French Divestment Will Put Arianespace in Airbus Safran’s Hands

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PARIS — The French government on June 10 confirmed that the Arianespace launch-service consortium ultimately would be controlled by Airbus Safran Launchers following the sale of the French government’s share in Arianespace.

In a statement following a meeting of the French ministers for research, defense and industry – the first two having direct control of the French space agency, CNES – the office of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said negotiations on the conditions of the equity transfer “will continue on this basis [that Airbus Safran Launches will end up with the shares] while respecting the usual procedures.”

The “usual procedures” include an evaluation by a French government organization overseeing French government stakes in private companies of how to value Evry, France-based Arianespace.

“These discussions will be conducted in close collaboration with our European partners and with other French and European space industry actors, with the goal of writing a new page in the history of Europe’s space sector,” the statement said.

Airbus Safran Launchers, created earlier this year, is Arianespace’s largest shareholder, with a 39-percent stake in the company. CNES has a nearly 35-percent stake.

Airbus Safran Launchers and Airbus officials have said in recent weeks that they have no intention of shutting down Arianespace. They have further said that the company would remain as it is, for the moment, at its Evry offices, and would continue to act as the sales agent for Europe’s launch vehicles.

Still unclear is whether the French government will play hardball in negotiations over the valuation to be assigned to Arianespace equity, or will seek to trade its stake in the company for some other advantage with respect to Airbus Safran Launchers.

Some French industry officials have said that discussions over how to value the CNES Arianespace stake could include concessions by the French government on what it charges Arianespace for launch-related activity at the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, Europe’s spaceport on the northeast coast of South America.

Arianespace currently manages the commercialization and launch of three rockets from the South American spaceport: the heavy-lift Ariane 5, for which Airbus Safran Launchers is prime contractor; the medium-lift Europeanized Russian Soyuz; and the small-satellite Vega rocket, for which an Italian government-industry consortium is prime contractor.

One Airbus official said recently that governments do not need to have equity in a given enterprise to control their movements, and that this is especially true in the case of a strategic sector such a space-launch capacity.