Europe’s access to space in jeopardy following failures and delays –

Europe finds itself in a “particularly serious crisis” for its access to space after the failure of the Vega-C rocket and the delays of Ariane 6, estimated Thursday the president of the French aerospace sector.

“It is a particularly serious crisis which will force Europeans to sit around the table to define a roadmap”, said Guillaume Faury, president of the Grouping of French aeronautical and space industries (Gifas), on the occasion of the presentation of the wishes of the organization.

Ariane 5, with two remaining flights, is at the “end of life”. “The order book for Ariane 6 is already very full, so there are not many more possibilities to launch satellites with Ariane 6 in the coming years. And, in this bridge between A5 and A6, we lost access to Soyuz and the Vega rocket is also stopped,” he said.

Rocket problems

Europe used the Russian Soyuz medium launcher but has no longer had access to it since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, while the Italian Vega-C light launcher is grounded after the failure of its first commercial flight on December 20.

The first flight of Ariane 6, initially planned for 2020, has been postponed to the end of 2023, leaving Europe without independent access to space, and therefore freedom to launch its satellites.

“Any transition between one generation and the next is difficult”, recalls Guillaume Faury, also boss of Airbus. “This fragility was known when the decision to launch Ariane 6 was made (in 2014) and there were a number of safety belts that were in place in case things didn’t go very well. was Soyuz and it was Vega, (…), they have become great vulnerabilities given what is happening at the moment.” But Ariane 5 launches are “expensive” and the risk of producing more “for more security, without a customer” has not been taken.

The Ariane 5 rocket during the launch of the James Webb telescope, December 23, 2021. The ESA launcher is to be replaced by a sixth-generation model. But its commissioning has been delayed. [EPA/NASA – KEYSTONE]

Redefine the roadmap

The members of the European Space Agency (ESA) must henceforth, according to him, “redefine a common roadmap of the States together, and not centrifugal national initiatives”.

It is a “sector where we must federate efforts, it is written in the equation – even with very large investments in very small series”, he recalled.

France, Germany and Italy, ESA’s main funders, agreed in November to guarantee the future operation of the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets, and to allow the minilaunchers, each developed on their own, to be launched on behalf of the European agency. They hope to draw the other Member States behind them.


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