Is Ariane really in trouble?
by Taylor Dinerman
|Ariane’s troubles, like those of the rest of the French space program, are a sign of the difficulty they have in reconciling their long-term ambitions for the EU and the resources they have with which to accomplish these goals.|
According to D’Allest , Ariane is the “…fruit d’une politique volontariste menee depuis trente cinq ans…avec le soutien sans faille depois 1973, en France, des plus hauts reponsables de l’Etat…” The most important word here is “volontariste”; it is one of those French words that has no exact English equivalent. It has nothing whatsoever to do with anything voluntary. It describes an effort of “will” in the political sense. In America we might consider that FDR’s New Deal and its precursors under Herbert Hoover were an expression of this kind of political “will”, as was the Apollo program. Yet it is hard to accept that the European launcher is as plainly political as were these programs, after all Arianespace presents itself as a capitalist enterprise.
If Ariane were as essential for what M. D’Allest refers to as “sovereignty missions”, then other European states would not be launching their new military reconnaissance satellites, such as Italy’s Cosmo-Skymed and Germany’s SAR-Lupe, on US and Russian rockets. Ariane may be essential to preserve French interests in military space operations, but obviously other European governments have their own ideas about what they, and “Europe”, really need.
In order to preserve the competitiveness of Ariane, D’Allest proposes that France increase its funding of ESA’s launcher development program. He wants to replace the current upper stage engine with the new Vinci engine that has been under development since 1999. This motor was supposed to become operational in 2005. Obviously cost overruns and delays are not a US monopoly.
The fact that the proposal does not involve other Europeans but only the French, and that it implies a 5% cut in French national programs, including presumably some of the military space programs that President Sarkozy wants to begin in the near future, shows that they are running up against some serious budgetary limits. If the central government in Paris cannot bring its deficit down to the level demanded by the European Central Bank, then French leadership in Europe will be further undermined.
Ariane’s troubles, like those of the rest of the French space program, are a sign of the difficulty they have in reconciling their long-term ambitions for the EU and the resources they have with which to accomplish these goals. Traditionally they believed that they could set the strategy and that other European states, Germany in particular, would pay their share in order to keep a place at the EU’s decision making table. Since 1989, and especially since the reunification of Germany, the old model no longer applies.
Not only does Germany want to have its full share—and maybe even a little more—of the jobs and revenue from ventures such as Arianespace, but it wants to have a more powerful voice in the decision-making process. The tussle over the funding of the Vinci engine may be the just the tip of the iceberg.
|The company is making money and has good credit: why should it not pay to finish the Vinci program itself?|
In advance of the next ESA ministerial meeting in November, a debate is underway concerning the future of Europe’s overall space policy. One alternative is to build a human-rated capsule for Ariane and to begin work on a European mission to the Moon. This would complement the US Vision for Space Exploration and would keep their industry at the forefront of space exploration technology. It would also require a moderate and sustained increase in overall space spending.
Under this program, Ariane would have to be upgraded, just as D’Allest wants, but he failed to mention this. Perhaps because an Ariane designed for exploration and, in the short term, for trips to the ISS, might undermine the commercial prospects for the launcher. After all, the US will not be launching commercial satellites on the Ares 1 (or will it?)
In any case, it is hard to see the purely commercial case for the EU’s investment in an upgraded Ariane 5. The company is making money and has good credit: why should it not pay to finish the Vinci program itself? Ariane has an excellent safety and reliability record and its order books are full to overflowing. If Europe’s political leaders decide not to shoot for the Moon, there is little reason for them to squeeze their other space programs just to maintain Ariane’s market dominance. Unless, of course, it becomes a question of volontarisme.