Full Industry Control of Ariane 6 Non-negotiable, Exec Says

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PARIS — The head of France’s aerospace industries association on April 9 said Europe’s rocket industry will resist investing in a next-generation Ariane 6 rocket if European governments do not give industry control of the rocket’s entire product life cycle, including design, production, commercialization and operations.

Addressing a press briefing here, Marwan Lahoud said that when Airbus Defence and Space and Safran announced the creation of their Airbus Safran Launchers joint venture in June 2014 to lead Ariane 6 development, they stated the conditions under which the industrial consolidation would occur.

“We were very clear. It’s an ensemble, a full package,” Lahoud said. “There is a change of governance [compared to previous Ariane vehicle development programs], a regrouping of industrial capacity and a change in responsibility.”

Lahoud made his remarks as president of the French Aerospace Industries Association, GIFAS. But he is also director of strategy at Airbus Group, which in June 2014 announced with rocket-engine builder Safran the creation of a 50-50 joint venture to build Ariane 6. As the current GIFAS head, Lahoud has a seat on CoSpace, the French government-industry grouping that coordinates French space policy.

Airbus Safran Launchers became operational earlier this year and is expected to submit a formal bid in May to the European Space Agency for Ariane 6 production. ESA hopes to sign a full development contract by late June, with the vehicle ready for an inaugural flight by 2020.

Industry and government officials agree they have no time to lose on Ariane 6 because the competitive landscape for commercial launch vehicles is rapidly getting tougher, with U.S.-based SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket leading the charge.

For the rocket alone, the bid is expected to remain within the 3.2 billion euros ($3.6 billion) agreed to by ESA governments in December.

But ESA and Airbus Safran Launchers have yet to agree on what portion of that investment should be paid by industry, and what by ESA member states. ESA has said some 400 million euros should be on industry’s shoulders. Airbus Safran Launchers has not agreed to this. The two sides agreed to leave it open for the time being.

An additional 200 million euros might be temporarily removed from the contract, ESA officials have said, because the corresponding work is not immediately needed. Industry has said a further 200 million euros of potential charges have not been taken into account by ESA.

In addition to negotiating with ESA on industry’s cash investment in the program, Airbus Safran Launchers is in negotiations with its principal subcontractors – OHB SE of Germany’s MT Aerospace division, Avio of Italy and Ruag of Switzerland among the biggest – on their final prices.

“We are now a few weeks from the submission of a bid, and of course at this stage everyone defends his camp,” Lahoud said. “It is said that industry needs to make a financial contribution. We have said it’s possible we will contribute, but on condition that [development] not be conducted under the former system.

“We want responsibility for the design, the production, the commercialization and operations to be in the hands of industry, and not in a sort of mixed-economy creation that borrows more from the United Nations than from what our competitors do.

“Under these circumstances, and only under these circumstances, will there be a business case that allows us to invest, and to defend before our boards of directors the fact that corporate cash needs to be spent.”

Lahoud said developing Ariane 6 under the former division of authority between government and industry would produce an uncompetitive rocket and throw into question the main goal of the program.

“If we remain in what might be called an arsenal approach – where a public agency holds our hand and says, ‘This is what you have to do’, like the old days – we’d all have the pleasure of building a rocket that won’t be competitive. That’s not feasible,” Lahoud said.

“We have said from June 2014 that we expect a complete paradigm shift. If there is a complete paradigm shift, we can engage. If there isn’t, then, as the saying goes, we’ll keep all our options open.”