Following political, Ariane 6 and Vega-C got economic backing

European Space Agency (ESA) signed contracts for development of Ariane 6 new‑generation launcher, its launch base at Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, and Vega-C evolution of current small-class launcher.

These contracts followed decision taken at the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level, held in Luxemburg in December 2014, to maintain Europe's leadership in fast-changing launch services market while responding to the needs of European institutional missions.

Artist's concepts of Vega-C (left) and Ariane 64 (right) European rockets. Credit: ESA
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The three contracts, signed at ESA's Paris Head Office with Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), France's CNES space agency and ELV, a joint venture of Avio (70%) and the Italian Space Agency (30%) respectively, cover all development work on Ariane 6 and its launch base for a maiden flight in 2020, and on Vega-C for its 2018 debut.

The contracts' amounts are: €2400 million for Ariane 6 (ASL), €600 million for its launch base (CNES), and €395 million for Vega-C (ELV). They were signed by Gaele Winters, ESA's Director of Launchers, Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES, Alain Charmeau, President & CEO of ASL, and Pierluigi Pirrelli, CEO of ELV.

From left to right, executives of ASL, ELV, ESA, and CNES. Credit: ESA
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The contract with ASL finances development and industrialization of Ariane 6 launcher through the fully operational level, set for 2023, with a first flight scheduled in 2020. Ariane's modular approach will offer either two boosters (Ariane 62) or four boosters (Ariane 64), depending on the required performance.

This contract includes, notably, a firm commitment of some €680 million for initial development activities (phases A & B) up to the Preliminary Design Review scheduled for mid-2016. Beyond this contract the total amount for development of the launcher will be approximately €3 billion, including boosters to be shared by Ariane 6 and Vega-C, as well as €400 million of industrial investment.

"Both our and our European industrial partners' commitment is a sign of determination to provide customers with a launcher that is as reliable as ever while being increasingly competitive and adapted to the rapidly evolving space market. I would once again like to thank ESA and national agencies, in particular CNES, DLR, and ASI, for their support and trust." Alain Charmeau, CEO of Airbus Safran Launchers

ESA also signed with CNES the contract to develop the Ariane 6 launch complex, ELA 4, which it will build in French Guiana to adapt facilities at the Guiana Space Centre (CSG) to the new launcher. The ELA 4 contract is worth €600 million, with €80 million for work to be done by Guianese companies.

Detailed definition of the launch facilities will be finalized before the end of the year and CNES will issue industry requests for proposals early next year for the main technical and civil engineering work, planned for the last quarter of 2016. The facilities are scheduled to be handed over to ESA in the second half of 2019 for the start of combined tests with the launcher, while Ariane 6's maiden flight is planned for 2020.

Arianespace booth at the recent Paris Air Show, featuring new Ariane 6 launcher. Credit: SpaceDigest
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ESA will oversee procurement and the architecture of the overall launch systems, while industry will develop the rockets, with ASL to be as prime contractor and design authority for Ariane 6, and ELV for Vega-C. At that, ASL and ELV to cooperate under P120C solid-propellant motor that will form Vega-C's first stage and Ariane 6's strap-on boosters.

“[The contracts] are an important change of governance in the European launcher sector, with industry being the design authority and taking full responsibility in the development and exploitation of the launchers, and committing to deliver them to ESA and the European institutional actors at specified competitive prices.” Jan Woerner, Director General of ESA

Spacenews informs that, according to Gaele Winters, ESA's Director of Launchers, ESA and CNES agreed that, unlike the current Ariane 5 and previous Ariane versions, Ariane 6 will be integrated horizontally. This means smaller buildings at the French Guiana spaceport. Winters said the increase in capital investment needed for horizontal integration is more than compensated by the lower recurring cost – key metric in the entire Ariane 6 program.

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