Astrium Starts Development of Two Advanced Launchers Ariane 6 and 5ME

First Posted: Jan 30, 2013 05:48 PM EST

A 108 million Euro contract was awarded to Astrium today to develop two advanced launcher systems at once, the Ariane 6 and Ariane 5 ME. This follows up the decision of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Ministerial Council meeting from November 2012 to go with both new launchers instead of selecting only one of them. Europe's leading space technology company Astrium has been selected as the prime contractor once again.

The future Ariane 6 European launcher will be developed from scratch, and the first step will be initial definition and feasibility studies during the next 6 months. One of the main goals is to deliver a more efficient and thus cheaper launch system, which would allow Arianespace to be competetive also in the future and remain the worlds leading space launch company in the face of stiffer competition from other companies and nations.

An outline of Ariane 6's design has already been established: it will be a modular rocket with a payload capacity of 3 to 6.5 metric tons in geostationary orbit. Dubbed PPH, the launcher's configuration comprises two lower stages in which solid propellant is used and a cryogenic upper stage powered by a Vinci(R) restartable engine, developed by Snecma (Safran Group). The task now facing Astrium is to study the various possible PPH configurations and propose the best solution for meeting the programme's technical and scheduling objectives, while also keeping to the target budget (70 million Euro per launch) and achieving the same reliability as Ariane 5.

The continued development of the Ariane 5 ME (Midlife Evolution), which is already in progress since several years together with Astrium's industrial partners, is also aiming at cutting down costs. The modernised version of Ariane 5 will boost launch capacity by 20% compared to the existing launcher and for the same price, meaning costs are reduced by 20% per kilogram. At their Naples meeting, ministers from ESA member states confirmed its development with a view to a maiden flight scheduled for 2017 or 2018.

 "The studies for the industrial development of Ariane 6 will pave the way for this truly next generation launcher. Manufacturing of Ariane 5 ME will begin immediately, and with more than three years work already completed by us we are on target for the first flight in five years' time," said Alain Charmeau, CEO of Astrium Space Transportation.

Taking on both launcher developments at once opens up the chance to identify synergies between both programmes and to organise the development of the elements that Ariane 5 ME and Ariane 6 have in common, including the Vinci(R) restartable engine for the upper stage of both launchers.

The prime contractor of the Ariane 5 European launcher since 2003, Astrium oversees an industrial network comprising more than 550 companies (over 20% of them SMEs) in 12 European countries. Thanks to the expertise the company has acquired and the investments it has made in this near 10 year period, Ariane 5 has become the most reliable commercial launcher on the global market and has increased its geostationary orbit payload capacity by nearly one metric ton.

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