The European space program has taken a big step toward bolstering its commercial launch services, awarding more than $2.66 billion in contracts for development of two new launch vehicles.
The Aug. 12 agreement by the European Space agency will fund the continued development of next-gen launcher Ariane 6, as well as its launch base and the Vega C, a new small-launcher. The ESA’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana will get major upgrades under the new contracts.
Airbus Safran Launchers, a co-venture of Airbus Defense and Space and Safran SA, will build the Ariane 6 launcher, which targets a first flight in 2020. ELV SpA of Italy will lead construction of the Vega C, set for use beginning in 2018.
“These contracts will allow the development of a family of European launchers, highly competitive in the world market and ensuring autonomous access to space at fully competitive prices for ESA’s Member States,” ESA Director General Jan Woerner said. “They are an important change of governance in the European launcher sector, with industry being the design authority and taking full responsibility in the development and exploitation of the launchers.”
Estimates suggest work on the launch base and the Vega launch vehicle could push the total value of the ESA contracts upward of $3.33 billion.
The Ariane 6 will be used for launches involving commercial communications, space and weather observation, and exploration missions. The Vega is designed to carry small scientific spacecraft and other light-weight payloads.