DARMSTADT, Germany — Europe and Russia will sign a broad launcher-cooperation agreement Jan. 19 covering the use of Russia’s Soyuz rocket by Europe and a long-term agreement on co-development of future launch vehicles, European Space Agency (ESA) Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said.
The accord, to be signed in Moscow, should help ease concerns in Europe that a promised Euro-Russian future-launcher program was not taking shape as expected.
“We have always said that our development of Soyuz [from Europe’s equatorial French Guiana launch site] was conditioned on a long-term cooperation with Russia on future launchers,” Dordain said at ESA’s space operations center, Esoc, here Jan. 14 while monitoring the descent of ESA’s Huygens probe to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
ESA and the Arianespace commercial launch consortium together are paying 344 million euros ($447 million) to build a new Soyuz launch pad at Europe’s Guiana Space Center. Launches are scheduled to start in 2007.
The Soyuz deal, which had been opposed by some in Europe, was sold to ESA governments as a necessary price to pay for a joint effort with Russia on future launch-vehicle technology programs for both reusable and expendable rockets.
Snecma of Paris, builder of most Ariane rocket engines, has said recent contacts in Russia have found Russian companies more interested in selling technology they have already developed rather than cooperating — on a non-exchange-of-funds basis — with European companies.
“We go to Russia and we say, ‘Let’s talk about cooperation in materials or motors for future rockets,’” said Joel Barre, general manager of Snecma’s space engine division. “Their response is to show us what they have available off the shelf, and they invite us to consider a purchase. That’s not my idea of a cooperative program.”
Barre said Jan. 10 that Snecma and other European companies are concerned that Europe has made good on its part of the bargain concerning Soyuz, and Russia has yet to respond with its end of the agreement.
“We are financing Soyuz in Europe, and meanwhile Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket is fighting the Russian Proton rocket, its principal competitor, on the marketplace, where Russia can offer prices we can’t match,” Barre said. “There is at least a misunderstanding here about what a Euro-Russian cooperation will look like.”
Dordain said he understood Barre’s concerns but countered that Russia, too, until recently had reason to doubt Europe’s sincerity.
It was not until December that the financial arrangement for Soyuz was settled in the form of a French government loan guarantee for Arianespace’s financial contribution to the Soyuz project.
“From the Russians’ view, we appeared to drag our feet on Soyuz,” Dordain said. “If they have been a little slow in putting into place a real cooperative effort, we have also been slow with our responsibilities. This whole arrangement is based on mutual trust. You will see things moving now fairly rapidly.”
Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s launcher director, was in Moscow the week of Jan. 13 to finalize the agreement, Dordain said. The Jan. 19 agreement will broadly cover Soyuz and collaborative work on future launchers. A separate subsidiary agreement will more specifically spell out what Russia and Europe could do as part of ESA’s Future Launcher Preparatory Program. Dordain said this second agreement is almost completed.
Dordain said that while a few definition studies might be contracted by ESA to Russian companies, the agreement is clear in saying neither side will be paying for the other’s work.
Dordain said that the accord is balanced. “Russia will be receiving revenues from Soyuz launches in Kourou [French Guiana] and this obviously appeals to them. And it appeals to us as well, since ESA has already been using the Soyuz rocket for our missions. As for future launchers, it is less concrete than the Soyuz agreement but here too there is an interest on both sides to work together.”