Julian Moxon/PARIS

French rocket-engine maker SEP is talking to Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) about a space-propulsion alliance as part of a move by the Snecma division to restructurethe business.

According to SEP director-general Jaques Rossignol, who headed CFM International in its formative years, "-we need to assemble space-engine companies around us, because there are not enough European programmes to nourish all of the actors in the group in the medium term".

With consistent profits since it was set up in 1969 and a turnover of $850 million in 1996, SEP is the world's biggest rocket-engine supplier. Rossignol clearly hopes for European consolidation, but says that he "-doesn't rule out" deals with US and Russian companies.

He has also revealed that SEP and Dasa have recently signed an agreement to develop a new, re-lightable, stockable-propellant upper stage for the Ariane 5, to complement the more powerful Ariane 5 Evolution.

The development is subject to approval from the European Space Agency (ESA), but Rossignol says that it would be "economically better" to develop the engine at the same time as the other Ariane 5 improvements. He adds that SEP and Dasa are prepared to fund 30% of the Fr2 billion ($333 million) development costs. The rest will come from ESA and Arianespace.

More than 75% of SEP's business is derived from the Ariane 4 programme - but with the new Ariane 5 using fewer engines, the company is concerned to establish other lines of revenue. It is already one of the leaders in research into plasmic engine propulsion for satellites, and claims world leadership in the development of high-temperature materials.

Source: Flight International