Germany the Victor in Launcher Debate

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The French put up a good fight, but it looks like Germany has won the battle over Europe's future launch vehicle development: The European Space Agency (ESA) and its industrial contractors at Astrium Space Transportation in Bremen will continue work on an upgrade to the Ariane 5 launcher, known as the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (Ariane 5 ME), with plans to fly the more-capable rocket in 2017. Steadfastly supported by Germany, the Ariane 5 ME will afford a 20% increase in payload-carrying capacity over the Ariane 5 ECA of today.

In the meantime, ESA will fund studies of the French-backed Ariane 6, French Minister of Higher Education and Research Genevieve Fioraso told reporters covering ESA's two-day budget ministerial in Naples this week. But a decision on whether or not to build the estimated €4 billion next-generation launcher is not expected before mid-2014.

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