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ESA signs contracts for the development of Ariane 6 and Vega C launch vehicles

Artist's depiction of Ariane 6 leaving Earth's atmosphere. Image Credit ArianeSpace posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: Arianespace

On Wednesday, Aug. 12, the European Space Agency (ESA) signed contracts for the development of its two new launch vehicles. Under the first contract, worth 2.4 billion euros, the French company Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) will build Ariane 6 launcher in its two versions, Ariane 62 and 64. This was just the start of ESA’s recent efforts to develop launch vehicles.

The second agreement sees ELV, a joint public-private company of AVIO Group and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), under a 395 million euro deal to develop the Vega Consolidated (Vega C) booster, a modification of the current Vega launcher.

“These contracts will allow the development of a family of European launchers, highly competitive in the world market and ensuring autonomous access to space at fully competitive prices for ESA’s Member States,” said Jan Woerner, Director General of ESA.

ESA signed contracts for the development of the Ariane 6 new‑generation launcher, its launch base and the Vega C evolution of the current ESA small launcher, on Aug. 12, 2015. From left to right: Alain Charmeau, CEO/President of ASL; Pierluigi Pirrelli, CEO of ELV; Jan Woerner, ESA Director General; Gaele Winters, ESA’s Director of Launchers; and Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES. Photo Credit: ESA–N. Imbert-Vier

ESA signed contracts for the development of the Ariane 6 new‑generation launcher, its launch base and the Vega C evolution of the current ESA small launcher, on Aug. 12, 2015. From left to right: Alain Charmeau, CEO/President of ASL; Pierluigi Pirrelli, CEO of ELV; Jan Woerner, ESA Director General; Gaele Winters, ESA’s Director of Launchers; and Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES. Photo Credit: ESA–N. Imbert-Vier

The contracts were signed by Gaele Winters, ESA’s Director of Launchers; Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES; Alain Charmeau, CEO/President of ASL; and Pierluigi Pirrelli, CEO of ELV.

During a contract signing ceremony held in Paris, France, ESA also tapped the French Space Agency (CNES) to build a new launch site for the Ariane 6 rocket at Europe’s Spaceport located in Kourou, French Guiana.

The three contracts follow the decision taken at the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level held in Luxemburg in December 2014 to maintain Europe’s leadership in the fast-changing commercial launch service market while responding to the needs of European institutional missions.

The Ariane 6 contract includes, notably, a firm commitment of some 680 million euros for initial development activities (phases A & B) up to the Preliminary Design Review scheduled for mid-2016.

“Both our and our European industrial partners’ commitment is a sign of our determination to provide our customers, whether they be institutional or commercial, with a launcher that is as reliable as ever while being increasingly competitive and adapted to the rapidly evolving space market,” said Alain Charmeau, CEO of Airbus Safran Launchers. “I would once again like to thank the European Space Agency and the national agencies, in particular, the CNES, the DLR [German Aerospace Center] and ASI, for their support and trust.”

Ariane 62, which, as the name implies, has two P120 solid boosters, will weigh around 500 metric tons at liftoff and is intended mainly for government and scientific missions. It will be capable of launching up to 5 metric tons into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

Ariane 64, with four P120 boosters, will have a liftoff weight of around 800 metric tons and is intended for commercial dual-satellite launches of up to 10.5 metric tons into GTO.

Vega C (left) and Ariane 6 (right) artist's views.

Vega C (left) and Ariane 6 (right) artist’s views. Image Credit: ESA–J. Huart and D. Ducros

ASL teams will now finalize the design of the two versions of the Ariane 6 launcher and the accompanying industrialization process as part of a new industrial structure established within Europe to improve efficiency. The first flight of the Ariane 6 rocket is scheduled to take place in 2020.

The main objective of the ELV contract is the development of the advanced version of Vega, denoted as the Vega C, and designed to further improve the market position of the transport services of small satellites in low-Earth orbit.

The rocket aims to increase the load capacity of the orbital launcher by up to 50 percent.

Along with a further increase in operational flexibility, while maintaining its orbital precision, it is expected to expand the capability to transport in the same flight a larger number of small satellites, in different orbital planes (or larger satellites). The first launch of Vega C is planned for late 2018.

“The signature of this contract is a great satisfaction and secures a new development to Vega just after signing the first production contract for the current version. The first ten Vega flights, already fully booked, confirm the response of the market. We have just celebrated the success of the second flight of the year and we settle for the third launch of 2015,” said Pierluigi Pirrelli, Chief Executive Officer of ELV.

The “C” version differs from Vega by using P120 as first rocket stage instead of P80.

ASL and ELV are working closely together on the P120C solid-propellant motor that will form Vega C’s first stage and Ariane’s strap-on boosters. P120C, entirely made with carbon fiber, will be developed by Europropulsion (AVIO-ASL joint venture). The new motor will inherit and exceed in size and complexity all the technological successes already achieved by AVIO in the development of the P80.

Vega_launcher_artist_s_view J. Huart ESA posted on SpaceFlight Insider

A Vega booster ascends out of Earth’s atmosphere. Image Credit: J. Huart / ESA

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Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski’s generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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