At the Paris Air Show, it was revealed that the European launch provider, Arianespace, is requesting from the European Space Agency (ESA) financing for a new volumetric fairing extension for its Ariane 5 rocket so that new bulkier, if not heavier, design satellites can be carried. The cost of this extension is reported to be circa €30 million. If approved, and ESA Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordaine expects it to be as he described the funding needed as a “fairly small amount of money”, then this modification will be flying in 2015.
Plans to update the upper stage of the Ariane 5 to the Midlife Evolution (ME) standard with its reusable Vinci cryogenic engine will be completed in 2017. This will bring the maximium payload of the Ariane 5 to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) to 12 tons.
Further into the future, the configuration of the Ariane 6 expendable rocket is expected to be finalised shortly. The launch vehicle will use solid first and second stages, with a Vinci engines cryogenic upper stage. Lowering the cost of operation of the rocket, is the principal driver in its design. The target price per launch is €75 million ($100 million).
Comment by David Todd: A move for a longer payload accommodation can mean two things: longer (bulkier) satellites, or, alternatively, more satellites. That is, Arianespace, may be considering moving from dual launches to triple launches with three satellites (ableit not all of the larger size) being carried on a single launch vehicle. This could dramatically improve flight economics for the Ariane 5. Arianespace would, of course, would have to find a suitable adapter arrangement to allow this loading but it could be done.
Dan Thisdell contributed to this story, reporting from the Paris Air Show