The French-European space agency Ariane Group is to develop its own reusable rocket launchers – following in the footsteps of Elon Musk's company SpaceX, which pioneered the technology.
During a visit to the Ariane Group rocket test site in Vernon, Normandy – where the mini launchers are to be developed – French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said they would be operational by 2026.
"For the first time Europe will have access to a reusable launcher. In other words, we’ll have our own SpaceX, we’ll have our own Falcon 9,” Le Maire said, adding the venture would make up for poor strategic choices made a decade ago.
The project, called Maia Space, is not merely a space strategy though. The objective is to create 100 jobs by 2025 as some Ariane Group employees are transferred to Germany to help manufacture the Vinci engine of the Ariane 6 rocket.
“Vernon is destined to see its workforce grow,” Le Maire said. “Today there are a little more than 800 jobs, by 2025, there will be nearly 1,000.”
He added that Franco-German and Franco-Italian deals on European launchers signed last year would guarantee production rates in Vernon, where four Ariane 6 launches per year will take place.
First mission four years away
The Maia project should be ready to carry out its first commercial mission in 2026, taking off from the launch pad of the former Diamant rockets, in Kourou, French Guiana.
While the deadline is tight, the Ariane Group said it was doable because its engineers were not starting from scratch.
Rebuilding France’s competitiveness in space was a goal set by President Emmanuel Macron in October when he announced the country’s 30 billion euro investment plan dubbed "France 2030”.
It reaffirms France’s commitment to fostering re-industrialisation and innovation in a range of fields, and to prevent a loss of skills.
Some 1.5 billion euros is earmarked to be spent in the space sector.