At the 51st Paris Air Show, France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) announced that it would sell its 35% stake in Arianespace to Airbus Safran Launchers, giving the private company majority ownership. CNES is the government agency tasked with implementing France’s space policy in Europe. The sale of the French government’s shares of the Evry, France-based Arianespace has been cleared by Prime Minister Manuel Valls after Airbus Safran Launchers promised that it would not move Arianespace from its current Evry headquarters.
It should be noted that Prime Minister Valls is the former mayor of Evry and is concerned about the effect on unemployment rates in the low-income Evry region were Arianespace to move. The launch consortium will also maintain its facilities in Washington, D.C., Tokyo, and Singapore.
Though it has given up its ownership of the Arianespace launch consortium, the French government will still maintain its oversight role. The sale of Arianespace by the French government marks the end of more than half-a-century of CNES leadership in launcher design and development. This includes the Diamant rocket built under the guidance of former President Charles de Gaulle’s government, notable for being the first exclusively French-built and designed expendable launch system. Under CNES leadership, Arianespace designed and developed the Ariane family of launch vehicles. Arianespace completes its launches from Guiana Space Centre, a spaceport off the coast of Kourou, French Guiana that hosts launches from the European Space Agency as well.
CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall commented that though the French government’s formal rule over the launch consortium would lessen with the shares transfer, Europe’s launch business is still a government-controlled industry.
In a June 2015 briefing, Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel announced the company’s decision to become 74%-owned by Airbus Safran Launchers while still operating as a separate entity. Airbus Safran Launchers came about as a result of the Airbus Group’s and Safran’s desire to make their marks in the European launcher industry. Airbus Safran Launchers is 50:50 owned, combining Airbus Defense and Space’s know-how in launcher systems and Safran’s capabilities in liquid and solid rocket propulsion.
Arianespace Chief Executive Israel stated that in order to meet competition from lower-price competitors such as Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, Arianespace and Europe’s overall space-launch industry would have to change. Arianespace’s current system under development is the Ariane 6 launch vehicle set to fly in 2020. Israel states that if Ariane 6 meets its cost and schedule requirements, it will allow Arianespace to keep its premier position in the launch industry.