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European Space Agency (ESA) awards development contract for Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) to Astrium

  • Astrium, industrial prime contractor for the European launcher, is to develop a new, more powerful version of Ariane 5
  • Ariane 5 ME will have a re-ignitable upper stage and be capable of launching payloads of up to 12 tonnes into orbit
  • Contract worth €150 million over two years


Paris, 21 December 2009 – The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with Astrium for the initial development phase of its programme to enhance the performance of the Ariane launch vehicle and make it even more competitive.

With the 49th flight of Ariane 5 from Kourou successfully launched, Astrium, the European space technology leader, is already at work on an even more powerful version of the launcher on behalf of ESA.

ESA’s Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) programme aims to raise the payload capacity of Ariane 5 from 10 to 12 tonnes, an increase of 20%.

The teams at Astrium Space Transportation are working on the development of an entirely new upper stage for the launch vehicle. Among other things, it will feature a new, re-ignitable Vinci engine, which will make it possible to optimise the insertion into orbit of the satellites and other spacecraft it transports and prolong their service life in orbit. Astrium is also planning to introduce a new generation of avionics and flight software that will further enhance the performance of the launch vehicle’s electronic control systems.

The new upper stage for the Ariane ME will additionally benefit from improved reliability and safety.

Alain Charmeau, CEO of Astrium Space Transportation, proudly said: “This contract marks the beginning of a new era for Astrium. It’s a strong vote of confidence in our abilities that, moreover, comes just as we are about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the very first Ariane launch on 24 December 1979. We are all set for another 30 years or more of technological achievements and market success.”

The new Ariane 5 is expected to make its first commercial flight around 2017.

Astrium, a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2008, Astrium had a turnover of €4.3 billion and more than 15,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Astrium Space Transportation for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Astrium Satellites for spacecraft and ground segment and Astrium Services for the development and delivery of satellite services.


EADS is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2008, EADS generated revenues of €43.3 billion and employed a workforce of more than 118, 000.


Press contacts:

Daniel Mosely (Astrium UK)                                                      Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 8180

Matthieu Duvelleroy (Astrium FR)                                              Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32

Ralph Heinrich (Astrium GER)                                                   Tel.: +49 (0) 89 607 33971

Francisco Lechón (Astrium SP)                                                 Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41


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