Airbus Leiden collaborates in Ariane 6 rocket project
Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands
Airbus Leiden will manufacture aluminium frames for the suspension of engines in Ariane 6, the new Ariane launch rocket. Airbus is building a new production facility (50 by 100 metres) next to the Oude Rijn river in Leiden specifically for this purpose. CEO Arnaud de Jong: “As the frames are six metres long, they are far too big to transport by road. We are therefore building a new factory alongside the river so we can transport the frames to France via the port of Rotterdam.”
Assembly will take place in the northern French commune of Les Mureaux.
An exclusively European project
At the end of 2014, the ministers of 20 European countries affiliated with the European Space Agency (ESA) committed €4.2 billion to a new satellite launch rocket. The Netherlands pledged €56 million on condition that Dutch companies would be actively involved in the project.
The first launch of the Ariane 5 successor is scheduled for 2020. It will be an important step, allowing Europe to maintain its ability to independently launch satellites into orbit around the Earth. The ESA expects the new rocket to boost its competitiveness in the face of growing competition from Russia, China, India and commercial suppliers in the US, such as SpaceX by Elon Musk. At the same time, the demand for launches is rising sharply. De Jong: “The number of satellites is increasing due to the growth of internet and data communications.”
Twelve rockets a year
The Leiden-based aerospace company won the contract to supply the metal frames for the first launch of Ariane 6. From 2020, some 12 new Ariane missiles will become available each year. De Jong: “That’s 24 suspension frames a year. If the first launch is a success, we will be well-positioned for new orders. This is what our business case is based on.”
Galileo navigation system
The construction and layout of the plant in Leiden will cost between €10 million and €20 million. This investment, borne entirely by Airbus, will create 15 to 20 new jobs in the long term. Around 250 people are currently employed by Airbus in Leiden, which also makes solar panels for the European navigation system Galileo.
Components for Ariane 6 (the successor of the Ariane 5 rocket, which made a total of 74 successful launches) will be manufactured at the new factory in Leiden. InnovationQuarter actively supported Airbus with these expansion plans. The construction of the new production facility will create an additional economic boost for the region.
Dutch companies were also involved in the supply of components for the suspension of previous generations of rocket engines, from Ariane 1 to Ariane 5. De Jong therefore expects other Dutch companies (SMEs) to be involved in the Ariane 6 project as well. This is important for Nico van Putten, deputy director of the Dutch Space Agency NSO (Netherlands Space Office), and Minister of Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp. “Every euro we invest in European aerospace will come back to the Netherlands through direct contracts for Dutch companies and knowledge institutions,” says Kamp.
Airbus will also use various new production technologies at the new, highly robotised production facility. This is projected to generate substantial savings. De Jong: “The Ariane 5 rocket was extremely successful but too expensive. Production costs must go down if we are to continue to compete internationally.”
Source / fd