Snecma's rocket engine division, Société Europèenne de Propulsion, has agreed with Pratt &Whitney to jointly develop a new cryogenic upper stage engine for the Ariane 5, Lockheed Martin Delta IV and Boeing Atlas V.

The deal is based around work by the two companies on more powerful engines to meet the demand to launch higher payload weights into geostationary orbit. Snecma is developing the Vinci engine for the upgraded Ariane 5, which was approved by the European Space Agency at its ministerial meeting last year, and P&W is working on the RL50. Both engines are due to be available around 2003. The Vinci will produce around 15t thrust and the US company's RL50 around 23t in its initial version.

The deal, which would see each company take a 50% stake in the joint venture, is subject to agreement on technology transfer from the French and US governments, however, and Snecma president Jean-Paul Béchat says time is running out for approval.

"We cannot lose the momentum we have on development of the Vinci. Our studies are advancing and we will need approval before the middle of the year, otherwise it will be too late," he says. Béchat notes that the respective governments took three years to approve the General Electric/Snecma CFM56 co-operation. "We cannot wait that long this time," he says.

Source: Flight International