European Space Agency approves funds for Ariane 6 rocket

The European Space Agency (ESA) last week approved funding for the development of the next-generation Ariane 6 rocket.

In a decision by the ESA’s governing council, €1.7bn will be delivered to Airbus Safran Launchers in order to complete the rocket.

The delivery of the funding comes following an agreement between Germany and Italy which will see both countries hosting part of the production line.

“Thanks to the trust and support of ESA and its Member States’ representatives, the industry has met its commitments and proved its ability to fulfill its role as a design and industrial authority,” said Alain Charmeau, CEO of Airbus Safran Launchers.

The latest funding tranche follows an earlier €680mn also provided to the company by the ESA.

The Ariane 6 rocket will replace the heavy-lift Ariane 5, which is currently in service and launching from the ESA’s space port in Kourou in French Guiana.

It will come in two variants: Ariane 62, used to lift medium sized satellites, and Ariane 64, used to launch large satellites into higher geostationary orbit.

Primarily, the Ariane 6’s development is being spurred by the increasingly competitive space launch market.

Low cost highest priority

New companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, are developing new high tech rockets which are able to be reused multiple times, theoretically delivering massive cost savings to consumers.

Within such a scenario, the existing Ariane 5 would no longer be competitive. As such, the new Ariane 6 is being developed in such a way as to reduce overall launch costs by as much as 50%.

In order to reduce these costs, Airbus Safran Launchers is developing new streamlined workflows and also making use of high-tech manufacturing techniques such as 3D-printing of the rocket’s engines.

As well, further down the line, Airbus has also hinted at the development of a reusable engine block technology which it calls Adeline.

The first Ariane 6 rocket is expected to launch in 2020, however the industry is notorious for its developmental delays, so the rocket might not reach the market until well into the next decade.