INTRODUCTION of the Ariane 5 launcher is forcing French rocket-engine manufacturer Societe Europeenne de Propulsion to diversify into other areas to protect its balance sheet.

The Ariane 5, due for its maiden launch on 29 November, has a single SEP-supplied main engine - the Ariane 4 has up to ten engines. SEP is also a 50% partner in the Ariane 5's solid booster.

With just six Ariane 5 launches a year instead of up to ten for the Ariane 4, however, and demands by Arianespace for a 10% reduction in supplier prices, SEP is reconsidering its core business, which accounts for 76% of turnover.

SEP president Roger Vignelles says that the company has until 1998 to decide on how it will diversify, because by then the Ariane 5 will have begun to replace the Ariane 4. He says that up to 15% of the company's turnover should by then consist of "industrial" diversification, such as a new pollution-absorbing material using technology spun off from SEP's rocket-nozzle and carbon-brakes expertise. An alliance with Snecma's braking subsidiary, Messier-Bugatti, is also being considered.

Vignelles says that 1994 was a "satisfying" year, with turnover up by 3%, to Fr4.4 billion ($830 million). The order book remains stable, at Fr7 billion.

Source: Flight International