The Ariane rocket celebrates its 30th birthday

27 Dec, 2009 | SnippetsTdp

Ariane grew out of the failed Europa rocket programme of the late 1960s.

Europa, you will recall, was a UK-initiated project for which the British, the French and the Germans would each provide a stage.

Only the British contribution - derived from its Blue Streak missile - worked on each of the four launches.

Sounds about right.

When the Brits walked away, the French and the Germans decided to stick with it.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Franco-German alliance had a strong incentive to succeed.

They'd developed a couple of telecommunications satellites called Symphonie; and when it became clear Europa could not launch them, the two nations approached the US to get a ride on one of its Delta rockets.

The then US President, Richard Nixon, agreed but, keen to protect the market monopoly enjoyed at the time by the Intelsat organisation, told the Europeans that Symphonie could not be used commercially. They could use them only as technology demonstrators.

Talk about an idiotic decision.

Whatever direction the European rocket programme takes, a way has got to be found to reduce the price of access to space.

Simple maths shows the factory gate cost of an Ariane 5 is about 115m euros.

Get the Brits back in, we'll get something built with change for a fiver and it'll still be more reliable than the Ariane.