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Space Science

Ariane 5 Has No Chance, Says Elon Musk 188

Posted by timothy
from the when-tony-stark-talks-people-listen dept.
Dupple writes with some remarks by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, as reported by the BBC, on the Ariane 5 launch vehicle: Musk is anything but a disinterested party, but he has some especially harsh words for the ESA rocket: "'I don't say that with a sense of bravado but there's really no way for that vehicle to compete with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. If I were in the position of Ariane, I would really push for an Ariane 6.' Ariane's future will be a key topic this week for European Space Agency (Esa) member states. They are meeting in Naples to determine the scope and funding of the organisation's projects in the next few years, and the status of their big rocket will be central to those discussions."
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Ariane 5 Has No Chance, Says Elon Musk

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  • Re:SpaceX vs. ESA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arse maker (1058608) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:38AM (#42026081)

    Falcon 9 is cheaper and has been pretty successful.

    If I was running the Ariane program I would be worried. You are betting on the Falcon 9 having failures. Otherwise you cannot compete for a large part of the market.

    If the Heavy works, you are out of business. It might be FUD, but it is also true.

  • Re:SpaceX vs. ESA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trout007 (975317) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:42AM (#42026107)

    Look at the Ariane 5 flights before 2002. First flight had to be terminated. Second flight didn't reach intended orbit. Then 7 successes. Then a failure to reach intended orbit. Then 3 successes. Then a flight needed to be terminated. Success since then.

    So far in the first 4 flights Falcon 9 has performed better than Ariane 5's first 4 flights. No terminations, one failure to insert in intended orbit and one failure of secondary payload.

    This reinforces Musk's point. You get better the more you fly. As long as they keep flying and learning it will get better quickly. Now right now if I had a Billion Dollar payload I'd pay for an Ariane 5, Delta IV, or Atlas V. But if I was planning a $200 million dollar total mission it would be impossible on anything but a Falcon 9.

  • Re:SpaceX vs. ESA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by trout007 (975317) on Monday November 19, 2012 @09:57AM (#42026211)

    Insurance can be simplified.

    Suppose you want to insure a $200M payload. Assume the insurance company can get a 10% profit. If the launcher is 80% reliable there is a 1 in 5 chance of paying out. So the even cost would be $40 million. Plus a 10% profit = $44 million.
    For a 90% reliable = $22 million
    For a 95% reliable = $11 million
    For a 97.5% reliable = $5.5 million

    So a company needs to look at a few things. How much cheaper is the launcher and what losses in income will you have during the delay to build a new satellite. You may be able to insure for those loses as well.

  • Re:SpaceX vs. ESA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:57AM (#42026801)

    The cost of launch is almost (probably always) a tiny part of the total cost of designing, building and launching something.

    It's the same "tiny" fraction of the total cost of the payload, roughly 10-20%. The only exceptions are really expensive payloads (say multibillion dollar US DOD/NRO satellties) or really cheap ones (such as test payloads for new launch systems).

    So it's reasonable to expect as launch costs go down, new engineered systems, designed to go up on the cheaper launches, will also drop in cost.

  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Monday November 19, 2012 @12:57PM (#42028261) Homepage

    Ariane 5 has been around for a rather long time now and it's a well tried launcher. And it has been improved during the years since the first launch in 1996. And considering that it's rated for up to about 21 tons to low earth orbit or about 10 tons to geostationary I would say it's a decent concept. Of course - they have had their failures, but when you look at the concept of space rockets it's a question of shaving weight as much as possible, so no wonder if things fails now and then when the margin for error is small.

    That said - I would still consider that the Ariane 5 may not be entirely suitable for launching a capsule, even if it has the capacity to take the weight. There may be many modifications needed in order to handle a crewed capsule in a safe and reliable manner. I suspect that a three stage rocket would be more suitable compared to the two stages that the Ariane 5 has. Not that a Saturn V rocket capacity with 120 tons to low earth orbit is needed unless the Moon is the target, but for closer to earth activities it may be good to have something that can lift a bit more than just a crew capsule.

  • It should be pointed out that SpaceX has figured out how to reduce the cost of its launches to the point that the subsidy needed for Arianespace to compete would be embarrassing and noticeable to EU members and their constituents. Keep in mind SpaceX is making their rockets so cheap that even the Chinese don't think they can underbid SpaceX.

    If the ESA was to expand slightly and include additional EU members (ESA and EU membership... while there is considerable overlap... isn't identical), they might be able to embark in an incredibly ambitious space program like a manned European Lunar or Martian program on a level comparable to NASA but with a much larger budget. Keep in mind though that would be a financial commitment of about $100 billion USD (or equivalent)... and I don't think it would be any cheaper simply because it is a European concept instead of being an American one. Just see if something like that would fly through the EU parliament, much less national parliaments in the EU in terms of funding.

    The reason why top satellite manufacturers are in the EU is in part because Arianespace has been successful at competing on the international market, and because American legal regulations have been idiotic to put it mildly. ITAR regulations alone have driven out much of the commercial spaceflight market from America, which has gone almost exclusively to Europe and a few launches to Russia via RKK Energia/Roscosmos. China has tried to enter this market too, but they've had their own set of problems.

    The satellites made in the EU are often being done on a contract basis, and if the EU wants to follow in the stupid path that the American Congress has done over the past couple of decades to drive out commercial spaceflight business.... EU companies would have the same problems that American launch providers have faced over the past couple of decades but without the American military or American military budgets to prop them up.

  • by cheesybagel (670288) on Monday November 19, 2012 @06:20PM (#42032461)

    Ariane 5 ECA has over twice the payload. Falcon 9 is competing with Soyuz, Zenit (including Sealaunch), Delta IV medium, Atlas V 4xx.

    Falcon 9 Heavy reliability, with 27 (!) engines, is still unproven.

    Ariane's customers want reliability. Ariane's flights are known to be easily insurable because of this. If the only driver was cost those clients would be flying their satellites on a Russian rocket. However when the satellite costs more than the Ariane flight itself it is cheaper to go on a more reliable vehicle.

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