Paris — Production of Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 ECA rocket will be increased to seven vehicles per year from the current five to six starting in February 2008 following an agreement between the Arianespace launch consortium and the Ariane 5 prime contractor, Astrium Space Transportation, the two companies announced.

The agreement, signed Feb. 15 in Bremen, Germany, by Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall and Astrium Space Transportation President Evert Dudok, also calls for the Ariane production team to be able to produce one Ariane 5 per year in a version other than the standard ECA variant.

The Ariane 5 ECA is Arianespace’s standard vehicle, designed to lift two telecommunications satellites weighing a combined 9,000 kilograms into geostationary-transfer orbit. Other Ariane 5 variants have been designed to launch Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo vessel for the international space station, and to include a restartable upper stage for payloads such as Europe’s medium-Earth orbit Galileo navigation satellites .

Financial terms of the Arianespace-Astrium Space Transportation accord were not disclosed , but Arianespace has estimated in the past that it would cost its industrial contractors between 50 million and 100 million euros ($65 million to $130 million) to retool their plants for the higher production rate.