European satellite chief says industry faces challenges
Singapore: Europe`s satellite launch industry needs to be overhauled to keep up with tough challenges from US rival SpaceX and other emerging competitors, the head of European satellite giant Arianespace has said.
While the United States and Russia have led the way in space exploration, Europe`s satellite launch programme Ariane has been at the forefront of the industry since Arianespace was founded in 1980.
But Stephane Israel, chairman and chief executive of the France-based company, told AFP it`s now time for a shape-up as new, fresher competitors come online.
Speaking on the sidelines of the CommunicAsia trade show in Singapore yesterday, he said, "We have a newcomer in America with SpaceX. Yes, competition is increasing, but when competition is increasing, we need to be more and more agile."
California-based SpaceX was founded in 2002 by US billionaire Elon Musk -- the man behind Tesla electric cars -- and made headlines in 2012 when it successfully launched an unmanned capsule to the International Space Station.
The firm offers Falcon rockets that can lift commercial satellites into orbit for USD 60 million -- half the cost if done with of the Ariane 5 rockets that are used to put into orbit satellites used for telecommunication, high definition TV broadcasts and Earth observation.
The emergence of SpaceX and its challenge to Arianespace`s dominance has been compared by observers to the competition triggered by low-fare airlines that jolted more established premium carriers.
And the competition doesn`t stop there, with Russia`s Proton also in the wings, as well as firms from budding space-nations China, India and Japan, according to analysts.
But Israel said, "We are the leader and the only question we should ask to ourselves is what should we do to remain the leader.
"Europe is very serious about launchers, and Europe will not give up when it comes to launchers."
Israel highlighted the news that Arianespace`s two biggest shareholders, the Airbus Group and French engine maker Safran, had announced a joint venture in Paris on Monday.
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