Europe’s Arianespace expects to launch its first Ariane 6 rocket by the end of the fourth quarter of 2023, but it will take until 2026 to ramp up to the full rate of nine to 11 per year, the company’s chief executive said on Wednesday.

Arianespace, a rival to Elon Musk’s SpaceX that is majority-owned by a joint venture of (AIR.PA) and Safran (SAF.PA), has secured 29 launches for the delayed Ariane 6 programme, 18 of them for an (AMZN.O) project to beam broadband internet.

Amazon will be a customer for Ariane 6 Block II, a more powerful version of the rocket that is expected to receive development funding approval at a European Space Agency ministerial meeting next week and enter operation in the second half of 2025, Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said..

“It shows our ability to continuously approve the rocket,” he told Reuters of Block II during a visit to Australia as part of a French business delegation.

Developed at a cost of just under 4 billion euros ($4.15 billion) and originally set for an inaugural launch in July 2020, Israel said the Ariane 6 project was hit by delays that involved design improvements, COVID-19’s impact on the workforce and suppliers as well as technical issues.

Arianespace is planning four to five Ariane 6 launches in 2024 followed by eight in 2025 before reaching its full planned rate of nine to 11 annually in 2026, he said, though depending on demand that could increase.

“We need to think about an increased cadence in 2026 or 2027, but for that we need to have a business case,” he said.

Reuters last week reported that EU countries and European Parliament lawmakers are likely to reach a deal this week on a 6-billion-euro satellite internet system driven by the bloc’s push to cut its dependency on foreign companies and the Ukraine war.

Israel said his company was at the EU’s disposal to help deploy the satellite constellation, which could involve using both the Ariane 6 and the smaller Vega C rocket also launched by Arianespace.


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