PARIS — Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall urged European governments May 26 to begin work on a successor to Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket without delay, saying Europe is the only major spacefaring region that is not building a new rocket.
Addressing a meeting of the French aerospace journalists association, AJPAE, Le Gall said the United States, Russia, China, India and Japan are all preparing next-generation vehicles. Noting that it could take a dozen years or more to design and produce a completely new vehicle, he said he is concerned that Europe’s position in the global launcher landscape will be eroded without new development.
The French government earlier this year agreed to spend 250 million euros ($350 million) from a public bond issue for early work on a post-Ariane 5 vehicle that would feature a modular design, making it adaptable for medium and heavy payloads. The rocket could replace not only the Ariane 5, but also the Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket scheduled for launch from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport starting in October.
Despite the French seed money, it remains unclear whether the other 17 governments making up the European Space Agency (ESA) will be ready to start development of a next-generation rocket when they meet in late 2012 to decide on Europe’s medium-term space budget and program priorities.
France and Germany have already agreed to push ESA governments to complete development of a new Ariane 5 upper stage. The program, called Ariane 5 Mid-life Evolution, features the new Vinci engine that will be reignitable in orbit and also increase the vehicle’s payload-carrying power.
Le Gall in the past has expressed concerns that this development, for which market demand is uncertain, might cause a delay in the start of the next-generation rocket by siphoning off limited funding.