Arianespace is a French multinational company and was the world's first commercial launch service provider. The company operates five locations worldwide and undertakes the production, operation, and marketing of the Ariane programme. The main launch vehicles offered by the company are the Ariane V, the Soyuz-2 as a medium-lift alternative, and the Vega, built by ELV in Italy, as a lighter one.

As of 2008, more than 240 commercial launches have occurred since May 22nd, 1984. The total number of launch contracts signed since Ariane launches commenced operations in 1984 is 285.  Arianespace uses the Centre Spatial Guyanais in French Guyana as a launch site. The company was founded in 1980 and has its headquarters in Courcouronnes, Essonne, France, near Évry. Total revenues in 2014 exceeded 1.4 billion euros.

On 21 October 2011 Arianespace launched the first Soyuz rocket ever from outside former Soviet territory. The payload was two Galileo navigation satellites.

Arianespace primary shareholders are its suppliers, in the various nations of the EU. Arianespace currently has 20 shareholders:


Total share





Airbus Safran Launchers GmbH


MT Aerospace AG






Thales Alenia Space Belgium


Techspace Aero SA




Christian Rovsing A/S




Airbus Defense and Space SAU










Airbus Safran Launchers Holding


Air Liquide SA




CIE Deutsche




Avio S.p.A.




Airbus Defence and Space B.V.




Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace AS






GKN Aerospace Sweden AB




RUAG Schweiz AG


In April 2017 Arianespace shareholders voted unanimously to convert the launch operator to a Simplified Joint-Stock (SAS) company. The modification aims to streamline and modernize Arianespace’s governance to achieve greater responsiveness, facilitate relationships with industrial prime contractors and be coherent with the new shareholder structure of Arianespace’s holding company, Arianespace Participation.

History of Ariane Space

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first Ariane launch, we look back at that day in December 1979 when Europe’s independent adventure into space began. When ESA came into being in 1975, one of its first objectives was to build a European launcher. The reason was simple: no launcher, no independent access to space and no space programme.

Although the Member States of ESA had different interests and priorities, some were interested in carrying out research in space while others were more concerned in developing satellites, on one point they were unanimous: Europe needed to have independent access to space and its own space programme. This meant that it had to develop launchers and have its own Spaceport.

In 1964, the French government had chosen Kourou in French Guyana as a base from which to launch its satellites. When ESA was created, the French government offered to share its Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) with the new space agency. For its part, ESA approved funding to upgrade the launch facilities at the CSG to prepare the Spaceport for the Ariane launchers under development.

The first flight of an Ariane rocket was scheduled for December 15th 1979. On that day, in front of a large and expectant audience at Kourou, the countdown reached zero and the rocket motor underneath the launcher roared into life and then went out.

Fortunately, the fault was not serious and the launch was rescheduled for December 23rd, but then bad weather and a few small problems led to yet another delay. The next attempt proved to be third time lucky. On December 24th, at 14:14 PM local time, Ariane 1 blasted into space from Europe’s Spaceport and Europe’s independent adventure in space had begun.

In 2004, Arianespace held more than 50% of the world market for boosting satellites to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

US based SpaceX, was new in the market and forced Arianespace to cut workforce, and focus on cost cutting, to decrease costs to remain competitive against the new low-cost entrant in the launch sector. According to one Arianespace managing director, ‘It's quite clear there's a very significant challenge coming from SpaceX’, he said. ‘Therefore things have to change … and the whole European industry is being restructured, consolidated, rationalized and streamlined’.

In the midst of pricing pressure from SpaceX, Arianespace made a November 2013 announcement of pricing flexibility for the ‘lighter satellites’ it carries to Geostationary orbits aboard its Ariane 5. In early 2014, Arianespace requested additional subsidies from European governments to face the competition from SpaceX and unfavorable changes in the Euro-Dollar exchange rate. Reducing pricing allowed Arianespace to sign 4 additional contracts in September 2014 for a lower slot on an Ariane 5 SYLDA dispenser for the satellites that otherwise could be flown on SpaceX launch vehicle. Overall Arianespace signed 11 contracts in 2014 until September with two additional being in a late stage of negotiations.

As of September 2014 Arianespace has a backlog of launches worth 4.5 billion euro with 38 satellites to be launched on Ariane 5, 7 on Soyuz and 9 on Vega, claiming 60% of global satellite launch market. By November 2014, SpaceX had ‘already begun to take market share’ from Arianespace and Eutelsat, a major customer of Arianespace, said that ‘Each year that passes will see SpaceX advance, gain market share and further reduce its costs through economies of scale’.


On June 16th, 2015 it was announced at the Paris Air show that Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), the French state and CNES, the French space agency, had reached an agreement to transfer CNES's stake in Arianespace to ASL to become a 74% shareholder in Arianespace.

The change in Arianespace's shareholding is a major step forward in the overhaul of the governance of the launcher industry in the EU and follows on from the need expressed by the ESA member states to develop a new launcher system, the Ariane 6.

Airbus Safran Launchers was already Arianespace's biggest shareholder with approximately 39%. The plan to purchase the Arianespace shares held by CNES (approximately 35%) is part of the ambitious three-point initiative announced just one year ago by the Airbus and Safran Groups to:

-       Create a joint subsidiary (Airbus Safran Launchers) that combines their expertise and assets in commercial and military space launchers,

-       Develop the new Ariane 6 launcher system to be more competitive and adaptable to market needs,

-       Introduce a new mode of governance for European launcher programs with industry assuming full responsibility for the commercial operations.

In July 2017 Airbus Safran Launchers changed the name into ArianeGroup. The company has three core businesses: aerospace (propulsion systems and equipment), Defence and Security with the objective of development and subsequent production of Ariane 6. The name change was intended to provide greater brand coherence with its subsidiary Arianespace. The ArianeGroup company is headquartered in Issy-les-Moulineaux near Paris, France.

The ArianeGroup employs more than 9,000 highly qualified European staff and is able to offer its customers a completely integrated and comprehensive space launcher program, such as Ariane 6, from design to development, production, marketing and finally operation. The ArianeGroup company controls seven subsidiaries: Arianespace, Aerospace Propulsion Products (APP), Cilas, Eurockot, Nucletudes, Pyroalliance and Sodern.

Aerospace Propulsion Products (APP) is specialized in the development and production of igniters and gas generators for the Ariane 5 and Vega rockets and launcher applications (e.g. Ariane 5 turbine pump starter). APP is also developing gas generators for other purposes such as parachute deployment devices. APP is based in The Netherlands and has state-of-the-art production and test facilities.

Eurockot Launch Services, GmbH, headquartered in Bremen, Germany, is a joint venture of Airbus Safran Launchers and Khrunichev Space Center and performs launches of satellites into Low Earth Orbits (LEO) for institutional and commercial satellite operators.

Nucletudes was a subsidiary of the EADS group (Astrium) when EADS was renamed into Airbus Defence & Security and is based in France. The company has a worldwide recognized expertise in the hardening engineering for protecting systems and equipment against irradiative and electromagnetic aggressions, and characterization of components in radiative environment. Nucletudes also developes and manufactures radio and microwave equipment. 

PyroAlliance SA, based in Les Mureaux, France was founded in 1957. This company designs, develops, produces and markets energetic equipment for aerospace, defense, and industrial sectors in France. It offers launchers, satellites, gas generators, thrusters and probes for space applications. PyroAlliance SA’s products are used for various applications, including launch, propulsion, flight control and range safety. 

Sodern based in Limeil-Brévannes, near Paris, France, employs 350 people and is specialized in space instrumentation, optics and neutron analyzers. Sodern was created in 1962 in the Philips' Laboratory of Electronics and Applied Physics (LEP) to launch a first generation of external neutron sources. Nowadays the company is a global leader in optical and high-tech space sensors.

CILAS, founded in 1966, is a high-technology engineering company specialized in laser and optics, that was the inventor of the particle size analyzer. The company operated as a subsidiary of EADS Astrium and today it develops, manufactures and produces systems combining laser and precision optics in the field of high technology. CILAS’ products for the military represent 50% of turnover against 50% civilian.

Launch facilities

Arianaspace is operating the Spaceport Europe in Kourou in French Guyana, an overseas French territory.

In 1964 the French Government chose Kourou, from 14 other sites, as a base from which to launch its satellites. When the European Space Agency (ESA) came into being in 1975, the French Government offered to share its Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) with ESA. For its part, ESA approved funding to upgrade the launch facilities at the CSG to prepare the Spaceport for the Ariane launchers under development.

Since then ESA has continued to fund 2/3 of the spaceport's annual budget to finance the operations and the investments needed to maintain the top level services provided by the Spaceport. ESA also finances new facilities, such as launch complexes and industrial production facilities for new launchers such as Vega or for the exploitation of the Soyuz.

Kourou was an ideal launch site since it lies at latitude 5°3', just over 500 km north of the equator. Its nearness to the equator made it ideally placed for launches into geostationary transfer orbit as few changes had to be made to a satellite’s trajectory. Also French Guyana is scarcely populated and equatorial forests cover 90% of the country. In addition there is no risk of cyclones or earthquakes.

Launchers also profit from the ‘slingshot’ effect, that is the energy created by the speed of the Earth’s rotation around the axis of the Poles. This increases the speed of a launcher by 460m per second. These important factors save fuel and money, and prolong the active life of satellites.

Thanks to its geographical position, the launch site offers a launch angle of 102°, enabling a wide range of missions from east to north.

Launch Vehicles

Currently Arianespace operates 3 launch vehicles: The Vega light launcher, the Soyuz 2 medium heavy launch vehicle and the Ariane 5 (Ariane 5ECA & Ariane 5ES).

Ariane 5ECA and 5ES
 were designed to deliver communications satellites, weighing up to 10 tonnes into GTO, including the supporting structure and adaptors. With its increased capacity, Ariane 5ECA can handle dual launches of very large satellites.

The 5ECA version of the launcher maintains Europe’s competitiveness in the commercial space transport sector by offering customers the opportunity to launch a wider range of heavier satellites.

Owing to its performance and flexibility to adapt to different missions requirements, Ariane 5ECA is also used by institutional customers for non-GTO missions (for example, launching ESA’s Herschel and Plank scientific missions in 2008).

The Ariane 5ES version is an evolution of the initial Ariane 5 generic launcher. With a more powerful lower composite, identical to the one used on Ariane 5 ECA, it re-uses the small storable propellant stage (EPS: Etage à Propergols Stockables) of the generic version, which has been upgraded to allow re-ignition and long coast phases.

ESA and European industry are currently developing a new-generation launcher, the Ariane 6. This follows the decision taken at the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level in December 2014, to maintain Europe’s leadership in the fast-changing commercial launch service market while responding to the needs of European institutional missions.

ESA is overseeing procurement and the architecture of the overall launch system. The assembly and built is performed with Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) as prime contractor and design authority.

The Ariane 6 will come in two configurations: Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 and is set for a maiden flight from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guyana, in 2020.

The Soyuz rocket family is an expandable launch system and built by the Russian Progress State Research and Production Space Centre (TsSKB-Progress) and was first launched from Site 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and Site 43 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome launch facilities shared with earlier R-7 derived rockets including the Soyuz-U and Molniya. After the U.S. Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, Soyuz rockets became the only launch vehicle able to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The Soyuz launch vehicle is the most frequently used and reliable launch vehicle in the world.

The commercial Soyuz flights are contracted by Starsem and Arianespace, and have launched from Site 31 at Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site and the ELS (l'Ensemble de Lancement Soyouz), which has been built at the Guyana Space Centre in French Guyana. The Soyuz-2 version ST-B can deliver 3,250 kg (7,170 lbs) to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) from this equatorial site.

Starsem is a European-Russian company, headquartered in Évry, France (near Paris) that was created in 1996 to commercialize the Soyuz launcher. Starsem has the following shareholders:

  1. Russian Federal Space Agency (25%)
  2. ‘TsSKB-Progress’ Samara Space Center (25%)
  3. EADS SPACE Transportation (35%)
  4. Arianespace (15%)

The Vega (Vettore Europeo di Generazione Avanzata, Advanced Generation European Carrier Rocket), jointly developed by the Argenzia Spaziale Italiana – ASI (Italian Space Agency) and ESA, is an expandable three-stage lightweight solid-fueled launcher for low earth orbit payloads and the workhorse of Arianespace and ESA.

Development started in 1998 and the first launch took place from the Guyana Space Centre on February 13th 2012. Arianespace has ordered Vega launchers covering the period till at least the end of 2018.

The launch vehicle is designed to launch small payloads, i.e. 300 to 2,500 kgs satellites for scientific and Earth observation missions to polar and low Earth orbits. The Vega stands 30 meters tall, has a main diameter of 3 meters and a liftoff mass of 137,000 kgs. The Rocket can lift up to 2,500 kgs of Payloads, depending on the target orbit.

Vega was named after the brightest star in the constellation Lyra and is a single-body launcher (no strap-on boosters) with three solid rocket stages: the P80 1st stage, the Zefiro 23 2nd stage, and the Zefiro 9 3rd stage. The upper module is a liquid rocket called AVUM. The technology developed for the P80 program will also be used for future Ariane developments. Italy is the leading contributor to the Vega program (65%), followed by France (13%). Other participants include Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden.

Arianespace operated also the Ariane 1,2,3 from 1979 to 1989.

The first Ariane launcher was blasted into the sky on Christmas Eve, 1979. An early Christmas present for the thousands of workers throughout Europe and at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou who were involved in its development and production.

Ariane 1, launched between 1979 to 1986, was designed primarily to put two telecommunications satellites at a time into orbit, thus reducing costs. As the size of the satellites grew Ariane 1 began to give way to the more powerful Ariane 2 and Ariane 3 launchers.

Ariane 4, launched between 1988 to 2003 and often referred to as the Ariane workhorse. Ariane 4 was phased out of operation in February 2003 when Ariane 5 assumed the full duties for Arianespace’s commercial missions at the Spaceport.

Many interesting video's can be found on YouTube. We have made a selection for you:

1. Watch the Ariane 30th Birthday.
2. Watch the Ariane 4 history.
3. Watch the Ariane 3 built.
4. Watch the new Ariane 6 launcher promotion video.
5. Watch the Vega launcher built by ELV/AVIO Italy.
6. Watch a Soyuz mission with on-board camera's.

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Resources:  edition 17 May 2017