ESA Regains Control Over Ariane 5 Program

By | June 2, 2003 | Feature

The European Space Agency has regained control over the Ariane 5 rocket program as a result of decisions taken last week by ministers of the ESA member countries. The French space agency CNES agreed to cede authority back to ESA as part of an effort to restore the reliability and credibility of the Ariane 5 program, which has seen its share of failures.

“We had delegated to the French space agency CNES control over Ariane. Now we are taking that back. France has given up that task because we found that [the production of Ariane] was spread over too many contractors with responsibility delegated to too many people. So now we are getting things back in our hand,” said ESA official Franco Bonacina.

Part of the reorganization of responsibilities includes designating the European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co. as the prime contractor for the Ariane program. In exchange, EADS has agreed to reduce production costs by consolidating the number of subcontractors. “By consolidating under a prime contractor, we should be able to streamline the production processes. [EADS] gains a bigger role as prime contractor; in return, they’ve agreed to lower prices. It’s a tit for tat deal,” said Suzanne K. Chambers, Arianespace director of external affairs.

The ESA minister also agreed to pump 960 million euros (US$1.13 billion) into the EGAS (European Guaranteed Access to Space) program, which includes funds for Arianespace, Bonacina said. In addition, ESA agreed to pony up 220 million euros (US$259 million) to fund two test flights to help resolve the problems that led the Ariane 5 ECA 10-ton liftoff capability rocket to malfunction in December, he explained. “We want to get the Ariane 5 ECA version, the 10-ton version, back on track. We found what went wrong and we want to test it before we can begin commercial launches,” he said.

Bonacina said that there was already 132.5 million euros (US$155.9 million) in the pipeline for Ariane 5 development. Part of those funds, 42.5 million euros (US$50 million), has now been earmarked to fix the Vulcain 2 engine, identified as the cause of the December launch failure. Another chunk of those funds will also be used by Arianespace to build Ariane 5 “generic” rockets, which don’t use the Vulcain 2 engine, he added.

In addition, ESA agreed to expand cooperation between Europe and Russia regarding launches of Russian Soyuz rockets from the European launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. “We already have a partnership with the Russians through our Starsem venture to do commercial marketing of Soyuz from Baikonur Cosmodrome. This would be an extension of that,” Chambers said. Arianespace owns 15 percent of Evry, France-based Starsem; EADS owns 35 percent; Russian Aviation and Space Agency owns 25 percent; and Samara Space Center owns 25 percent, she added.

In a separate development last week, ESA agreed to the conditions for its member countries to participate in the Galileo satellite navigation program under the Galileo Joint Undertaking foundation act, which is expected to be signed soon by ESA and the European Union (EU). The agreement, which came as a result of Germany and Italy settling their disagreements over management of Galileo, clears the way for the official launch of the legal entity, which will have the task of coordinating ESA and EU involvement in the European initiative to develop a global satellite navigation system.

The Galileo Joint Undertaking, to be headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, will be responsible for the Galileo development and validation phase and also for preparations for system deployment and operations. Financial contributions of ESA member countries to the Galileo project were not disclosed.

Expected to be operational by 2008, the 3.3 billion euro (US$3.9 billion) Galileo system will be built using 30 satellites (27 operational and 3 reserve craft) occupying three circular earth orbits, inclined at 56 degrees to the equator, at an altitude of 23,616 kilometers (14,300 miles). Two Galileo control centers will be built to control satellite operations and manage the navigation system.

–Fred Donovan

(Franco Bonacina, ESA, 33-1-53-69-7155; Suzanne Chambers, Arianespace, 202/628-3936)

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