A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests on its pad. Picture: REUTERS/STEVE NESIUS
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rests on its pad. Picture: REUTERS/STEVE NESIUS

Singapore — Europe’s Arianespace is discounting the price of satellite launches with its Ariane 5 rockets as it competes against US rival SpaceX for customers before the release of the cheaper Ariane 6 rocket next year, a senior executive said on Wednesday.

Arianespace is aiming for the cost of launching the Ariane 6 to fall by about 40% compared to the the Ariane 5 through design changes and higher volume production, bringing its prices more in line with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Arianespace MD and head of sales for Asia-Pacific Vivian Quenet said.

In current marketing campaigns, he has said the company is offering customers, such as telecoms organisations, an Ariane 5 launch for the same price as the Ariane 6. “We have made a lot of effort on the sales price. When we do that, the result is very positive,” Quenet told reporters on Wednesday, declining to discuss details of profitability.

Arianespace is competing for two major launch contracts in the Asia-Pacific region that should be awarded this year and expects there could be tenders for another three, he said.

Arianespace, majority-owned by a joint venture of Airbus and Safran, completed 11 launches with its Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz rockets in 2018, in line with guidance that had been lowered mid-year from an initial 14.

The company, which has the mission of guaranteeing Europe independent access to space and is used by government and commercial clients, this month forecast up to 12 launches in 2019, with four of them targeted in the first quarter.

The Satellite Industry Association lobby group estimates the satellite launch services market is worth $5.5bn a year. SpaceX has up-ended the industry with re-usable rocket technology that has slashed the cost of space transportation.

Another US group, the United Launch Alliance joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, said last week it would conduct the final design review for its new flagship Vulcan rocket within months as it also looks to lower costs to better compete with SpaceX.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin said this month that it will fly its still-in-development New Glenn rocket in 2021 — the same year as Vulcan.

SpaceX, which media reports say is valued at $30.5bn, has its own problems and said this month it will retrench about 10% of its more than 6,000 employees in a bid to be a leaner company. And Musk said that the company was facing “extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead”.

Arianespace’s majority shareholder, ArianeGroup, announced on Tuesday that it had signed a contract with the European Space Agency to study a mission to the moon before 2025 with the aim of mining regolith, an ore from which it is possible to extract water and oxygen.

Quenet said that if the mission proceeded, it would be launched with the Ariane 6 at its facilities in French Guiana.