French government commissions report on rocket reuse, competitiveness


PARIS — The French government on Jan. 20 asked former French space minister Genevieve Fioraso to assess SpaceX’s chances of making a business out of reusing rockets, and to explore how France’s space sector can better work with Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple on satellite constellations.

In an assignment letter, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls asks Fioraso to present early results in mid-April and a full report by July 19, in time to be integrated into French government thinking in advance of a December conference of European space ministers.

Valls said the French ministries of research, defense and economy would be advised to provide whatever information they have to complete the report, with the relevant ministers signing the decree endorsing Fioraso’s new role.

“French and European leadership in space exploration, satellites and launch vehicles is subject to tough international competition, especially from the United States, which gives massive support to NASA’s science programs as well as to private-sector companies, notably SpaceX, which benefit from a high level of both private and public backing,” Valls said in his assignment letter.

“Your report, after identifying the state of play with respect to national and European strategic space policy, should suggest directions to be taken to reinforce the power and competitiveness of the French space sector in the coming years,” the letter said.

Fioraso was France’s lead minister for space between 2012 and 2015. She resigned in March of that year for health reasons that are apparently behind her. She notably attended the International Astronautical Federation conference on space exports in October in Jerusalem.

Fioraso was credited with pushing through the adoption of the Ariane 6 rocket, first in France and then at the European Space Agency, and with resolving a standoff on launcher direction between the French space agency and French industry.

European Space Agency governments are scheduled to meet in Switzerland in December to determine a multi-year space strategy. Launch vehicles are unlikely to be a major funding topic, but a larger commitment to reusable rockets may be on the table in addition to how Europe can better support its commercial satellite industry.

“What initiatives should we adopt, and on what schedule, with respect to reusable rockets, taking into account the technological and industrial considerations and also the corresponding business model?” Valls asked in his letter.