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European Union Proposal for Launcher Alliance

Updated: Aug 3

According to the commissioner, the European Union (EU) has to devise a somewhat bolder, more aggressive, and unified approach with regards to the launch vehicles and infrastructure. European Commissioner for Internal Economy Thierry Breton stated on Tuesday that the European Space Program requires a European launcher alliance to maintain autonomous access to space.

During a speech on June 22, the EU commissioner emphasized the launcher alliance being part of an ambitious yet disruptive space agenda, which included the completion of a Financial Basis Partnership Agreement with European Space Agency. Thierry Breton, the European Union's commissioner for internal market, has remarked that unfettered access to space is essential to the development of any effective space policy:

“For this reason, I advocated an industry-wide alliance to develop a common strategy for next generation of European Union (EU) launchers, one that would include both established and emerging players in the space sector. There will be participation from all member nations, national space agencies, ESA, and private sector companies in this project.”

Isar Aerospace Technologies is developing a 28 m high launch vehicle.

Isar Aerospace Technologies is developing a 28 m high launch vehicle. (Image credit: Isar Aerospace Technologies)

It is unclear still what exactly the launcher alliance will be working on, but Breton has said that EU cash would be made available for the very first time to boost the sector, which will allow for things like R&D and bulk purchases of vehicles for the EU's key satellite projects.

Breton stated in a news conference after his speech that the European Union was working to bring all of the alliance's components to the table. We are now negotiating the alliance's parameters and, God willing, will be able to put it into motion promptly, since timing is of the essence.

Launcher alliance was initially proposed by Breton at the start of the year, but since then, neither he nor any other EU official has supplied anything in the way of specifics. Director of Space at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Defense Industrial and Space Matthias remarked that coalitions like this bridge the gap between the government and business, as well as between large, well-established corporations and nascent, innovative startups and that as part of this effort, EU commission be investigating a variety of issues plaguing Europe's launcher sector.

One of these obstacles, he said, is the substantially lower demand for launchers from European governments compared to their American counterparts. Potentially stimulating demand is the European Union's (EU) new secure connectivity plan, which will include a satellite constellation delivering communications services.

The Ar­i­ane 6 up­per stage in Bre­men.

The Ar­i­ane 6 up­per stage in Bre­men. (Image credit: ArianeGroup/Frank T. Koch)

To get launchers more competitive, Petschke said that the alliance will look at things like cutting pricing and encouraging more investment in launch vehicles. On a panel featuring Petschke and other European entrepreneurs working on micro launch vehicles, the companies discussed their experiences and plans. These businesses did not seem too convinced that the planned partnership would be beneficial.

Spanish launch company PLD Space CEO Ral Torres expressed interest in learning more about the potential benefits of a partnership with similar organizations. Putting everyone on the same page and working on a new launcher seems like a lot of work to me.

Launcher alliance chief commercial officer Jörn Spurmann of German small launch system startup RFA said that more attention should be paid to bringing in contracts for European launch providers: “I believe a shift toward a commercial situation, rather than entirely subsidizing launch system plus satellite development, is imperative.”

Torres argued that although cooperation was beneficial, so was healthy competition: “Perhaps in Europe we need to open the door to competition, with the option of collaboration open whenever it's required. Competition, rather than collaboration, is the most crucial factor right now.”

The Director General of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, agreed that more work needs to be done to make Europe's launch business more competitive.

“At least from a financial point of view, we once had a dominant position in the launcher market.” He made this statement on June 21 “Today, not anymore," he continued, "and that's something that Europe has to actively focus on."

However, he said that his immediate objective is to put Ariane 6 launch system into service as soon as possible - “Ariane 6 is going to be the most significant launcher that we develop.” According to him, we need to focus all of our efforts, energy, and attention on getting the first test flight completed as quickly as possible while also ensuring that everything goes well.

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He disclosed that the European Space Agency (ESA), in conjunction with the primary contractor ArianeGroup as well as the French space agency CNES, had developed an independent evaluation of the timeline for the Ariane 6 rocket.

The ESA made the announcement in October 2020 that vehicle's maiden flight, which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020, would instead occur during the second half of 2022, however, now it’s been postponed to the fourth quarter of 2023.

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