Arianespace Chief Sort of Grudgingly Compliments SpaceX

Jean-Yves Le Gall
Jean-Yves Le Gall

In an appearance before the French Senate, outgoing Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall — who is expected to take over the French space agency CNES next month — almost had something nice to say about Elon Musk and SpaceX.

In his 10 years as chief executive of Arianespace, Le Gall has been routinely withering in his disparagement of SpaceX, saying the company has not shown it is able to launch successfully with sufficient frequency to succeed in the market.

But in recent months, Le Gall has modulated his view of SpaceX. As he prepares to take the reins of CNES, an event likely to occur by mid-April, he even complimented — in a back-handed way — SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

“SpaceX has been mainly financed by the U.S. government,” Le Gall said. “But it was started by someone who was willing to invest his own money. I think Mr. Musk invested something like $400 million. It is said that a SpaceX IPO [stock-market introduction] would generate between $2 billion and $4 billion in investment. When you invest $400 million and take out $4 billion 10 years later, you’ve made a good investment.”

During his appearance, Le Gall spoke about the need to accelerate development of Ariane 6, which would replace the Ariane 5 and Russian Soyuz rocket now launched from French Guiana around 2021.

Ariane 6’s lower development costs are supposed to be accompanied by lower operating costs. Le Gall said the Ariane 5 facilities at the Guiana Space Center are huge, while competitor Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., operates its Falcon 9 rocket at a launch pad the size of a football field.

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