Despite the announcement of the Ariane 6 - a new launch vehicle only distantly related to its predecessor, the Ariane 5 - Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel is focused on improvements to the current vehicle.

A larger payload fairing is Israel's primary concern. The new fairing, which would keep the 5.4m diameter but increase the length by over 2m, would allow for larger satellites to ride in dual-payload configuration. Currently one satellite - the one that sits below the main payload - has less space than the primary.

"It is more a question of volume than of mass, it is an analysis of the market. We are confident that it will be welcomed by the market, and both the satellites [upper and lower] may request more volume. Not all of them, but some of them. It is to have the most flexibility possible under the fairing," says Israel.

"[The European Space Agency] has presented the programme to the member states - it was mid-June, it has been accepted and they have begun to fund it to a certain extent, and now they are waiting on confirmation from the Swiss and France, which are the two main contributors," Israel continued. "I am confident it will be funded."

The new fairings are scheduled for introduction in 2015. The Ariane 5 ECA - as the standard configuration is known - will fly until at least 2020, when it is likely to be replaced by the Ariane 6. In the meantime an upgrade of the Ariane 5, dubbed the Ariane 5 ME, is scheduled for a first launch in 2018.

There will be a period of overlap when all three rockets will be available for launches simultaneously, but the Ariane 5 ECA's days are numbered.

"I am sure that Ariane 6 is a very good perspective, the quicker we will have it I think the better it will be - it is the right choice, but I do not have to comment more than that. My two priorities are this adaptation and to limit the time between two launches," says Israel.

Source: Flight International