Jeff Bezos at the presentation of Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, in Washington, May 9, 2019.
©SAUL LOEB / AFP
When American billionaires enter star wars, it is Arianespace, the European launcher, which benefits by winning the biggest contract in its history as part of the space internet project launched by Amazon.
In one click, Jeff Bezos will have this week reshuffled the cards on the space market, which we thought had been definitively preempted by American billionaires, who were strongly aided (which we never say) by the Pentagon.
Europe will therefore not be absent from this new star wars. Ariane 6, the brand new Arianespace rocket whose launch pad is ready in Kourou after 5 years of work, will therefore return to the game of global competition. Until now, the space market, that is to say mainly that of satellite launchers, seemed completely preempted by the Americans of Boeing, those of Blue origin or Tesla with Space X.
While Europe, with the European Space Agency, had served as pioneers in clearing this market, the Ariane rockets launched at Kourou were overtaken by the explosion of needs, the insatiable appetite for communication technologies and the arrival in this race for the stars, of a few American billionaires who dreamed of opening up space to everyone. By pulling prices, modifying technologies, perhaps going less far or less high, we could dream of opening up space to tourism with shuttles. It was Elon Musk’s project with Space X, or Jeff Bezos’ with “Blue origin”.
Space specialists did not give much for the future of Arianespace, which seemed completely outdated, because too expensive, no doubt, with too heavy launchers.
This was without taking into account the latest European rocket, Ariane 6, the first launch of which will take place before the end of the year in Kourou. Because Ariane 6 is technologically much more efficient, and above all much cheaper than the previous 5 Arianes.
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As a result, the European launcher has just won the biggest contract in its history with Amazon, as part of a vast space Internet project launched by Jeff Bezos’ company.
The Amazon boss’s project is quite pharaonic. It intends to deploy no less than 3,236 satellites all around the planet, in order to offer a high-speed connection to all the inhabitants of the Earth, regardless of their geographical location. To carry out this project and position the satellites, Jeff Bezos’ engineers have planned 83 launches, spread over the next 5 years.
Initially, Jeff Bezos thought of working with one of his babies, Blue Origin, an Amazon subsidiary dedicated to conquering the space market, but above all with the significant help of the American giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which have developed , the very large Vulcan Centaur launcher from Cape Canaveral, Florida, via a very heavy Vulcan Centaur launcher.
This model will not suffice. Hence the entry into the game of Arianespace which will necessarily be ready at a competitive price. Amazon will therefore share its market between three suppliers:
– 38 launches will be operated by the company created by Boeing and Lockheed (United launch Alliance)
-37 launches will be provided by Blue Origin, the company founded by Jeff Bezos
And finally, a priori initially, 18 launches for Ariane 6.
In total, Amazon has planned to invest $10 billion in this project. The stakes are high since it is a question of taking over the global internet market and for Jeff Bezos, of taking speed, another American billionaire who is preparing a similar project, since Elon Musk, the star boss of Tesla, has never hidden its ambition to deploy a global internet network with a multitude of geostationary satellites: the Star Link network on which it has already recruited 100,000 paying subscribers. All this through his company Space X, which is well known throughout the world for its tourist travel offers in space.
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This initiative of Jeff Bezos is obviously the event in the business world because it commands several remarks.
The first is that the space market is transitioning from the industrial age. He leaves the field of research or dreams to approach a credible and undoubtedly solvent market because the Internet is obviously a factor of productivity.
The second remark is that this market was only able to open up after considerable public investment because, whatever may be said, the American State and in particular the Ministry of Defense have spent colossal sums since the first launch near Cape Canaveral, more than half a century ago. We realize today that Europe was not as lagging behind as feared. In short, the European Special Agency was sleeping with one eye open.
The third remark is very simple. Arianespace (and consequently the Europe of Space) owes its salvation only to competition. First, because Ariane 6 corresponds with its price to the new needs of the market. Amazon would never have chosen Ariane 6 if the Ariane 6 launches had not been competitive. Then, no one is fooled, if Jeff Bezos needs to go fast, it’s because he is being followed by Elon Musk.
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