Paris – German aerospace center DLR expects France to uphold the two countries’ commitment to upgrade Europe’s current Ariane 5 launch vehicle before starting development of a successor, despite recent statements by a top French official that cast doubt on available funding for both.

Johann-Dietrich Woerner, DLR’s executive board chairman, said in an Oct. 28 interview that Germany trusts a February 2010 agreement between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to fund the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) — which is expected to be adopted in late 2012 — when the European Space Agency’s ministerial council meets to determine the agency’s multiyear budget.

Early design work for the midlife upgrade began in 2008, including development of a restartable cryogenic upper stage that would boost the rocket’s performance and enable simultaneous launches of multiple satellites into different orbits. However, in an Oct. 18 interview with La Tribune, French Research Minister Laurent Wauquiez said it is unclear whether there is enough funding in the forthcoming budget for both the midlife upgrade and a post-Ariane 5 rocket development.

France, which is expected to finance a major share of a post-Ariane 5 rocket, is already investing €250 million ($350 million) as part of a government bond issue to begin definition of the Ariane 6, a modular launcher capable of lifting satellites weighing between 3,000 and 8,000 kg (6,600 and 17,600 lb.) that could be operational around 2025. In contrast, the Ariane 5 ME is estimated to cost €1.5 billion and would not be in service before 2019.