A: We are the European satellite launcher service provider, founded in 1980. We have been operating the Ariane family of rockets since the beginning of our story. Then in the decade to 2010, we have added Vega to our family of launch vehicles which gave us a capability at the lighter end of the market for earth observation satellites.
We also engaged with Russian industry and formed a partnership around Soyuz. We have been operating Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz simultaneously for several years. To make a long story short, the partnership with Soyuz was always scheduled to end in 2023, but with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, all cooperation has been frozen. It goes without saying that it is not possible to operate Soyuz any longer following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and we have stopped using the Baikonur space centre.
We had to face this difficult issue at the end of February. Fortunately, we have two new launchers. The Vega C has had a recent successful maiden flight, followed by Ariane 6. These launchers, the next generation of Vega and Ariane rockets, will be the successors to Soyuz and will do what Soyuz was able to do. We are completing the use of Ariane 5 and the cooperation with Soyuz is gone and we are now focussed on the introduction of new launchers.
Q: I was not aware that the relationship with Soyuz was coming to an end anyway. Does this mean that the disruption for Arianespace has not been as bad as it might first look?
A: You are right – and it’s important to mention it. In 2014, Europe took the decision to move to Ariane 6 and Vega C. This occurred after the Russian annexation of Crimea – and while it was not the only motivation that was a factor. This meant that even then we were worried about the fragility of working with Russia because of geopolitics. It was very firmly decided back then that Ariane 6 and Vega C – combined with some other measures – would give us all of the required capabilities without Soyuz.
These things take time but it has been the case since then that we have been planning to end our activities from Baikonur in 2023. We now have to advance that timetable and we are in discussion with our customers such as One Web about how to offer the best possible solutions.
Q: The additional sanctions on Russia seem to be causing turmoil in global supply chains because when it comes to things such as raw materials, companies were not always aware of where their subcontractors were sourcing their commodities. Have these 2nd and 3rd order problems caused you headaches?
A: No – we do not have these types of problems with Ariane as we have zero Russian components. Regarding Vega C, part of the engine for the upper stage called AVUM is actually made in Ukraine by the company Yuzhmash located in Dnipro. The issue then is having a long-term supply of these engines and Vega – which has a strategic stock of them – can either continue to receive them from Dnipro or use backup solutions. We have plenty of time, so we are not concerned about those issues or the availability of Vega.