This year is a momentous year for European space activities, with a ministerial meeting scheduled for November
. Many programmatic decisions are required, not the least for Ariane. Yet there seem to be virtually no on
going discussions between partners regarding the future of Ariane, which
everybody agrees is at the heart of the European space effort. The smaller states are eagerly waiting for the big three – France, Germany
and Italy – to take the lead, but they seem to be preoccupied by their bilateral programs with other spacefaring nations rather than caring about Europe and European cooperation. Maybe the Ariane situation is symptomatic of a disease where the European focus on cooperative programs has been lost.


Ariane, the quintessential European cooperative program, is now threatened by organizational shortcomings and fundamental technical errors in deciding and prioritizing future investments in the launcher sector. It is imperative that ministers can base their decisions concerning the future with a full knowledge of the alternatives, its risks and consequences. This requires thorough discussions between partners and that seems to be missing for the moment. The reason for this lack of constructive discussions between partners/delegations must largely be placed at the doorstep of the French side – i.e., the French Space Agency, CNES
and Arianespace.

The French side jealously defends and maintains a management organization that was appropriate 30 years ago and should have been changed a long time ago. Ariane is today a fully European program that obviously should be technically and financially managed by one unified organization
– the European Space Agency (ESA)
– that
makes all decisions regarding the program. By blocking necessary development work on a new third stage based on the new Vinci engine, the French side strangles the French industry who consequently suffocates the launcher industry in ESA member states, and thus puts the whole Ariane system in jeopardy.


Concerned by the seriousness of this situation, 10 former space executives
from six different
countries decided Jan. 20 to send
an open letter to the chairman and the members of the
ESA Council. The 10 signatories, who over the last decades having played
in various functions and at different points in time a significant role in the development of Ariane, formulated three main recommendations


By the
ESA Ministerial Council meeting in November, the initiation of an Ariane 5 improvement program
addressing the foreseeable challenges ahead and sustaining a solid position in the launch vehicle market for the next 20 years.


A pressing and urgent reorganization of the management of the launcher programs carried out in the ESA framework, designed to ensure compliance with the basic rules of management and to guarantee robust and unambiguous control of industrial entities operating in a near-monopoly situation.


A restructuring of Arianespace’s
capital and management structure
with a view to broadening the association of all European industry partners with the program
and reactivating their incentives as they were
in the early phase of the program
, a factor that
contributed significantly to Ariane’s


The recommendations above are vital for ensuring the reliability and the competitiveness of Ariane for the next 20 years. It is now high time for ESA delegations, in preparation of the ministerial meeting, to address the issues brought forward by the signatories of the open letter.


Fredrik Engstrom is a former director of launchers at the European Space Agency.