This schedule, produced in September 2017, shows the planned introduction of Ariane 6’s two versions – the Ariane 62 with two strap-on boosters, and the Ariane 64, with four strap-ons. The Ariane 62 would launch once in 2020, and then twice more in the first half of 2021, before the first Ariane 64 mission. The “MG” designations on the calendar are Maturity Gate milestones agreed to with the European Space Agency. Credit: Arianespace/ArianeGroup

PARIS — Europe’s ArianeGroup plans to launch just one new-generation Ariane 6 rocket in 2020 — the lighter-version Ariane 62 — and will wait until mid-2021 to start operations of the commercial workhorse, the heavier-lift Ariane 64, under a schedule presented to Ariane users.

Under a scenario still susceptible to modification as Ariane 6 development clears its multiple milestones, the Ariane 64 rocket would be sold on the commercial market for $130 million. The Ariane 62 would be priced at $85 million.

The price targets assume that European governments — the European Space Agency, the European Commission, Eumetsat and individual EU nations — agree to guarantee the equivalent of five Ariane 62 missions per year, plus at least two missions for the light-lift Vega rocket.

ArianeGroup has said that in return for this guarantee, these governments would be charged 70 million euros per Ariane 62 launch.

Arianespace’s costs are mainly in euros and its revenue is mainly in U.S. dollars. That makes pricing a moving target. More than three years before its first launch, the Ariane 64’s price target is equivalent to $65 million per satellite, assuming two satellites of equal weight. That is approximately where competitor SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is priced now, before SpaceX has settled on a standard discount for missions using previously flown Falcon 9 first stages. With SpaceX demonstrating in 2017, for the first time, its ability to launch with a high cadence, the price competitiveness of Ariane 6 is more than ever an issue. Credit: Arianespace/ArianeGroup

The Arianespace consortium, which is majority-owned by ArianeGroup and is the sales agent for Ariane and Vega rockets — as well as today’s Europeanized Russian Soyuz vehicles — generates most of its revenue in U.S. dollars. Its costs are mainly in euros.

A 70-million-euro launch booked last January would be equivalent to $83.6 million. The same contract booked on Sept. 18 would be worth $73.6 million — a 13.6% decline in the dollar against the euro in nine months.

That’s one reason why ArianeGroup and Arianespace insist that there be an exchange-rate trigger in the pricing agreement with European governments.

In a Sept. 11 briefing here during Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week, Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said all indications remain positive for a launch guarantee agreement with European governments in 2018.

The briefing occurred on the same day Arianespace announced that the Eumetsat meteorological-satellite organization had booked two weather-satellite launches aboard Europeanized Soyuz vehicles between 2021 and 2023.

Israel said the contract was negotiated on fully commercial terms even though Eumetsat’s loyalty to Arianespace over the years is so strong that competing launch-service providers generally don’t invest heavily in Eumetsat requests for proposals.

The Eumetsat contract, for two Metop Second Generation geostationary-orbit satellites, included an option for a Soyuz launch of a third Metop, with Arianespace saying Eumetsat will be offered an Ariane 62 as a possibility.

The Ariane 62 is expected to be used especially by European governments for missions that are deemed better suited to Ariane 62 than to the lighter Vega-C rocket. ArianeGroup is asking European governments to guarantee they’ll use five Ariane 62 missions and at least two Vega missions per year. In return, these governments will be promised a price of 70 million euros — in 2014 economic conditions — per Ariane 62 launch. Negotiations continue on this point. Credit: Arianespace/ArianeGroup

On Sept. 14, Arianespace announced the signing of its first concrete Ariane 6 contract, with the European Commission booking two launches, in 2020 and 2021, of European Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites. Two Galileo spacecraft, which operate in medium-Earth orbit, will fly on each Ariane 62.

Israel said the current Ariane 5 manifest is full through 2019.

Arianespace’s backlog at Sept. 11 stood at 4.7 billion euros covering 53 launches — 27 Soyuz campaigns, 17 Ariane 5 and nine Vega vehicles. The contracts announced since then include one Soyuz booked by commercial fleet operator SES for four O3b medium-Earth-orbit satellites; and the SES-17 satellite on an Ariane 5, in addition to the two European Commission Ariane 62 launches.

Israel said two-thirds of Arianespace’s backlog is for commercial launches, with a third for European governments. He said this contrasts with competitor SpaceX, whose backlog is two-thirds government and one-third commercial.

SpaceX has not confirmed this split but has said that as of May its backlog stood at more than $10 billion for nearly 70 missions.

The Ariane 64 rocket is the same Ariane 62 with four solid-fueled strap-on boosters instead of two. The heavier version is intended mainly for commercial launches of two telecommunications satellites at a time, with the lighter 62 variant used for single-satellite launches and launches to orbits other than GTO. Credit: Arianespace/ArianeGroup

ArianeGroup has said that Ariane 6, a design-to-cost development in which Ariane 6 manufacturers have invested 400 million euros of their own money, will require 50% less lead time than Ariane 5.

Launch campaigns at Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana will last nine days for Ariane 6, compared to 31 days for the Ariane 5 today.

Ariane 6 development is progressing through a series of “Maturity Gates” agreed to by its industrial builders and by the European Space Agency, whose member governments have committed 2.4 billion euros to the program.

The next Maturity Gate, MG6.2, is scheduled for November-December. Ariane 6 flight-model production should commence by early 2018. In March, the European Space Agency’s ruling council is scheduled to sign off on an Exploitation Review Key Point milestone.

At about the same time, European governments will be asked to commit to the annual launch quota and the associated prices.

Israel said negotiations are continuing on prices but that European governments have signaled they will not accept paying far more per kilogram than the prevailing commercial rate.

Israel and ArianeGroup routinely point to the U.S. government’s practice of paying substantially higher launch prices than what is found in the commercial market.

Ariane 6 is scheduled to make its first flight in mid-2020, with a three-year transition that phases out the current Ariane 5 and Europeanized Russian Soyuz rockets. Arianespace has contracted to launch most of the OneWeb LEO commercial internet constellation on 21 Soyuz rockets, most of them operating from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: Arianespace/ArianeGroup

Arianespace is expected to make its final order for Ariane 5 vehicles late this year, likely a 14-vehicle batch order plus an option for four additional rockets in the event Ariane 6 introduction is delayed.

If there are no hiccups, the last Ariane 5 would fly in 2023.

The last Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket campaign from the European spaceport would occur in 2022. But the Soyuz wind-down “can be accelerated to speed up the Ariane 6 ramp-up; and can be postponed according to market demands,” ArianeGroup said in a Sept. 7 presentation to customers.

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Peter B. de Selding
Peter B. de Selding
Peter de Selding is a Co-Founder and editor for SpaceIntelReport.com. He started SpaceIntelReport in 2017 after 26 years as the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews where he covered the commercial satellite, launch and the international space businesses. He is widely considered the preeminent reporter in the space industry and is a must read for space executives. Follow Peter @pbdes