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ASL CEO Explains How the Ariane 6 Will be Competitive

By | June 21, 2016
      Ariane 6 ESA

      Artist’s rendition of the Ariane 6 rocket. Photo: ESA

      [Via Satellite 06-16-2016] Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), prime contractor for the future Ariane 6 launch vehicle, is confident that the rocket the company is developing will cut costs by as much as 50 percent the current price tag of the Ariane 5. The company recently completed the launcher’s first design review, presenting its conclusions to the European Space Agency (ESA) on June 10. Having past this milestone, the Ariane 6 is on track for a maiden flight roughly four years from now in 2020.

      Alain Charmeau, CEO of ASL, told Via Satellite that the approach to creating the Ariane 6 will be different from the Ariane 5 for multiple reasons.

      First, he said when the Ariane 5 was produced there were not strong requirements to design a very cost-competitive rocket. Since then the launch market has become noticeably more competitive, spurred on chiefly by the success of SpaceX. Other launch providers are also seeking larger portions of the relatively small commercial launch market. Russia’s Khrunichev is producing the Angara series of modularly constructed rockets that International Launch Services (ILS) is beginning to market, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is designing the H3 with the ability to do around 10 launches a year, and United Launch Alliance is creating the Vulcan launcher to support both government and commercial missions.

      It is against this backdrop that ASL is overhauling Europe’s flagship launch vehicle. The Ariane 6 will come in two versions — the 62 and the 64 — using two and four strap on boosters respectively to meet the performance needs of corresponding missions.

      “We are looking for the same level of performance as we get today on the Ariane 5, but to reduce by 40 to 50 percent the recurring costs of the launcher. As a matter of fact, the performance of Ariane 64 will be slightly above Ariane 5 today, and for a price that will be between 40 and 50 percent cheaper than the price of Ariane 5,” said Charmeau.

      Second, Europe is reconfiguring its approach to rocket design. When the ESA ministerial meeting committed to the Ariane 6 in 2014, it did so with the intent of giving industry much greater control over the design process. Charmeau said ASL set up a team of ESA employees inside the company to make sure that it and the customer understand each other while industry takes a more authoritative role in Europe’s launcher development.

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      “We created a new extended enterprise including integrating with our customer ESA. That’s a new way of working in order to speed up the development compared to other European space programs,” explained Charmeau.

      ESA is now letting industry, with ASL at the helm, guide the Ariane 6 development. Charmeau said the company anticipates owning 74 percent of Arianespace in the coming weeks through the purchase of shares from the French space agency CNES. A big piece of ASL’s plan to reduce cost is by streamlining the industrial organization for Ariane 6. The company started by leveraging synergies between Airbus and Safran, and intends to take this approach further with other parts of the Ariane 6 program.

      “With this reorganization we have tried to specialize some of our partners in terms of technologies,” said Charmeau. “For example, all the main metallic structures of Ariane 6 will be done in the same place in Augsburg in Germany, whereas today with the Ariane 5 these big metallic parts are done in four or five places in Europe. This kind of new organization will mean that we will do more work in the same workshop than today, which has a direct impact on the cost.”

      Third, there are new technologies available that ASL and its partners are leveraging to reduce manufacturing costs.

      “We will intensively use new production processes such as 3-D printing, and also other processes which are now demonstrated as being much more efficient than the processes we use on Ariane 5,” Charmeau added.

      One approach Charmeau said ASL has actively considered but decided not to take with the Ariane 6 is reusability. He said the company has a concept developed for reusability, but that it is not convinced the commercial market will support rocket reuse for the European launch sector.

      “There is a U.S. captive market which will provide 15, 20, maybe 25 launches for U.S. competitors, whereas in our case we are striving for five [commercial] launches per year. And in a market with five per year, we are not convinced that reusability is the right answer,” he said.

      The current Ariane 6 design uses solid propulsion boosters, which Charmeau said are by definition not reusable. He said while ASL has no immediate plans for reusability, in the future the company could push beyond the realm of expendable rockets.

      “This does not mean that we aren’t thinking that with reusability the market would grow significantly in Europe or worldwide, and this is why we are investing in order to think about future concepts of reusability. We are also starting to work on a new engine that would allow us to very significantly reduce the cost with liquid propulsion. This is how we see the future beyond Ariane 6,” he said.

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      Passing the first design phase for the Ariane 6 showed that the launcher program is on track in terms of schedule, performance and cost. Charmeau said the review also included the P120 engine that will power the Vega C. Though Italy-based ELV is the prime contractor for Vega C, the solid propulsion motors will also serve as the strap-on boosters for the Ariane 6. ASL now intends to progress with the design of the launcher going down to the lowest level of detail before the end of the year.

      Though rocketry is no easy feat, Charmeau stays even-keeled by focusing on a singular goal that he describes as making the whole program very manageable.

      “It’s extremely simple,” he said. “We need to have performances for a given cost.”

      Charmeau said ASL’s two big goals for the remainder of this year are to begin the procurement of long lead items for the first Ariane 6 prototypes and production units, and to progress with the new Vinci upper stage engine. The Vinci engine will enable new capabilities such as re-ignition in space. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is constructing new infrastructure for the engine at Lampoldshausen, where a hot-fire testing campaign began in May.

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