket for at least two years. More funding will be needed to finance its completion. ESA governments are scheduled to meet to approve this new funding, totaling about 1 billion euros, in mid-2014.

“Manufacturing of Ariane 5 ME will begin immediately, and with more than three years’ work already completed by us, we are on target for the first flight in five years’ time,” Astrium Space Transportation Chief Executive Alain Charmeau said in a Jan. 30 statement.

Ariane 5 ME is designed to increase the power of the current Ariane 5 ECA rocket by about 20 percent to permit it to carry two heavy commercial telecommunications satellites at a time, with a combined weight of some 11,000 kilograms, into geostationary transfer orbit.

A separate six-month contract with ESA will review design options for Ariane 6, which is designed to carry one satellite at a time, weighing between 3,500 and 6,500-7,000 kilograms into the commercial orbit.

The industrial team that will build Ariane 6 has not been selected, and it remains unclear whether the estimated 4 billion euros in development costs will be approved at the 2014 ESA conference of ministers.

Astrium Space Transportation said its six-month study “will identify the concept and architecture” of Ariane 6 within the borders of what ESA governments approved at their November conference. Ministers said Ariane 6 should use two solid-propellant stages topped by the same upper stage used by Ariane 5 ME.

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