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legal form Société anonyme
founding March 26, 1980
Seat Evry , France
management Stéphane Israël
Number of employees 300 (2018)
sales 1.3 billion euros (2017)
Branch Launch of satellites and spacecraft

Arianespace SA is a multinational company founded on March 26, 1980 as the first commercial launch vehicle provider . It is responsible for the operation and marketing of the European launch systems Ariane and Vega developed by the ArianeGroup . Arianespace has also been launching the Russian Soyuz rocket since 2007 .

The largest shareholder is the ArianeGroup , which holds a total of 73.69% of the company. Arianespace is headquartered in Évry, south of Paris . The European launch vehicles are launched from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana .


1973 - 1979: creation

After the Europe program had failed, ten European countries decided in 1973, at the suggestion of France , to set up the Ariane program. The aim was still to give Europe independent access to space . The program was managed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and implemented mainly by the French Space Agency ( CNES ).

The need for rocket launches by European governments was estimated to be only two per year in the 1980s. Such a rate would never make sufficient use of production capacity and would not allow profitable operation. The launches of the Ariane rockets therefore had to be commercially available on the market. However, the ESA was hardly suitable for this commercialization, as all of its decisions had to be made unanimously. An efficient production and marketing of the launcher would not have been possible in this way.

On 15 December 1977, the then-CNES Director of Launchers, beat Frédéric d'Allest , the establishment of a sales company ago, the Trans Pace could mean. The capital was to be divided between the French space agency and the industrial manufacturers of the rocket. This idea was approved in 1978 by the management of CNES and the French government.

In the meantime, Frédéric d'Allest was already starting to turn to satellite operators to get orders for rocket launches, thus proving the demand. A first success was recorded on December 8, 1978, when the then leading satellite operator in the world, Intelsat , decided on the Ariane. The first order was signed on February 15, 1979.

During the Paris Air Show , on June 12, 1979, CNES signed a letter of intent with the companies involved to set up Transpace. However, the name was given up in September because it was already that of an American company. The company, now called Arianespace , was officially founded on March 26, 1980. Frédéric d'Allest became the first managing director . Thus, Arianespace was the first provider of commercial rocket launches in the world.

1979 - 1986: First starts

The Ariane 1 first flew on Christmas Eve 1979. It was followed by three more test flights, one of which failed. The first commercial launch finally took place on September 20, 1982 - although this was still carried out under the direction of ESA. Arianespace first launched on May 23, 1984, putting the US telecommunications satellite Spacenet 1 into orbit.

In order to be able to bring heavier satellites into higher orbits , ESA decided in July 1980 to develop more powerful versions of the Ariane. This initially resulted in Ariane 2 . In this version, the thrust of the first and second stage was increased so that the rocket could carry 325 kg more payload into geostationary orbit (GTO) than its predecessor. The subsequent Ariane 3 consisted of an Ariane 2 and two boosters with solid propulsion . Thanks to the increased thrust, it was even possible to transport two satellites per launch, which significantly reduced launch costs.

The first launch of Ariane 3 took place on August 4, 1984 as part of the Arianspace mission V19. The telecommunications satellites ECS-2 and Télécom 1A were launched. In the next 5 years, a total of 19 satellites were put into orbit with 10 flights using this version. At the same time, Ariane 2 launched five satellites and Ariane 1 launched three.

1986 - 1995: market leader

The main focus when founding Arianespace was to enable Europe to have efficient and independent access to space and not to make a profit from the satellite launches. In view of the space shuttles developed at the same time, this did not make sense either, as these should be significantly cheaper due to their reusability.

After the Challenger accident on January 28, 1986, the American shuttles remained on the ground for 32 months, which meant that commercial use was also discontinued. So the main competitor of the Ariane failed. The production of conventional launch vehicles (e.g. Atlas and Titan ) first had to be restarted in the USA, as most of them had been replaced by the shuttle. That took some time and so Arianespace found itself in a quasi-monopoly situation for commercial satellite launches in the late 1980s. This enabled the number of launches to be increased significantly: in 1985, five satellites were launched. This number doubled to 11 in 1988. This period also corresponds to the introduction of the new Ariane 4. With new boosters and changes to the first stage, the performance could be increased again. With the strongest of the six Ariane 4 variants, it was now possible to bring up to 4.95 tons into a geostationary orbit (GTO). Although the telecommunication satellites became steadily heavier, two satellites could still be transported at once. The flexible combination of the various boosters also enabled optimal adaptation to the payload.

The first Ariane 4 was launched on June 15, 1988 and replaced all other Ariane versions in mid-1989. To meet demand, the take-off rate of 3 or 4 flights per year doubled from 1988 to 7 or 8 flights before reaching 11 to 12 flights by 1995. On February 15, 1989, Arianespace ordered 50 Ariane 4 launch vehicles for 18 billion French francs . This extraordinary order was later gradually increased to a total of 95 launch vehicles.

In 1990, Frédéric d'Allest gave his place at the helm of Arianespace to Charles Bigot .

The very reliable launches of Ariane 4 (97.41%) earned Arianespace and the European space industry a great reputation among customers compared to US and Russian providers.

1995 - 2013: Adaptation to the changed market

From the mid-1990s, geostationary satellites became so heavy that, despite regular performance improvements, they could no longer be launched in pairs with the Ariane 4. This required the introduction of Ariane 5 , a new, more powerful launcher, the development of which was initiated by ESA in 1988. However, the first flight of Ariane 5 on June 4, 1996 failed because the control software was carelessly adopted by Ariane 4. This failure led to the qualification being postponed to October 1998. The first commercial flight did not take place until December 10, 1999. The operation of Ariane 4 was therefore extended until 2003.

At the same time, Arianespace is exposed to high competition after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent entry of American-Russian launch providers such as International Launch Services (ILS) and Sea Launch , as they serve the same market as Arianespace.

In addition, large satellite constellations such as Iridium and Globalstar were created in low earth orbit (LEO) . Neither Ariane 4 nor Ariane 5 was suitable for launching this type of satellite. In 1996, this prompted Arianespace to invest together with Aérospatiale in founding Starsem , which will be responsible for marketing the Russian Soyuz launcher outside of the former Soviet Union from 1999 onwards.

Former ESA Director General Jean-Marie Luton succeeded Charles Bigot in 1997.

In view of the market entry of telecommunications satellites weighing over 5 tons, an improved version of the Ariane 5 with a launch capacity of 10 tons was launched in the GTO in 1999. After the failure of the first flight of this Ariane 5 ECA on December 11, 2002, the ESA decided to overhaul the Ariane production structure: instead of having the Ariane 5 produced and assembled by countless small companies as before, EADS Space Transportation (later Astrium Space Transportation , today Airbus Defense and Space ) was appointed prime contractor. Arianespace limits its activities to marketing and start-up operations.

In the past, Arianespace had to get cash injections from ESA's budget several times to survive. Most recently, the ESA Council of Ministers decided in February 2004 to support the company in order to obtain Europe's independent access to space and to promote the ailing Ariane 5.

The Ariane 5 ECA successfully returned to flight operations on February 12, 2005 and became Arianespace's workhorse. The old Ariane 5G version made its last flight on December 18, 2009.

Jean-Yves Le Gall became CEO of Arianespace in 2007.

After the last launch of Ariane 4, it became clear that launches of medium-duty communications satellites were not covered by Ariane 5 and that there was a gap in the market. Since mid-2011, Arianespace has therefore also been operating the Russian Soyuz launcher from the Kourou spaceport , the first flight of which took place on October 21, 2011. It covers this market.

During the preparations for flight V201, the numbering system was changed for the delivery of the 202nd Ariane in Kourou. Arianestarts now receive a VA number, Soyussarts from Kourou a VS number and Vega starts a VV number. Flight V201 became VA201.

After its successful qualification flight, ESA's small Vega launcher was added to Arianespace's fleet on February 13, 2012 and is intended to cover the rapidly growing small satellite market.

On April 18, 2013, Arianespace's Board of Directors unanimously appointed Stéphane Israël as Managing Director. Jean-Yves Le Gall became director of the French space agency CNES.

Since 2013: restructuring and future missiles

With new providers such as SpaceX , competition in the commercial start-up sector is steadily increasing. The reusable Falcon 9 from the US company is significantly cheaper than the Ariane 5. In 2017, Arianespace was replaced as the market leader by SpaceX.

In order to maintain Europe's strong position, Airbus Defense and Space was commissioned at the beginning of 2013 to present a concept for the much more cost-efficient Ariane 6 . The final development order was awarded to the newly founded joint venture Airbus Safran Launchers (since July 1, 2017 ArianeGroup ) on August 12, 2015 . The aim is to halve the current start-up costs per ton and thus to be cheaper than the competition. The first launch of Ariane 6 is planned for mid-2021.

The ArianeGroup also took over the shares of the French space agency CNES and thus became by far the largest shareholder in Arianespace with around 74%.

In addition to the Ariane 6, the Vega-C is also under development. This further development of the Vega launcher should increase the payload capacity by around 70% with the same launch costs. The first launch should take place in 2020.


Because the satellite launch market has since recovered, Arianespace has been increasing the launch rate of the Ariane 5 ECA since 2007 . The fact that the company reacts quickly and flexibly to changing customer requirements also contributes to the success of Arianespace. B. can quickly exchange the payloads without major delays during launch preparations.

In the spring of 2011, Arianespace began preparing for an announced expansion of its rocket family. In 2011 the Soyuz and Vega were added to Ariane 5.


A total of 17 companies from nine countries hold shares in Arianespace:

Companies Shareholding country
ArianeGroup 62.10% FranceFrance France
Air Liquide SA 1.89% FranceFrance France
Clemessy 0.11% FranceFrance France
Compagnie German SAS ns FranceFrance France
ArianeGroup 11.59% GermanyGermany Germany
MT Aerospace AG 8.26% GermanyGermany Germany
Avio SpA 3.38% ItalyItaly Italy
SABCA 2.71% BelgiumBelgium Belgium
Thales Alenia Space Belgium 0.33% BelgiumBelgium Belgium
Saffron Aero Boosters 0.32% BelgiumBelgium Belgium
RUAG Switzerland AG 2.67% SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland
GKN Aerospace Sweden AB 1.63% SwedenSweden Sweden
RUAG Space AB 0.82% SwedenSweden Sweden
Airbus Defense and Space SA 2.03% SpainSpain Spain
CRISA 0.11% SpainSpain Spain
Airbus Defense and Space BV 1.94% NetherlandsNetherlands Netherlands
Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace AS 0.11% NorwayNorway Norway

Partners with an insignificant share are marked with "ns". Status: January 2018

Web links

Individual evidence

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