France wants giant new satellite launcher

Chris Forrester


French President Nicholas Sarkozy wants Europe to fund a new space rocket launcher to replace the existing Ariane 5 system, and for the new craft to be ready at some point between 2020-2025. President Sarkozy is looking to a European decision to be made at a European Space Agency ministerial meeting scheduled for 2011.

Ariane 6, as the project is already dubbed, "should be a very robust launcher with modules and optimized in terms of cost in order to best respond as much to government and commercial needs in a context of increased competition," according to the President's statement.

A strong euro has led many European operators to launch aboard American and Russian rockets offering lower prices than Europe's Ariane rocket series. Francois Auque, Chief executive of the Astrium space unit, said that "the main value" of France's idea was to "dare to put the question" of Ariane 5's replacement. "There was a kind of taboo in Europe... which was that it was forbidden to speak about the future, and the French prime minister has broken the taboo," said Auque.

Space launch company Arianespace is owned by 24 shareholders from 10 countries including European aerospace group EADS and its space unit Astrium, Belgium's Sabca and French industrial gases group Air Liquide.