Earlier today, France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire stated that the ArianeGroup, the European aerospace company, would invest in the development of reusable rockets. The goal is to compete with SpaceX, which is considered a pioneer in this industry.
The European Ariane launch vehicles historically had a disproportionately large share of the market for geostationary satellite launches. However, as a result of poor strategic choices and an increasing number of new rivals in the US, they have now been consigned to the background.
For those living on the Old Continent, the moment had come to act, implies Mr. Le Maire. Indeed, a few months ago the European Union declared its intention to pursue a more assertive space policy, asking for an alliance that would provide Europe independent access to space over the next decade.
Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy, revealed during a visit to Vernon in Normandy, where the Ariane launch site is located, that the European industry will construct its own mini-launcher to compete with SpaceX. The latter should be able to be put into service by 2026 at the earliest.
Europe “missed the opportunity to develop a reusable launch vehicle because we did not believe it would happen, and as a result, we fell behind our American counterparts who developed SpaceX and Falcon 9, and this delay must be made up,” admitted Bruno Le Maire, who also promised in passing to increase the number of employees at the Vernon site.
The location of Vernon will also be a hub for hydrogen manufacturing from renewable power sources, according to Bruno Le Maire.
It is really wonderful that Europe has finally taken the lead in this area, says the minister. However, it remains to be seen whether or not this level of ambition will be enough. Ariane 6 (medium launcher) and Vega-C (light launcher), which represent the next generation of European rockets, will in fact have to collaborate in order to establish a foothold in their respective markets in the near future.
On the one hand, Ariane 6 will compete against rockets such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, as well as other launch vehicles. The Lz Vega-C rocket on the other hand will have to compete with the Falcon 9 as well as Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which is specialized in launching tiny payloads into orbit.
Both of these launchers, which are descended from a previous generation of boosters, are slated to make their debut within the next twelve to eighteen months.