Snecma Focusing on Cost Reduction, Vega To Drive Revenue

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  Space News Business

Snecma Focusing on Cost Reduction, Vega To Drive Revenue

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 14 May 2009
10:50 am ET





LE HAILLAN, France — Europe’s principal rocket motor builder, Safran’sSnecmaMoteurs, has hit a revenue plateau with the Ariane 5 heavy-lift launcher and is focusing on cost reduction and an incremental growth opportunity with Europe’s new Vega small satellite launcher until European governments decide on potential Ariane 5 upgrades, Snecma officials said May 6.

Snecma
Solid Propulsion, which is based here, builds propulsion systems for French tactical and ballistic missiles, an activity that company officials say continues to provide technology synergies with the space launch business.

Building motors for the Ariane 5’s two solid rocket boosters and design work on Vega’s first-stage engine generated about 88 million euros ($117 million) in 2008.

Snecma
does not consolidate its 50 percent equity stake in Europropulsion, a joint venture with Avio of Italy that produces the finished and fueled boosters. Europropulsion reported 2008 revenue of about 170 million euros in 2008, bringing Snecma’s solid-fueled space propulsion business to about 173 million euros.

The company delivered 14 solid rocket motors to Ariane 5 prime contractor Astrium Space Transportation in 2008, equivalent to seven launch vehicles.

Officials from the Arianespace launch services consortium of Evry, France, have said that seven launches per year is the most likely launch rate in the coming years, especially given the imminent arrival of Russia’s Soyuz rocket, which is expected to join Ariane 5 at Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport late this year.

Snecma
officials fought an ultimately losing battle against the decision by the French government and the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA) to adopt Soyuz, saying the Russian rocket’s ability to launch 3,000-kilogram telecommunications satellites from the European spaceport would leach business from Ariane 5.

During a series of presentations here May 6 celebrating the delivery of the 100th Ariane 5 strap-on booster engine, Jean-Luc Engerand and other Snecma and Europropulsion officials made no mention of Soyuz.

Instead, they stressed the importance of a late-2011 meeting of European governments and the possible enhancements to be made to Ariane 5 and to Vega – assuming Vega’s early operations, to start in mid-2010, are successful.

Jean-Luc Engerand, president of Snecma Solid Propulsion, also reiterated Snecma’s long-held view that the French government should permit Snecma to purchase the solid-propellant division of SNPE of Paris, which makes solid fuel for missiles and the Ariane 5.

Engerand
said having the motor and propellant maker under a single corporate roof, as is the case in the United States with Aerojet and AlliantTechsystems, would streamline costs.

In a press briefing, Engerand said the accounting paperwork alone – up to nine separate billing events for a single contract between Snecma, SNPE and Astrium Space Transportation – is a strong argument for a merger of SNPE’s solid-propulsion division with Snecma’s.

Snecma
officials have been using the same arguments for about a decade, to no apparent effect so far with the French government, the principal shareholder of SNPE and a major Safran-Snecma shareholder as well.

In addition to arguing for an upgraded Ariane 5 featuring a Snecma-built restartable liquid-fueled engine, Snecma and Avio are hoping that Vega’s initial success will lead to an upgrade. Currently the rocket is designed to carry a 1,500-kilogram Earth observation or science satellite into a 700-kilometer polar low Earth orbit.

ESA and European industry officials say that, to capture ESA and other European government Earth observation satellites, Vega will need to increase its payload-carrying capacity. A Vega upgrade likely would feature a higher-power P-80 first stage, for which Snecma is prime contractor.

Roberto Nasi, president of the Europropulsion joint venture, said Vega builders have several proposals for ESA governments on how to increase Vega’s power but that these ideas will not get a hearing at ESA until Vega proves its initial version.

Officials here said Vega’s inaugural flight is unlikely before mid-2010.

Snecma
also builds the carbon-carbon nozzle for the Pratt & Whitney RL10-B2 upper-stage engine, but that vehicle is designed mainly for U.S. government satellites and has not been active on the commercial market. Its infrequent launch rate means that, for Snecma, the 70 RL10-B2 nozzles already delivered to Pratt & Whitney constitute an inventory that will take time to work off.

Engerand
said Snecma is not looking for rocket-motor or nozzle work elsewhere, such as South Korea or India. One Snecma official said the company is determined not to transfer its expertise in composite structures and rocket stages.