Vizada Acquisition Gives Astrium a Revenue Boost

by

PARIS — Europe’s Astrium space hardware and services company expects to report a 16.9 percent increase in revenue for 2012, to 5.8 billion euros ($7.8 billion), with most of the increase coming from the company’s late-2011 purchase of satellite communications services provider Vizada, Astrium’s chief executive said Jan. 28.

Stripping away Vizada’s approximately 500 million euros in revenue for 2012, Astrium’s internal growth was 6.9 percent for the year, the company said.

Addressing a press briefing here, Astrium Chief Executive Francois Auque said the company, whose Space Transportation division is prime contractor for Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket, expects that the successor Ariane 6 vehicle will employ only half the number of people as the current Ariane 5.

Estimates vary, but the Arianespace launch consortium of Evry, France, has said the Ariane launch system employs more than 10,000 people in Europe and at the Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana.

European Space Agency (ESA) governments in November agreed to begin studies of Ariane 6, with a full development go-ahead expected for mid-2014 and a first flight around 2021. Early Ariane 6 designs are of a vehicle built to keep costs to a minimum, and to launch a heavy telecommunications satellite for 70 million euros.

“You don’t need an engineering degree to understand that Ariane 6 will need about one-half the personnel now needed for Ariane 5,” said Auque, whose company had resisted the move to Ariane 6 for this reason, among others. “But, of course, if you can develop a market where you need twice the number of Ariane 6 vehicles per year as Ariane 5 rockets, the situation could change.”

Whatever the design of Ariane 6 — currently it is two solid-fueled lower stages and a cryogenic upper stage — it will require a thorough restructuring of the Ariane industrial landscape, Auque said.

Astrium Space Transportation expects to sign a contract for 18 new Ariane 5 ECA rockets in mid-2013, Auque said.

At the same time they approved initial work on Ariane 6, ESA governments approved continued development of an upgraded Ariane 5 upper stage that will increase Ariane 5’s current payload-carrying power by 20 percent.

This upgraded vehicle, called Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME), will fly around 2018. Auque said Astrium had already hired 70 additional people at its Bremen, Germany, plant to work on Ariane 5 ME.

ESA governments are expected to approve the final 1-billion-euro tranche of Ariane 5 ME financing in 2014.

The battle over whether to fund Ariane 6 now instead of continuing with Ariane 5 ME featured French industry on one side and the French space agency, CNES, on the other. Both could claim victory after the ESA conference, but the experience left enough scars that the French government has decided to create an industry-government coordination group on space policy.

Auque appeared to dilute his previous promise that an Ariane 5 ME vehicle would permit European governments to cease their annual operating-cost support payments of some 100 million euros to Arianespace. But he said Ariane 5 ME should allow these costs to be sharply reduced by enabling Arianespace to generate more revenue per launch.

Auque said further that Ariane 5 ME will be “only slightly more expensive” than the Falcon 9 rocket being developed for the commercial market by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif.

Rocket component builder ATK of Arlington, Va., and Astrium Space Transportation have teamed to propose to the U.S. government a rocket using the Ariane 5 main cryogenic stage atop an ATK-built solid-fueled stage based on the space shuttle’s solid-fueled strap-on boosters.

NASA did not select the Euro-U.S. proposal’s Liberty rocket for further work, but Auque said the two companies are not giving up on the idea.

“Our approach on this is: Never surrender,” he said. “We are approaching the U.S. Air Force every chance we get to make the case that the Liberty rocket offers value for money, which should appeal to the Air Force at a time of limited budgets.”

To pursue its internationalization, Astrium in 2012 established Astrium Americas in the United States, subsidiaries in Brazil and Singapore, and a joint venture in Russia on Earth observation and telecommunications satellites with RSC Energia of Kaliningrad, Russia.