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Astrium Receives $217 Million Contract to Upgrade Ariane 5

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
January 15, 2010
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Ariane 5

Ariane 5


  • Astrium, industrial prime contractor for the European launcher, is to develop a new, more powerful version of Ariane 5
  • Ariane 5 ME will have a re-ignitable upper stage and be capable of launching payloads of up to 12 tonnes into orbit
  • Contract worth €150 million over two years

The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with Astrium for the initial development phase of its programme to enhance the performance of the Ariane launch vehicle and make it even more competitive.

With the 49th flight of Ariane 5 from Kourou successfully launched, Astrium, the European space technology leader, is already at work on an even more powerful version of the launcher on behalf of ESA.

ESA’s Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) programme aims to raise the payload capacity of Ariane 5 from 10 to 12 tonnes, an increase of 20%.

The teams at Astrium Space Transportation are working on the development of an entirely new upper stage for the launch vehicle. Among other things, it will feature a new, re-ignitable Vinci engine, which will make it possible to optimise the insertion into orbit of the satellites and other spacecraft it transports and prolong their service life in orbit. Astrium is also planning to introduce a new generation of avionics and flight software that will further enhance the performance of the launch vehicle’s electronic control systems.

The new upper stage for the Ariane ME will additionally benefit from improved reliability and safety.

Alain Charmeau, CEO of Astrium Space Transportation, proudly said: “This contract marks the beginning of a new era for Astrium. It’s a strong vote of confidence in our abilities that, moreover, comes just as we are about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the very first Ariane launch on 24 December 1979. We are all set for another 30 years or more of technological achievements and market success.”

The new Ariane 5 is expected to make its first commercial flight around 2017.