Europe’s move, Part 2

This is the first time I have found myself adding a second part to one of my blog posts, and only a few days after publication at that. The reason is simple: the reaction generated and occasional misinterpretation require that I express myself on the subject once again in the clearest terms.

Looking back to when I was Head of the German Delegation to ESA, when we developed the so-called High-Level Requirements. At that time, it was obvious that we should develop a cheaper launcher in order to remain in the commercial market while securing the strategic goal of European autonomous access to space. Based on those High-Level Requirements, industry proposed a launcher family consisting of at least three launchers: Ariane 64, Ariane 62 and Vega C. By introducing commonalities between the different launchers, by changing the governance and by introducing new production technologies and processes the goal was achievable to significantly reduce costs and at the same time have the new system ready in a rather short period of time.

The decision of ESA’s Member States to implement this proposal was the right choice.

Consequently, ESA is completely committed, together with its industrial partners, to doing its utmost to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

These points were made clear in Part 1 of “Europe’s move”. However, some people chose to interpret my words in such a way as to suggest that I see the launcher family as currently defined as the wrong solution. My call to look to the future and find disruptive solutions cannot come as a surprise coming from the Director General of ESA, an organisation which was founded to develop Europe in space. It would be irresponsible for me to announce that the current family will remain as is for all time. This is exactly what the Ministers asked for in 2014:

Maintain and ensure European launcher competence with a long-term perspective, including possibility of reusability/fly-back.

We will complete the Ariane 6 / Vega C family, fulfilling the demands of satellite providers, launch service customers and the European public for affordable and reliable launchers while at the same time securing for Europe autonomous access to space. In parallel, we will think about further enhancements as well as turning our minds to systems still far off in the future, which today may seem more vision than reality. My fervent hope is that the spirit for such an approach still exists in Europe and that it is part of our responsibility to be completely transparent where taxpayers’ money is involved.



  • sky says:

    For some context you have to remember that after the Falcon Heavy launch a lot of people put into their mind this nonsensical notion that Elon Musk put on a table: that it’s game over to all the other heavy launch vehicles. Which quickly escalated to all the other launchers are obsolete. Meanwhile the reality is that price is not everything and while SpaceX can offer lower prices *right now* and been able to do so for last few years – they never have become the No. 1 launch provider. Arianespace consequently beats them year to year in commercial contract. SpaceX however has an access to the biggest institutional market in the world: US, one Europeans cannot, and never could, compete in. They are more of a threat for ULA that they are for any provider from EU.
    Then there’s a fact of their pricing for reusable GTO launches, which is about the same Falcon 9 offers, making it, per-satellite, comparable to Ariane 5, and much higher than Ariane 6. So while they have more room to lower the price – they’ve been talking about these 100-fold lower prices from reusability for years now, and here we are, about to see last generation of Falcon 9 and yet no such thing happened, with Falcon 9 barely beating Ariane 5 they are still in about the same price point everyone else are. Meanwhile SpaceX has to fund BFR, has to build what’s needed for Musks Mars vision (no-one is going to do it for them), and apparently now with record-breaking problems in Tesla it might have to carry the burden of that financial black hole, like it had bailed out Solar City few years ago by purchasing “Solar Bonds” (really hope Tesla won’t kill SpaceX that would be a loss to the whole industry).
    People want hype, and will ignore whatever doesn’t fit to their picture. And while Falcon Heavy is an interesting rocket for US DoD and version with expendable centre core does seem to have the lowest price per kilogram of all operational launch vehicles – from a perspective of a commercial satellite operator there’s no use of all that mass, and they’re still just below other companies price-wise, and still other launch providers will live healthy, long-term lives.

    What I wonder though is why so many people was to see SpaceX monopoly? Apparently no lessons were learnt from the past, and now it’s fine to have all the money going to one company. It boggles my mind reading what SpaceX fanboys write online (thankfully that are still those few not blinded by the cult of personality who want growth of the entire industry, but in last days it feels like there’s too few of them in between all the spam)

  • Thierry Robelin says:

    I agree with your long term vision, and I wish Europe would be more reactive. Our launchers should follow more closely on technological breakthroughs. Reusability and fly-back, for instance, is now feasible; we can’t let other organizations constantly lead the pace when we have the technical excellence that empowers us to be a leader.

  • Robert Clark says:

    Europe can get a low cost, reusable version of the Ariane 6 just by adding a second Vulcain to the Ariane 5:

    Multi-Vulcain Ariane 6.

    Moreover, this version, shorn of all solid boosters, can be used for crewed launches to space. Europe would finally have its own independent manned spaceflight capability:

    Bob Clark

  • charles xavier says:

    Well it is time to spin out launchers to industry, time has come for launchers to be a commercial product like a big telecom spacecraft is. Big systems or low TRL technologies should be ESA core business, anything else is subsidy

  • Christopher Carr says:

    ” … fulfilling the demands of satellite providers, launch service customers …”

    Are you sure there’s going to be demand? Why will launch service customers want to pay more than what SpaceX will charge?

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