The 15-month project has a total value of €8.5m (£7.1m), of which Astrium will contribute €1.5m of its own funds.
’This contract will enable Astrium to investigate the most promising options for the next generation of European launcher in collaboration with nine European countries with past experience of working on the Ariane programme,’ said Alain Charmeau, chief executive officer, Astrium Space Transportation.
The next-generation launcher will be phased in with the Ariane 5ME (Midlife Evolution), an evolved version of the Ariane 5. The Ariane 5ME will provide a medium-term launch capacity that will be able to place satellites with a mass of more than 11 tonnes into geostationary orbit.
The project has been divided into three parts: the concept of the launcher will first be defined, then the technology required to build it will be determined, after which the cost of building and operating it will be analysed.
Design studies will be conducted for the launch-vehicle concepts shortlisted in the first period of the programme between 2007 and 2008.
These include the HH concept for a two-stage launch vehicle, in which the main and upper stages are fuelled by a cryogenic mixture of liquid oxygen and hydrogen; the CH concept for a two-stage launch vehicle, consisting of a main stage powered by a methane/liquid-oxygen propellant and a cryogenic upper stage; and the PPH concept for a three-stage launch vehicle, in which a solid propellant is used in the main engine and the second stage, and a cryogenic fuel is used in the upper stage.
The cryogenic engine for the upper stage will be a derivative of the Vinci engine developed for the Ariane 5ME and the launcher will be equipped with solid-propellant auxiliary boosters.