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posted by martyb on Tuesday October 05, @12:01AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the good-fast-cheap;-pick...three? dept.

SpaceX snags launch contract from Arianespace after Vega rocket fails twice

In a rare victory for international launch competition, SpaceX has snagged a contract to launch an Italian Earth observation satellite from European launch monopoly and political heavyweight Arianespace.

After spending the better part of a decade with its head in the sand as SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket rapidly came to dominate the global launch market, Arianespace has become increasingly reliant on its ability to entice politicians into forcing European Union member states to launch any and all domestic satellites and spacecraft on its Ariane 5, Ariane 6, and Vega rockets. Save for a few halting, lethargic technology development programs that have yet to bear any actionable fruit, the company – heavily subsidized by European governments – has almost completely failed to approach head-on the threat posed by SpaceX by prioritizing the development of rockets that can actually compete with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy on cost and performance.

[...] A recent development offers the best look yet at what many European space agencies likely suffer through as a consequence of their governments signing away access to an increasingly competitive launch industry – often seemingly in return for Arianespace selecting contractors or (re)locating development hubs or factories in certain countries. Notably, sometime in September 2021, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) confirmed signs that it was moving the launch of its COSMO SkyMed CSG-2 Earth observation satellite from a new Arianespace rocket to SpaceX's Falcon 9.

[...] SkyMed CSG-1 debuted on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket in December 2019, while CSG-2 was originally scheduled to launch sometime in 2021 on one of the first Arianespace Vega-C rockets. However, in July 2019 and November 2020, the Vega rocket Vega-C is based on suffered two launch failures separated by just a single success. Aside from raising major questions about Arianespace's quality assurance, those near-back-to-back failures also delayed Vega's launch manifest by three years. Combined with a plodding launch cadence and jam-packed manifest for Arianespace's other non-Vega rockets, that meant that Italy would have likely had to wait 1-2 years to launch SkyMed CSG-2 on a European rocket.

Previously:
Upper Stage Issue Causes Arianespace Launch Failure, Costing 2 Satellites
Europe Starting to Freak Out About Dominance of SpaceX


Original Submission

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Upper Stage Issue Causes Arianespace Launch Failure, Costing 2 Satellites 21 comments

Upper Stage Issue Causes Arianespace Launch Failure, Costing 2 Satellites

Upper stage issue causes Arianespace launch failure, costing 2 satellites:

An overnight launch of Arianespace's Vega rocket failed after reaching space, costing France and Spain an Earth-observing satellite each. The failure represents the second in two years after Vega had built up a spotless record over its first six years of service.

[...] Something went wrong with the liquid-fueled [fourth] stage after it had reached an altitude of over 200km. While it's not entirely clear at the time what had failed, in the words of Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël, "The speed was not nominal anymore." This caused the upper stage and satellites to veer off the planned trajectory, and Arianespace lost control of the vehicle shortly afterward. The spacecraft returned to Earth near where the upper stage was expected to fall in an area that's completely uninhabited.

The failure happened at a stage of the launch where Arianespace is able to obtain detailed telemetry data from tracking stations in North America.

[...] The company's initial investigation focused on the engine of the liquid-fueled fourth stage, specifically "a problem related to the integration of the fourth-stage AVUM nozzle activation system," which was "the most likely cause of the loss of control of the launcher." Arianespace has already named a European Space Agency official who will head the inquiry into the failure, which will focus on why the problem wasn't caught and corrected prior to launch.

Bad Cabling Blamed for Failed Launch of European Satellites

Bad cabling blamed for failed launch of European satellites:

Europe Starting to Freak Out About Dominance of SpaceX 23 comments

Europe is starting to freak out about the launch dominance of SpaceX:

A little more than a week ago, the European Space Agency[(ESA)] announced an initiative to study "future space transportation solutions." Basically, the agency provided about $600,000, each, to three companies—ArianeGroup, Avio, and Rocket Factory Augsburg—to study competitive launch systems from 2030 onward.

[...] there now appears to be increasing concern in Europe that the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets will not be competitive in the launch market of the near future. This is important, because while member states of the European Space Agency pay for development of the rockets, after reaching operational status, these launch programs are expected to become self-sufficient by attracting commercial satellite launches to help pay the bills.

Economic ministers in France and Italy have now concluded that the launch market has changed dramatically since 2014, when the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets were first designed. According to a report in Le Figaro newspaper, the ministers believe the ability of these new European rockets to compete for commercial launch contracts has significantly deteriorated since then.

It would seem that ESA's payback plan didn't expect an agile competitor to disrupt the entire market with efficiencies that governments seem unable to match. But, there's more.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet in talks for a place in the UK’s $6.9 billion ‘Project Gigabit’:

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is in talks with the United Kingdom for the company’s Starlink satellite unit to potentially earn funding as a part of the government’s new $6.9 billion internet infrastructure program, CNBC confirmed.


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, @01:56AM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, @01:56AM (#1184344)

    Back-to-back failures sounds really bad, and the tone of this article clearly is going for VERY BAD, but damn if reality didn't throw a monkey wrench into those literary plans. "Hmm, how can we make it sound really bad? I know, near back-to-back! Genius!" Me? I would have probably went with "back-to-back-ish" instead.

    My football team is 2 - 1; they won their first match, lost the next, but pulled out a win on the third. Everyone is happy now that they're riding that near-winning streak!

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, @02:59AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, @02:59AM (#1184353)

      Near 67% failure rate

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday October 05, @01:46PM (2 children)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 05, @01:46PM (#1184440) Journal
      The article could do with less hyperventilating. I don't know if Ariane 6 was intended to be a new launch platform, but a high failure rate is standard for new rocket designs. The interesting question is how long will it take them to get past that high failure rate start?

      I think this story is more significant than it first appears. The payload is sponsored by the Italian Space Agency who as part of the ESA (European Space Agency) has an interest in furthering the Ariane 6 platform. That tells me that something is wrong beyond the launch failures. Even the relatively loyal are starting to abandon Ariane 6.
      • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Tuesday October 05, @05:24PM

        by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Tuesday October 05, @05:24PM (#1184497) Homepage
        > I don't know if Ariane 6 was intended to be a new launch platform but a high failure rate is standard for new rocket designs.

        Let's just say that there's a reason the James Webb is being launched from an Ariane 5...

        I do remember a similar "Ariane is doomed" at the end of 4 and start of 5, though, so I'm not going to react to this news like Chicken Licken until I see evidence that this time's different - and worse.
        --
        I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, @12:38AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, @12:38AM (#1184580)

        The article could do with a lot less hyperventilating. ;) While Ariane and Vega rockets use the same SRBs, neither failure was due to booster problems. The multi-year delay on top of a backlog is the deal breaker here, and that has more to do with Arianespace's dismal launch cadence. Vega has never flown more than three flights per year and Ariane 5 peaks at seven. That simply isn't enough to meet demand.

        SpaceX doesn't have a backlog, so they can book flights according to the customer's schedule, even on short notice. That flexibility is why they are starting to claim even politically averse contracts like this and Europa Clipper.

  • (Score: 3, Touché) by DannyB on Tuesday October 05, @02:04PM (7 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 05, @02:04PM (#1184443) Journal

    Is Ariane 6 reusable?

    IF No THEN it will never compete on price.

    Is Ariane 6 refuseable?

    IF Yes THEN customers GOTO elsewhere.

    --
    I notice that for each booster shot, they use a fresh needle?!? Don't they know about re-usable boosters?
    • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Tuesday October 05, @05:27PM (6 children)

      by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Tuesday October 05, @05:27PM (#1184498) Homepage
      Show me the calculations that lead you to conclude that reusable rockets are cheaper than non-reusable ones.

      Make sure you include subsidies, and other pork barrel distortions. (For example, don't forget to include the highest fee charged for such a launch, not just the lowest - you do realise that the high payers are subsidising the low payers, don't you?)
      --
      I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by DannyB on Tuesday October 05, @05:58PM (4 children)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 05, @05:58PM (#1184505) Journal

        Everything I've read or heard in recent years is that SpaceX is under pricing its competitors significantly. SpaceX also has reusable rockets.

        If you have some information to the contrary that re-usable rockets are more expensive to operate than expendable, I would love to see that.

        I did see a video, it might have been everyday astronaut, but I can't be sure. It did have some breakdown of the costs of SpaceX Falcon 9. I had already independently heard multiple times that the fairings cost about $6 Million each. The first stage booster costs $30 million. And the 2nd stage about $21 million. The estimates were that if you can capture and refurbish the booster for under $2 million, your next launch costs you significantly less. About $28 million less. Not an insignificant sum. In fact about half of the total launch cost. It's even more profitable if you can capture and refurbish the fairings.

        You seem to be suggesting something about reuseability costs that is contrary to anything I've heard or read so far.

        =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

        Now about subsidies and pork, I don't know what you're talking about. I know that some SpaceX launches cost more because of complexity and other services required for the payload. That doesn't seem like a subsidy to me.

        Maybe you can clarify what you mean?

        --
        I notice that for each booster shot, they use a fresh needle?!? Don't they know about re-usable boosters?
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, @06:14PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, @06:14PM (#1184512)

          one-way rocket is only cheaper if you can add that metals-to-gold transforming device that only works in the upper atmosphere: "raining gold nuggets you'all!"

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, @01:53AM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, @01:53AM (#1184591)

          Everything I've read or heard in recent years is that SpaceX is under pricing its competitors significantly. SpaceX also has reusable rockets.

          What I find hilarious is that these aren't directly related. SpaceX was already charging around half what their nearest competitor did before they had a reusable rocket, because their rocket was that much cheaper to start with. This means that reuse has even smaller margins to break even for SpaceX than for their competitors, and they still found it profitable* even when they offered a $12M discount for 'used' rockets.

          The double edged sword of reuse, and what knowledgeable opponents of the concept cite, is that while it can reduce your costs and will increase your launch cadence, you must increase your launch cadence by an order of magnitude or you will put yourself out of business, and there simply isn't enough demand to support that. Musk bet that demand would increase to match supply, apparently thinking that the incumbent communications companies would see the potential profits and jump at the chance to be first to market. But as his critics predicted, it didn't happen. Of course, being himself, his response to not getting his way was to make it happen anyway, while potentially adding another digit to his net wealth. At least we know who inherited Steve Jobs' reality distortion field.

          *This has more to do with SpaceX being good at cost control than reuse being cheaper. I have no doubt that Arianespace could find a way to lose money with reuse.

          • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Wednesday October 06, @07:09AM

            by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Wednesday October 06, @07:09AM (#1184641) Homepage
            False. Unless $316M for a single launch is half of $85M.

            You're confusing prices charged with actual costs. And if you can do that, I can too, I'll just chose a different customer's price. See my post below.
            --
            I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.
        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by FatPhil on Wednesday October 06, @07:06AM

          by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Wednesday October 06, @07:06AM (#1184640) Homepage
          > under pricing

          You're confusing pricing and cost.

          The starlink missions will eventually be free? Does that mean SpaceX launches are free? It does using your broken logic.

          > Now about subsidies and pork, I don't know what you're talking about.

          Clearly. Go watch some Thunderf00t videos. Start with:
          4TxkE_oYrjU SpaceX: BUSTED!! (Part 1)
          The relevant porky bit start at 555s and 1400s. Gotta just love that overcharging Space Force by a factor of 6. No pork there at all, no, no, no, definitely not.

          > I know that some SpaceX launches cost more because of complexity and other services required for the payload. That doesn't seem like a subsidy to me.

          Addressed in the above vid at the above timestamps. Complexity: the Space Shuttle was (not just a known money sink, but also) human rated. Space X's launches in their $1.6B contract were not. That $1.6B was pure pork. $316M for one launch - more pure pork. One customer with an effectively infinite budget covering the development costs so that other customers don't have to. Call it charity, call it a subsidy, call it pork, call it creaming the taxpayer, call it what you like, it's a distortion of the price that has future distortions of the price as repurcussions. And you're only seeing those distortions.

          Or worse.

          You might have listened to the projected price promises from Musk which are basically bullshit. Skip to 750s in that vid. Musk's claims about eventual "7 times cheaper", "10 times cheaper", "20 times cheaper", or even "100 times cheaper" space launches from his re-usable rockets are absolutely unsupportable extrapolations compared with horrific money sinks in a non-competitive market, and completely overlooks things like maintenance. And whaddya make of the price increases, as shown at 865s?

          You've been sniffing the Musky KoolAid. You're not alone, but that doesn't diminish how out of whack your perspectives are compared with reality.
          --
          I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, @03:06AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, @03:06AM (#1184603)

        You do realize that the high payers are getting more than just a rocket launch, don't you?

        SpaceX charges $62M for a Falcon 9 launch. They used to charge $50M for a used Falcon 9, but no longer offer that discount. Special payload handling costs extra. Most satellites carry hydrazine and dinitrogen tetraoxide, which are a hazardous materials and typically require payload specific equipment that SpaceX needs to make. That costs extra. Additional prefilght services, such as radio and computer testing, cost extra. Renting a Dragon costs extra. NASA requires a Flight Readiness Report, including a detailed vehicle inspection, engine tear-down and rebuild, and eight meters of documentation [thedailywtf.com]. You bet that costs extra.

        The only subsidy SpaceX received for Falcon 9 and Dragon 1 was from the COTS [wikipedia.org] program. NASA more than made that back during CRS1 [wikipedia.org].

        SpaceX: $396M COTS + $1.9B for 12 CRS1 flights ($158.3M/flight).
        Orbital: $288M COTS + $1.6B for 8 CRS1 flights ($200M/flight).

        Had Orbital Sciences been awarded all 20 flights their CRS1 fee would have been (12*$200M)=$2.4B higher. That is ~$100M more than the ~$2.3B SpaceX received in total. SpaceX was also in service two years earlier, meaning NASA didn't need to buy cargo service from foreign providers during those years.

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