After Four Years of Being Crushed by SpaceX, Europe Forms a Working Group

In 2014, Arianespace had 60% of commercial launch but they were passed by SpaceX in launch market share in 2017. Paris and Rome have created a “working group on the future of European launchers” which will deliver conclusions in September.

SpaceX was third place in number of launches in 2014 and 2015. SpaceX passed Russia in 2016. SpaceX passed Ariane in 2017.

The Ariane response was to make the Ariane 6 rocket. The Ariane 6 would be somewhat competitive with a SpaceX Falcon 9 if it had some subsidies and Falcon 9 had no reusability.

Selection of the Ariane 6 design concept was made by ESA in December 2014. The detailed design phase was in 2016. Arianespace placed the first production order in May 2019. The first test flight was initially scheduled for 2020, but following several delays is now expected in the second quarter of 2022.

Two variants of Ariane 6 are being developed:

Ariane 62, with two P120 solid boosters, will weigh around 530 t (520 long tons; 580 short tons) at liftoff and is intended mainly for government and scientific missions. It can launch up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) into GTO and 10,350 kg (22,820 lb) into LEO.

Ariane 64, with four P120 boosters, has a liftoff weight of around 860 t (850 long tons; 950 short tons) and is intended for commercial dual-satellite launches of up to 11,500 kg (25,400 lb) into Geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and 21,500 kg (47,400 lb) into LEO. Like Ariane 5, it will be able to launch two geosynchronous satellites together.

Project cost €3.6 billion
Cost per launch €75 million (Ariane 62) and €115 million (Ariane 64).

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch starts at $50 million and SpaceX offers ridesharing launches starting at $1 million.

Falcon 9 Payload to LEO 22,800 kg / 50,265 lb
Falcon 9 Payload to GTO 8,300 kg / 18,300 lb.

SpaceX already has flown the Falcon Heavy successfully on several occasions.

Any new European Space launch system will have to compete with mass-produced SpaceX Super Heavy Starships. These systems could launch 100 tons to orbit with launch costs below $30 million.

The double satellite launch to GSO has kept Ariane in the game with a per satellite launch cost of €57 million.

If the Working Group is honest, they will report that European Space launch has not been able to compete in an unsubsidized competition for the last four years. Europe space launch and others will need to attempt to copy the fully reusable mass-produced SpaceX Super Heavy Starships. Otherwise, they are competing with the equivalent of single-use blimps versus reusable 747s.

I do not believe the Working Group will present an honest and truly realistic report.

Europe spent a couple of decades supporting the Airbus catch-up with Boeing. However, Elon Musk-led SpaceX is a far faster-improving company than Boeing.

SOURCES- ESA, Ariane, Wikipedia, SpaceX
Written By Brian Wang,