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Italy, France and Germany agree on launches of Ariane 6 and Vega-C

Published 06/11/2023, 13:20
Updated 06/11/2023, 13:26
© Reuters. A worker of Ariane Group stands in front of a Ariane 6 rocket's Vulcain 2.1 engine, prior to the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, in Vernon, France January 12, 2021. Christophe Ena/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) - Italy, France and Germany on Monday have reached a deal underpinning future launches of the delayed Ariane 6 and Avio's smaller Vega-C rockets, Italy's industry minister said.

Europe's new heavyweight launcher built by ArianeGroup - an Airbus-Safran joint-venture - has been delayed by technical glitches and is due to stage its first test launch in 2024, four years behind the original plan.

The previous generation of rockets for heavy payloads, Ariane 5, was retired in July.

Beyond resolving the immediate technical problems, European states have been at odds over medium-term budgets and schedules stretching beyond the first 15 flights of Ariane 6.

"A series of fundamental points are set out for the relaunch of the space sector, resolving long-standing disputes over the availability of launches and their sites, and finally laying the foundations for a new unified phase in Europe and in the global competitive environment," Urso said in a statement.

The smaller Vega-C has been grounded since Dec. 22 after a failed launch. Italy has been campaigning for the rocket to be marketed separately from ArianeGroup subsidiary Arianespace, which currently sells and operates all major European launches.

Monday's agreement opens the door to Vega-C being operated independently by Italian manufacturer Avio in addition to the current arrangements carried out by Arianespace, the statement added. In Milan, shares in Avio rose 2.9%.

The three-way agreement was signed during a European Space Agency (ESA) ministerial meeting in Seville, Spain.

Launchers are a pressing issue as Europe faces a gap in access to space following the Ariane 6 and Vega-C delays, coupled with the loss of access by western European nations to Russia's Soyuz programme due to the war in Ukraine.

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ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said last week there was "light at the end of tunnel" in efforts to bring Ariane 6 to the launchpad and restore Europe's independent access to space.

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