European countries will be pressured by EU into flying Arianespace rockets

by | Apr 6, 2017 | Blue Origin, Seradata News, SpaceX

At the Space Symposium 2017 conference in Colorado, the European Commission (EC) – the European Union’s (EU) executive and policy making arm – announced that it would ask European states to fly on Arianespace Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets. Elzbieta Bienkowska, the EC’s Space Commissioner. even committed the EU to buying five expendable Ariane 6 and two Vega-C launches per year. Bienkowska had reportedly been convinced by Airbus Safran Launches and Arianespace that a guaranteed flight number would be needed to ensure the economic viability of the rockets.

Illustration of Ariane 64 in flight Courtesy: Arianespace

An article in Space News (by Caleb Henry) reported that Bienkowska believed US government launches were effectively subsidising the country’s commercial launch offering, and that to level the playing field, Europe should do the same.

Comment by David Todd: Due to a strategic planning failure, Europe’s rockets are too expensive and will continue to be so. Thus, to ensure their survival the EU taxpayer will have to subsidise them. This could be done directly, but from the above, it seems more likely that European nations and even European commercial entities will be coerced into using Europe’s woefully uneconomic and expensive rockets.

Meanwhile, the US’s cheaper SpaceX and Blue Origin partially reusable rockets are rapidly becoming the rockets of choice for European satellite operators, and are likely to become even more so once reusability operations become routine, lowering their launch prices further.

So how did Europe – once dominant in commercial launches – get into this position? The reason is that the Franco-German-dominated European rocket building industry made the wrong choices. In effect, it looked to what it had, or what would give the French, German (and Italian) industries the most work, rather than to what it really needed. In doing so, it failed to heed advice from many rocket experts to miss out on developing new expendable rockets and instead “jump a step” and move on to much more economical reusable systems like the Falcon 9, or even the UK Reaction Engines’ Skylon concept (this writer is a small shareholder).

So, while the new expendable Ariane 6 is much less costly than the admittedly reliable Ariane 5 (it is really what the Ariane 5 should have been all along), it is still too expensive when compared to a partially reusable rocket like Falcon 9. Thus the Ariane 6 looks likely to become a very interim rocket indeed, once Europe realises where it went wrong.

Still, it could have been worse. While building Ariane 6 is probably a partial waste of time and money, at least Europe did not build an upgraded Ariane 5 as well, which was also on the cards at one point.

And it is not just the Ariane 6 that looks likely to struggle. The smaller Vega C will do so as well, even if it is cheaper per kg than its Vega forerunner. The current Vega is a reliable little rocket but should not really exist at all given its high price. Nevertheless, it had the luck of there being little choice in the market after the retirement of several other launch systems. Now that newer low-cost smaller expendable and partially reusable rockets are coming on stream, this could spell the end of Vega and Vega C – even with European taxpayer subsidies.


About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned SpaceTrak Launch & Satellite Database. Trusted by 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, SpaceTrak is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to

Related Articles

A busy May for Musk: mulling over buying Twitter, fighting a sexual impropriety allegation, as SpaceX sells stock for funding

It has been a busy month for SpaceX and Tesla supremo Elon Musk. The world's richest man grabbed headlines at Read more

SpaceX: Two rockets, two days and 106 new Starlink satellites

It was a busy weekend for SpaceX which launched two Falcon 9 rockets in less than 24 hours between 13 Read more

CACI to launch nav test payloads as part of demo to US military 

US defence contractor CACI International will launch two demonstration payloads on a York Space built satellite as part of an Read more

SpaceX launches Axiom AX-1 first all-commercial crew to ISS which returns to Earth late (Updated)

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 with the first privately crewed mission to the ISS from the Kennedy Space Centre, USA, Read more

Astranis buys a single dedicated Falcon 9 launch for four of its satellites reports that spacecraft manufacturer and operator Astranis has agreed to purchase a single Falcon 9 launch to carry four Read more

NASA orders more ISS cargo flights from Northrop Grumman and SpaceX

NASA has upped the number of cargo missions as part of its CRS-2 contract originally signed in 2016, from 20 Read more

NASA outlines Artemis lunar landing plan with a second lander type for later missions (Updated)

NASA has outlined the Project Artemis plan to land humans back on the Moon. Having already selected SpaceX to supply Read more

Western organisations note suspected Russian space signals jamming in Ukraine

Bob Marley may have sung the lyric “We’re jammin’, jammin’, jammin’” several decades ago, but this chorus could now be Read more