Elon Musk's private space company, SpaceX, has been coming on in leaps and planetary-sized bounds of late, so much so that it's apparently threatening our friends across the pond. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the EU is about to invest in a whole new generation of low-cost rockets in order to stay competitive.
The European project is basically to build an updated version of the venerable Ariane 5 rocket. The current generation of Ariane uses a liquid-fuel main stage, with two solid-rocket-boosters to give additional lifting power. The new Ariane would be a similar design, with a central liquid-fuel first stage, and two or four SRBs depending on the weight being lifted into orbit. The main benefit of the Ariane 6 is price — around $95 million per launch, which could result in price-per-kilo 50 percent lower than the current.
If the WSJ is correct, and plans move forward, investment will mostly come from France and Germany, with a handful of other European countries chipping in. By the time Ariane 6 rolls around, however, it might already be redundant — the R&D won't be finished earlier than 2017, by which time SpaceX will quite possibly be flying reusable rockets off autonomous seaborne landing platforms. [Wall Street Journal]
Image credit: Ariane 6 proposal by SkywalkerPL under Creative Commons