ESA Alters Procurement Practices for Ariane 6 Program

Artist's impression of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)
Artist’s impression of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)

ESA has tossed aside one of its key spending practices — juste retour — in an attempt to produce a new Ariane 6 launch vehicle that can compete with cheaper ones offered by SpaceX and Chinese and Indian providers.

Juste retour (“fair return”) is the space agency’s way of spreading work around to companies in different nations in proportion to what national governments  put into a program. The approach produced the highly reliable but expensive Ariane V, whose components and systems are produced throughout Europe.

Space News reports ESA has removed these constraints for the successor vehicle:

In what European Space Agency Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain called a “Valentine’s Day present,” four European rocket-hardware builders on Feb. 14 submitted a united proposal for how to build the next-generation Ariane 6 rocket using an organizational setup that turns ESA’s traditional practice on its head.

The four companies — Airbus Defence and Space, Safran, OHB AG’s MT Aerospace and Italy’s Avio — have been given “total carte blanche” to create a contractor team with only one goal in mind: Produce a vehicle that can be built and launched for 70 million euros ($95 million), Dordain said.

“For years industry has been telling us: ‘Give us the freedom to organize ourselves as we want and we can be much more efficient,’” Dordain said here Feb. 13 during a conference organized by the French Aerospace Industries Association, GIFAS, and by Euroconsult. “They have their chance now, as we have put absolutely no constraints on them on geographic return or anything else. The only requirement is the cost: 70 million euros.”

ESA and industry divided the Ariane 6 work into about 15 packets, not including the prime contractor’s role. In an informal briefing with reporters, Dordain said that 10 of these 15 work areas have sufficient industrial bases in Europe to offer competitive bids.

The five remaining categories either had no obvious candidate or only one, raising concerns of monopoly pricing. To get around the problem, ESA lumped these five work packages into the prime contractor’s job and asked the four-company group to present a single proposal — with initial cost elements.

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