Europe agrees to build new-generation Ariane 6 rocket
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European governments on Tuesday agreed to fund the development of the Ariane 6, a next-generation rocket that will be used to launch satellites into orbit.
The decision comes as the European Space Agency (ESA) faces increasing competition from cheaper rivals.
The new launcher will replace the Ariane 5 and the maiden flight is scheduled for 2020,
"With this historic decision, the member states have given a strong reply to international competition in a strategic sector for European sovereignty, industry and jobs," French Research Minister Geneviève Fioraso said in a statement.
"They showed that when it is united, Europe is strong and can respond collectively to challenges."
Tuesday's agreement came after months of behind-the-scenes work to ease a rift between France and Germany over a successor to the Ariane 5.
"This is a very important day for the space agency after sometimes very tough but very fair and open discussions," said Luxembourg Economy and Trade Minister Etienne Schneider.
The Ariane 5 is a medium-to-heavy workhorse with 62 successful launches to its name. It accounts for more than half of the world's commercial launch market.
Despite its reliability, Ariane 5 comes with high operational costs compared to nimble US commercial newcomers such as SpaceX.
Startup costs for the Ariane 6 have been estimated at around 3.8 billion euros.
ESA’s member states, which include 20 European countries as well as Canada, also approved funding to upgrade the smaller Vega launch vehicle, continue participating in the International Space Station, and proceed with the second part of its ExoMars mission.
The agency is launching the first part of ExoMars in 2016 to investigate gases in Mars’ atmosphere and drop several instruments onto the Martian surface.
The latest funding allows ESA to launch the second ExoMars mission in 2018, intended to deliver a rover capable of searching for signs of past or present life.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)