NEWTOWN, Conn. - The Ariane 5 is one of the primary launch vehicles for commercial geosynchronous communications satellites. Other major players in the commercial market include the ILS Proton and the SpaceX Falcon 9. The Ariane 5 also provides launches for European military and civil government satellites and spacecraft.
Despite its strong position in the market, the Ariane 5 faces a changing competitive landscape that has forced Arianespace to respond. One factor is the emergence of SpaceX as an especially strong competitor. The Hawthorne, California-based company has been gaining market share by offering low prices. SpaceX also began launching at a faster pace in 2017, which could further erode the Ariane 5's share of the market.
Another factor limiting the Ariane 5's future appeal is the growth of the small satellite market and the increasing number of satellites launch to low Earth orbit. The Ariane 5 is optimized to carry heavy satellites to geosynchronous orbit.
In response to these threats, European nations now plan to replace the Ariane 5 with the Ariane 6. Ariane 6 manufacturing operations will be spread between fewer locations, lowering manufacturing costs. In addition, the Ariane 6 will share components with Europe's smaller Vega, further increasing efficiencies of scale. Finally, the Ariane 6 will be built in multiple variants, allowing Arianespace to sell different size launch vehicles to customers based on their needs. That will allow Arianespace to better compete with SpaceX and to accommodate different sized satellites.
Despite its planned replacement by the Ariane 6, production of the Ariane 5 will continue until the mid-2020s. The Ariane 6 is still being developed and will likely not launch until around 2021. Even once development has been completed, production of the two launch vehicles will likely overlap as production of the Ariane 6 ramps up. Ariane 5 production will slowly decline until around 2024, when production will cease.