On November 6 and 7, the space summit was held in Seville, bringing together the 22 members of ESA, the European space agency. If the financing of Ariane 6, the main French workhorse, has been assured, the event seems to confirm a complicated period for European space.
If Bruno Lemaire described the Seville space summit as a “decisive turning point in European space history”, the main players in the continental space sector were more measured. It must be said that the two heads of the ESA gondola, Ariane 6 and the Vega-C launcher, a series of disappointments. Indeed, while the last flight of Ariane 5 took place in July 2023, the development program ofAriane 6 is behind schedule, mainly due to numerous technical problems. The Vega-C launcher is still currently grounded after thefailure of its first commercial launch – because of a defective Ukrainian part – last December 23. In fact, Europe is today not more sovereign regarding its launches: it must count on American launchers to put satellites into orbit, and is no longer capable of sending astronauts into space on its own. An unprecedented situation, which illustrates an unprecedented decline in Europe on the global space scene.
Thus, the Seville space summit, if it does not provide an immediate long-term response, has the merit of perpetuating the immediate future of European space, in this case Ariane 6 and Vega-C.
Securing financing for Ariane 6
Three important decisions were taken at the Seville summit, each of which in its own way pleased the three countries which mainly finance the ESAnamely France, Germany and Italy.
First, Ariane 6. France managed to find a compromise with Germany and Italy to finance the Ariane 6 program to the tune of 340 million euros per year, between its 16th and 42nd launch. These subsidies, 55% of which are provided by France, are a breath of fresh air for the numerous French industrialists who are working on the development of the sixth heavy launcher in the history of Ariane, first and foremost Airbus and Safran. Remember that the first 15 launches of Ariane 6 are already guaranteed by a previously concluded agreement. Also, the agreement provides for 4 institutional launches per year. In return, manufacturers involved in the Ariane 6 program will have to pay a cost reduction of 11% per year over the period which includes the 42 launches.
Italy, for its part, also did well. In fact, the Italian company Avio is taking over the marketing of the Vega-C rocket, to the detriment of Ariane Espace. This is a long-standing request from the Italian manufacturer, which also obtains 21 million euros as well as three launches, all each year.
Finally, Germany also obtained what it came for, namely competition between suppliers, particularly with regard to mini launchers. A victory for the German space sector, whose ecosystem is made up of numerous players developing mini launchers with high potential. The icing on the cake is that the ESA plans aid of up to 150 million euros for most promising innovative projects. The competition is only just beginning.
Finally, the last notable decision, the release of 75 million euros for the development of a cargo transport service to the International Space Station by 2028.