Contracts to assess likely commercial satellite designs, technologies and launch demand between 2015 and 2025 have been awarded to two consortia by the European Space Agency. The 18-month Tomorrow's Bird study contracts are significant because their outcome could heavily influence ESA's choice of a future launcher to replace the Ariane 5.
The agency has concluded that the time required to develop a new launcher is, on average, as long as it takes to field two generations of commercial satellites. ESA has already begun work on a new rocket under its Future Launcher Preparatory Programme (FLPP).
Whether that launcher has two or more stages, is fully or partially reusable, or simply an improved Ariane will largely depend on how often European governments expect to launch payloads and what those payloads will be.
The Tomorrow's Bird project will contribute substantially to that analysis. The two contracted consortia are led by EADS Astrium's Toulouse facility and small Italian space systems company Carlo Gavazzi Space, which is working with the UK's Surrey Satellite Technology.
"The two contracts are about to start, following a successful negotiation with both consortia," says ESA.