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Europe to build new-generation Ariane 6 rocket


The Ariane 5 rocket.

LUXEMBOURG (AFP): European nations have agreed to build a new-generation rocket to maintain their lead in the market for satellite launches, ministers said.

European Space Agency (ESA) ministers "took a major decision -- to develop a new launcher, the Ariane 6, which will replace the Ariane 5, with a maiden flight scheduled for 2020," French Research Minister Genevieve Fioraso said in a statement, describing the deal as "historic."

Tuesday's agreement came after months of behind-the-scenes work to ease a rift between France and Germany over a successor to the Ariane 5.

"This is a very important day for the space agency after sometimes very tough but very fair and open discussions," said Luxembourg Economy and Trade Minister Etienne Schneider.

The Ariane 5 is a medium-to-heavy workhorse with 62 successful launches to its name. It accounts for more than half of the world's commercial launch market.

Despite its reliability, Ariane 5 comes with high operational costs compared to nimble US commercial newcomers such as SpaceX.

"With this historic decision, the member states have given a strong reply to international competition in a strategic sector for European sovereignty, industry and jobs," Fioraso said.

"They showed that when it is united, Europe is strong and can respond collectively to challenge."

Startup costs for the Ariane 6 have been estimated at 3.8 billion euros (US$ 4.75 billion).

Twenty European countries plus Canada are members of ESA.

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