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Europe wants to compete with SpaceX with a reusable launcher

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has just announced that ArianeGroup will invest to develop small reusable rockets. The objective will be to compete with SpaceX, a pioneer in this field.

European Ariane vehicles once played a dominant role in launching geostationary satellites. However, they are now pushed into the background due to poor strategic decisions and an ever more marked rise in power from new competitors across the Atlantic.

On the Old Continent, it was time to react. A few months ago, the European Union was indeed aiming for a more aggressive space strategy, calling for an alliance allowing autonomous access to space for Europe over the next decade. The French and Italian ministers were calling for a meaningful "technological and industrial" response to the rise of SpaceX. Here is the answer:ArianeGroup is in turn launching into the reusable rocket market.

A launcher in 2026

While visiting Vernon in Normandy on the Ariane site, the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire announced that the European company was going to develop its own mini-launcher to compete with the American. The latter should be operational in 2026 .

Europe "missed the turn of the reusable launcher, we didn't believe it, we fell behind our American partners who developed SpaceX and Falcon 9, and this delay must be caught up “, conceded Bruno Le Maire, promising in passing to increase the workforce of the Vernon site.

The company's employees had recently expressed their fears about the activity and the very future of the site due to the transfer of part of the production of Vinci engines, one of those that will equip the Ariane 6 launcher in Germany.

Today, there are just over 800 jobs at the Vernon site, by 2025 there will be nearly 1,000 “, assured the Minister of the Economy. If the site will indeed lose the Vinci engine, activity will be brought by the future Prometheus engines which will equip the future reusable launchers. Part of the production of the future reusable mini-launcher will also be offered on the site. Nevertheless, it will be in competition with other European projects, in particular German ones.

Still according to Bruno Le Maire, Vernon will also be the place where hydrogen production from renewable electricity sources will be developed.

A race lost in advance?

That Europe is finally taking the initiative in this area is quite commendable. It remains to be seen whether this ambition will be sufficient. The Ariane 6 (medium launcher) and Vega-C (light launcher), which represent the next generation of European rockets, will indeed already have to jostle for a place in their respective markets.

On the one hand, Ariane 6 will have to face, among other launchers, the Falcon 9 and SpaceX's Falcon Heavy. Lz Vega-C will also be threatened by the Falcon 9, but also by Rocket Lab's Electron rocket, which specializes in sending small payloads into space. From an earlier generation of boosters, these two launchers should debut in the next twelve to eighteen months .