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ArianeGroup To Build New 1-Ton Rocket

French Satellite Launch Specialist To Build Domestic Reusable Launch System

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire recently voiced plans for local space services purveyor ArianeGroup to compete with businesses in the U.S. by developing a series of reusable launch systems. 

"For the first time Europe...will have access to a reusable launcher. In other words, we will have our SpaceX, we will have our Falcon 9. We will make up for a bad strategic choice made 10 years ago," Le Maire said during a trip to their Normandy factory. The area builds their current single-use rocket systems used in satellite delivery.

Le Maire said the launchers would hopefully be operational by 2026, part of a greater "France 2030" program looking to foster a stronger domestic industrial base. ArianeGroup's engine production site in Vernon, France, has seen better days after the 2020 doldrums saw a reduction in employment. Le Maire said he believes the location should be host to 1,000 well-paid space jobs by 2025.

Details of the project are few and far between, but the Maia is expected to have a lifting capacity of one metric ton, putting it on the lower end of reusable rocket payloads. In comparison to the next-generation SLS in development, the Maia could seem somewhat left behind by its constantly advancing yankee competition out the gate.

The Falcon 9, mentioned Le Maire, has quickly become the name-brand launch vehicle in the commercial rocket game, boasting a suite of 9 Merlin 1D engines roughly equivalent to Maia's single Prometheus. While some could see ArianeGroup's targets as retreading ground, it may be smart to begin in familiar, achievable territory and work their way up to larger launch vehicles if needed.

France isn't known for planning imminent manned moon missions any time soon, so the investment in a competitive super heavy lifter may not be the wisest use of funding for the outfit. Satellite delivery contracts, on the other hand, will be bountiful for years to come.

The move could mark the beginning of a new phase in the commercial space race as Europe joins the commercial space race. With the recently announced low Earth orbit space stations on the drawing board, the past decade could someday be seen as little more than a prelude to the real gold rush. The Maia project will see assistance from the French government, setting out on their own in an apparent break from partnered countries in the European Space Agency.

Some observers worry it could set a precedent for continental space politics that could lead to wasted, doubled efforts as countries replicate programs and capabilities for the sake of economic competition. It should be noted, however, that now could be seen as the last chance for local governments to jump on the train and net their areas some high-paying, sophisticated employment opportunities that are immensely difficult to uproot once mature.

The big players in the fledgling private space industry are still in flux as breakthroughs are made, innovation progresses, and fortunes wax or wane.

There could still be plenty of room for another one. 



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