The European company ArianeGroup will follow in the footsteps of the Americans at SpaceX and develop its own reusable launcher, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on Monday, outlining France's space strategy beyond the iconic Ariane rocket.

Europe "missed the turn of the reusable launcher, we did not believe it, we fell behind compared to our American partners who developed SpaceX and Falcon 9, and this delay must be made up", conceded Bruno Le Maire, by presenting France's new space strategy, supported by 1.5 billion euros from the “France 2030” plan.

"Put back a little competition"

This launcher called Maïa "must be able to be operational in 2026," said Le Maire, who spoke during a visit to the ArianeGroup site in Vernon, in Eure in Normandy, where the engines of the large Ariane rockets.

This strategy also includes the ambition to help "young shoots" to develop "micro-launchers", intended to put small satellites into orbit which are also reusable.

In short, it is about "putting a little competition in the world of space", according to Le Maire, at a time when the projects of small launchers are multiplying, especially in Germany.

Jobs created

The Vernon site, whose employees were worried about the fallout from ArianeGroup's announcements in September concerning the elimination of 600 jobs in France and Germany, is intended to see its workforce increase, promised the minister who was surveying his Eure. electoral lands. "Today there are a little more than 800 jobs on the Vernon site, by 2025 there will be nearly 1,000", assured Le Maire.

Certainly, Vernon will lose the Vinci engine, one of those equipping Ariane 6, but the activity will be provided by the future heavy engine Prometheus and the return of the “turbopump” activity, underlined Le Maire.

Vernon will also be the site for the development of the future reusable mini-launcher.

ArianeGroup is not starting from a blank page since in addition to Prometheus, which can be used several times, it has already developed a reusable floor demonstrator, called “Thémis”.

"The best will win"

"There was no question for us to say that we were giving up on the reusable launcher," hammered Le Maire: "The best will win. Micro and mini-launchers respond to the growth of small satellites (less than 500 kilos) in low orbit, a few hundred kilometers, a request that has helped to promote the emergence of players such as SpaceX, the first company to be reused the first stage of its rockets, since the mid-2010s. The latter company, which benefits from contracts from NASA, has lowered the costs of the sector by developing a pioneering technology of reusable launchers, including their flagship Falcon 9 rocket, positioned on the niche of medium or heavy launches.

On the sidelines of the ministerial visit, an agreement was signed Monday between ArianeGroup and its parent companies, Airbus and Safran, to develop hydrogen propulsion activities for aeronautics in Vernon.

While air transport is under pressure to reduce its carbon footprint, Airbus is working on the development of hydrogen-powered aircraft, with the goal of mass production in 2035.

Apply "European preference"

For its part, ArianeGroup's major project is the preparation of its future Ariane 6 heavy launchers, whose inaugural qualification firing is scheduled for the second half of next year. At present, "Ariane 6 is the right solution", it "will work and make the French proud in 2022", enthusiastically expressed the Mayor, refusing to oppose his technology and that of reusable launchers: " The two are complementary. "

By calling on the countries of the Old Continent to "apply the European preference" and use European launchers for their satellites, the Minister recalled that Ariane 6 had to carry out seven launches per year, four of which are already provided by institutional sponsors. .

“We will have no trouble finding the three private launches that will guarantee Ariane 6's economic model, I am even convinced (…) that we can do better,” assured Le Maire.

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