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. The 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.