A very important mission in space. Poland was excluded.

More than a dozen European countries have built a rocket so that our continent can keep up with the United States, Russia and China in the conquest of space. Poland was absent from the consortium led by Germany, France and Spain.

On July 9, the new European rocket Ariane 6 will launch for the first time from the spaceport in French Guiana, with a second launch scheduled before the end of 2024. Ultimately, the rocket is scheduled to make 10 flights per year. Ariane 6 will replace the previous generation – Ariane 5, which was retired last year after 27 years of operation and more than 100 flights. Initially, Ariane 6 was scheduled to launch in 2020, but due to numerous complications, both technical and related to the pandemic, the launch was delayed by 4 years. With the launch of the new rocket, Europe is returning to the competition in the space sector.

A multi-billion euro mission

The total cost of building the rocket is estimated at 4 billion euros, and the launch cost ranges from 62 to 115 million euros, depending on the model. The Ariane 6 project is being implemented by the European Space Agency (ESA) in cooperation with companies from 13 European countries (excluding Poland), and the main contractor is the French Ariane group. The rocket can carry about 21.5 tons of payload into low Earth orbit (10.3 tons in the version with two boosters), a value similar to the American Falcon 9 or the Chinese Long March rockets, but clearly less than that offered by the Falcon Heavy.

In the case of Ariane 6, the same elements (such as boosters) are not supposed to be reused, which reduces the costs of subsequent launches. This type of solution is used in Falcon rockets, and is planned to be used in later models of Long March and in the next generation Ariane rockets (launch planned after 2030).

The launch of Ariane 6 is an important signal of Europe’s strengthened position in the space economy. Since the end of the Ariane 5 system last year, Europe has not had its own rockets capable of putting large payloads into orbit. As we point out in a recent report: “The changing geopolitical situation has increased the importance of autonomy in the field of space operations,” and the launch of the new system is part of ensuring this autonomy and the possibility of maintaining it, for example, the European satellite navigation system Galileo.

Polish companies removed from work on Ariane 6

Polish companies did not participate in the consortium that created Ariane 6, even though Poland is an important space player in the Central and Eastern European region. From our region, companies from the Czech Republic and Austria participated in the consortium, and companies from France, Germany and Spain played the main role. The Polish contribution to ESA financing is small (€69 million, i.e. only 0.014% of GDP), although it has increased in recent years. In recent years, 300-400 companies and research and scientific institutions have operated in the Polish space sector – the bulk of them are small and medium-sized enterprises, the predominant type of activity is software creation and maintenance. This potential should grow in the coming years as international cooperation strengthens and technological progress increases for the entire Polish economy.

The European Space Agency (ESA) was established by the agreement signed in Paris on 30 May 1975. It is an intergovernmental organization established to implement a joint European program for the exploration and use of space. Its tasks also include supporting the development of modern and competitive industry in member states.

The European Space Agency consists of 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Poland (since November 2012), Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, Sweden, Great Britain, Italy, Hungary.

Picture of an Ariane 6 rocket

Tomasz Wiebitsch

Other topics in the section technology

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