The debate on competition for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) class US government launches has focused on SpaceX’s challenge to incumbent United Launch Alliance (ULA). However, this week an executive with a European company expressed his desire to compete for such launches as well.
Speaking at the Satellite 2014 conference in Washington on Tuesday, Arianespace chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël said he believed his company’s Ariane 5 rocket could be competitive for US government launches. “At Arianespace, we are fully ready to compete on the institutional market in the US,” he said. “We are quite sure we would be in a position to offer the best solution for the customer,” adding they would be willing to look at how they could “Americanize” the rocket to be able to compete for government payloads.
Israël emphasized that point in a tweet after the panel session Tuesday:
— Stéphane Israël (@arianespaceceo) March 11, 2014
Such an “Americanization” of the Ariane 5 would likely be needed to comply with national space transportation policy. The latest such policy, released in November, included language from previous policies stating that US government payloads “shall be launched on vehicles manufactured in the United States” unless an exception is granted by the National Security Advisor and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. In comments after the Satellite 2014 panel, Israël didn’t offer many details about how an Americanized Ariane 5 would be developed, but likened it to proposals by Airbus to compete for an Air Force tanker aircraft contract by assembling the aircraft in the United States (a contract Airbus lost to Boeing.)
Arianespace officials had recently also noted that they believed that Ariane 5 launches of Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) spacecraft offered a more cost-effective approach for delivering cargo to the International Space Station than SpaceX does under its current Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. “We would be happy to take over their contract and lower the price per kilogram for delivering cargo to the ISS,” Arianespace’s Clay Mowry told Aviation Week. However, there are no current plans to build additional ATVs after the fifth and final ATV spacecraft launches to the ISS later this year.