Tag Archives: ESA

Opposing views on Ariane rocket future

As the American space upstart SpaceX gets ready to resupply the International Space Station under a commercial agreement with NASA later on today, the established players in the international space launch market are starting to take notice of SpaceX’s low-cost strategy and what it will mean to the future satellite launching business. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will start to compete for commercial business in the coming years and will probably seek to undercut current players on price.

The current commercial space-launch leader, Arianespace with over 50% of the satellite launch market, is currently working on an upgrade to its Ariane 5 rocket which would give the vehicle a 20 percent boost in payload-carrying power and a re-ignitable upper stage. There are, however, different views of the rocket’s future from its two major owners i.e. the French and German governments. The French government is conscious of the future competition from SpaceX and other upstarts and wants to skip the current Ariane 5 upgrade altogether and concentrate on a new more cost effective version to be called Ariane 6. TheĀ German Aerospace Center wants to continue the Ariane 5 upgrade instead, which has already commenced, and potentially team up with NASA to work on the Orion deep-space crew transport spacecraft. The French and Italians are sceptical to Orion and want to work on a European low-earth orbit spacecraft instead. There could also be an option to work on the Ariane 5 upgrade and development of Ariane 6 concurrently, but that would require an increased budget.

Arianespace currently needs 120 million Euros in government support annually in order to be commercially viable. Final policies and budgets will be agreed on during a November conference of European Space Agency members.

Arianespace’s Ariane5 rocket takes off

 

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European Space Agency pondering the future for its ATV spacecraft

The European Space Agency (ESA) is currently undertaking two studies in order to find use for its space truck, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), when it has completed all its missions to the International Space Station in 2014. The ATV is an expendable, unmanned resupply spacecraft developed by the ESA and manufactured by Astrium Space Transportation in Germany. Five ATVs are designed to supply the International Space Station with propellant, water, air, payloads and experiments.

ESA’s ATV in orbit

One of the studies will investigate whether the ATV’s service module section could provide propulsion for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which is designed to carry astronauts to deep space destinations such as asteroids, the moon and Mars. This would give the European space manufacturer a major role in future space exploration.

The other study envisages a future for the spacecraft in providing services in low-earth orbit such as pushing infrastructure around in space or serving as a vehicle for robots that fix or decommission old satellites.

The ATV taking shape at the Astrium factory in Bremen, Germany

Three ATVs have already been launched with the latest one still orbiting with the ISS. The next ATV, named “Albert Einstein”, will be launched in Spring 2013.