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A European wildcard for EELV competition

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:

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.

7 comments to A European wildcard for EELV competition

  • amightywind

    Let me get this right. You barter with NASA for a place on the ISS with the ATV. Once your astronauts are safely established, then you want to get paid for a service that we have already bought? You really must think we are suckers.

  • While I am all for increased competition, this should only be allowed if SpaceX, et al, are allowed full access to the European market with a comparable “Europeanized” version of the Falcon-9. The United States is all too willing to open its market to others without insisting on reciprical access.

    A good example of this are the government-funded all electric satellites being developed in Europe to complete with Boeing’s commercially-developed invention. This follows development of two European government-funded small comsats to compete with Orbital Science’s commercially-developed smallsat. (Truth in advertising: I am a shareholder in OSC.) These developments are not something the United States should tolerate.

    As discussed before, Comparing the ATV to Dragon is rediculous, since the latter is a two-way transport. A more fair comparison would be with OSC’s Cygness.

    – Donald

    • Neil Shipley

      Yep. I would love to see the respective $/kg to orbit. But your last point is the most telling. Dragon provides both up and down mass capability. What’s that worth to NASA and ISS?

  • US government payloads “shall be launched on vehicles manufactured in the United States”

    If a NASA astronaut is a “US government payload,” that would make the Soyuz flights illegal.

  • red

    “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.”

    As Donald mentioned, this is a lame comparison (the linked article compares $/kg) because Dragon returns cargo.

    It also doesn’t take into account that Dragon (and Cygnus) make more frequent trips which allows more opportunities for delivery of high-priority, last-minute cargo.

    It also doesn’t take into account that the Orbital and SpaceX presumably needed to price their CRS bids to make back the skin-in-the-game money from the COTS phase (at least for the portions of CRS capabilities that wouldn’t have alternate markets). Now (e.g. for CRS-2) their inflation-adjusted bids would likely be lower.

    Also, both SpaceX and Orbital are enhancing their systems compared to their initial capabilities. Now (e.g. for CRS-2) their bids would not need to take into account the initial lesser capabilities of their systems, so their proposals should be cheaper or offer more service. They would also not have to repeat the expense of adding these capabilities, again likely lowering their bids.

    However, Antares/Cygnus include lots of foreign components. It would be interesting to see if Arianespace can come up with a CRS-2 proposal that meets the percentage of U.S.-produced value in the product that is required in the contract, as Antares/Cygnus did.

  • Neil Shipley

    Generally speaking, I’m in favour of opening up the competition. I’m sure Elon wouldn’t object provided that it works both ways.

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