Europe’s Launchers

For many years, Ariane was Europe’s only launcher and was used to guarantee access to space for European governments. This market alone could not sustain the availability of the service so Ariane has evolved to meet the needs of the worldwide commercial market, where it has been extremely successful.

Launchers now represent the second largest area of space-manufacturing activity in Europe after commercial satellites, boosting European industry.

A new launch site for Soyuz was built in French Guiana to complement the performance range offered by Ariane. It is now fully operational and adds to the flexibility and competitiveness of Europe's fleet of launchers.

In parallel, Vega was developed to cope with a wide range of missions and smaller payload capability and is fully operational.

Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega are exploited from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Europe benefits from this family of launchers with the capability and flexibility to cover all European government and most commercial market needs, thus increasing the socio-economic benefits of access to space in Europe.

The efforts of Member States in developing and sustaining Ariane and Vega have established well-recognised European industry competences that allow industry to participate in international tenders.

At ESA’s last Council meeting at Ministerial level in Naples, Italy, in November 2012, Ministers secured investments for 2013–14 for the detailed definition studies of the new Ariane 6 and the continuing development of the Adapted Ariane 5 ME, with the goal of creating as many commonalities as possible between the two vehicles and, where possible, with Vega.

Ministers also agreed to fund: Vega’s evolution (Vega Consolidation and Evolution Preparation Programme, VECEP) for 2013–16, the new phase of the Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP) as well as the Launchers Exploitation Accompaniment Programme (LEAP) to provide a stable framework for exploiting ESA’s launchers for 2013–14.

They also authorised development to begin on the successor to the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle: the Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe, or Pride.

At the end of 2014 a Council at Ministerial level in Luxembourg will discuss the way forward for Ariane development, VECEP and LEAP.

Last update: 2 December 2014

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