PARIS — The Astrium space hardware and services division of Europe’s EADS aerospace giant expects to be able to reinvest the 400 million euros ($560 million) in annual savings from a corporate-streamlining effort into self-financed research and offering better prices to its customers, Astrium Chief Executive Francois Auque said June 18.
Auque said the streamlining effort is designed to result, in 2015, in an Astrium that is leaner in middle management and what he called “bureaucracy,” by which he said he meant jobs that do not directly contribute to Astrium’s product and service portfolio. Some 1,000 Astrium employees and 1,000 subcontracting positions will be eliminated.
While Astrium is one of several EADS divisions whose profitability has been lower than management’s goals, the Agile effort, as it is called in-house, is not a restructuring, Auque said.
“We are not in a restructuring condition,” Auque said during an EADS briefing here on the eve of the biennial Paris air show. “But we have to adapt to new circumstances to prepare to be more competitive. We have 17,000 employees — that is a substantial number, and so we do have some bureaucracy. Nevertheless, bureaucracy has to be killed as much as possible.”
Astrium’s Agile program aims to enable the company to compete in an environment where the euro is valued at $1.40, an exchange rate that Auque says has made it impossible for Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket to remain profitable even though the vehicle has launched 44 times consecutively without failure.
Auque said that if Astrium succeeds in winning more business between now and 2015 than the company forecasts, Agile will be adjusted so that the net outflow of personnel is less. Similarly, a lower-than-expected order book will mean more employees will be affected.
Auque did not detail where the 2,000 positions to be eliminated would come from. EADS and Astrium were created in 2000 following an agreement between its French and German shareholders on the basis of a strict respect for the company’s presence in Germany and France.
Currently 43 percent of Astrium’s work force is in France, 27 percent in Germany, 21 percent in Britain, 5 percent in Spain, 1 percent in the Netherlands and 3 percent in other nations.
In a broad outline of the company’s activities, Auque highlighted several programs that are now in Astrium’s research and development offices but that have midterm potential in the commercial or government markets:
- A geostationary-orbiting space surveillance system (GO3S) that would use large and lightweight mirror technologies developed for Europe’s Herschel astronomy satellite to give a continuous view of a given section of the Earth.
GO3S may not be ready for deployment until 2025, but Auque said this kind of system could provide, from geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator, imagery with a 3-meter ground resolution at a rate of 10 images per second. “It’s no longer a photograph, it’s a movie,” Auque said. “Today for Libya some military people would love to have this capability.”
Except for certain meteorological spacecraft, today’s Earth observation satellites typically circle the Earth every 100 minutes or so from polar low Earth orbit at around 600-1,000 kilometers in altitude. A surveillance satellite in geostationary orbit would offer the possibility of “filming” a given area for 15 years, nonstop.
- A missile defense system that would take advantage of expertise Astrium has developed in-house, notably with the two Spirale missile warning satellites in orbit and Astrium’s work on the French ballistic missiles, most recently the M51 missile.
“Astrium is the sole company in Europe that knows what a ballistic missile is,” Auque said, adding that this gives the company special insight into how to defend against missile attack. He said Astrium “is developing elements of a kill vehicle demonstrator and intends to play a key role in an eventual missile defense system being considered by the NATO alliance.
- Astrium’s space plane, designed to take wealthy individuals to the edge of the atmosphere for several minutes of weightlessness. Auque estimated that it would take 1.5 billion euros to develop this vehicle, and he acknowledged that the company has been unable to find investors since introducing the project a couple of years ago.
But EADS’s technology division has become interested in some of the space plane’s technologies for a program called ZEHST, or Zero-Emission High-speed Transport, a hypersonic aircraft using rockets and turbojet engines to take corporate customers from Paris to Tokyo in less than three hours.
The advent of ZEHST as a project of interest in EADS’s corporate research and development office, called Innovation Works, could enable Astrium to share some development work on the space plane and keep working on the design while it looks for a risk-sharing partner.
Astrium has entered into an agreement with the government of Singapore to build a one-fifth scale model of the space plane.