Francois Auque, chief executive of EADS's space unit Astrium (hall 4, E65), has paid tribute to the French prime minister, who he says has "broken the taboo" surrounding the future of the Ariane rocket programme.
In May the office of prime minister Francois Fillon revealed the French government's intention to contact European partners to discuss timings for development of a new Ariane 6 rocket launcher. This followed delivery of a report prepared jointly by the French nuclear agency CEA, defence procurement agency DGA and space agency CNES, which recommended that a new launcher be developed "by 2020-25" and that the start of studies be proposed at the European Space Agency's ministerial council in 2011.
Auque said that "the main value" of Fillon's initiative was to "dare to put the question" of what will replace Ariane 5, which was the responsibility of politicians. "There was a kind of taboo in Europe... which was that it was forbidden to speak about the future, and the French prime minister has broken the taboo," said Auque. The report of the national agencies would have to be discussed "with a very open mind", he added. He named the countries with which talks would have to be held as "Germany and Italy mainly, and Spain and Belgium".
However, Auque sounded a note of caution as to the timeframe in which a new launcher could be developed. He said that even if work started immediately - "which is not the case" because it could take as long as five years - a new launcher would not be ready until 2030. According to Auque, "nobody knows" as yet the final decision on Ariane 6.
Ariane 5, which completed its first operational flight in December 1999, is used for launches into geostationary transfer orbit, medium and low Earth orbits, Sun-synchronous orbits and Earth-escape trajectories. It has launched satellites for communications, Earth observation and scientific research.
The most powerful Ariane 5, the Evolution Storable ATV, which launches the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle, can put 20,000kg (44,000lb) into low Earth orbit. The first ATV, named Jules Verne, was launched in March from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
In its communiqué in May, the French prime minister's office noted that the Ariane 5 programme was coming close to the halfway point in its life.