In the coming years, as the U.K. replaces Italy as the European Space Agency's (ESA) third-largest contributor, the Astrium space division of stands to benefit from Britain's 25% increase in ESA spending approved in November 2012.
With major operations in the U.K., Astrium will take advantage of a funding boost targeted mainly at developing next-generation telecommunication satellite technologies and supporting Earth-observation and meteorology programs.
EADS CEO Tom Enders says he was pleased with the outcome of the ESA budget meeting in Naples, Italy, where ministers from the agency's 20 member states approved €10 billion ($13 billion) for new and ongoing programs over the next several years.
“The decisions taken there clearly reaffirm Astrium's strong position as a top player in the global space industry,” Enders said during an annual press conference in Berlin Feb. 27.
Last year Astrium generated an estimated €5.8 billion in revenue in 2012, up 17% over the previous year at €4.9 billion, including €500 million from the purchase of mobile satellite services distributor Vizada in 2011.
The company's order intake last year totaled €3.7 billion, up from €3.5 billion the previous year, including contracts for two telecom satellites for Russian fleet operator RSCC, two new Grace spacecraft for, ESA's Solar Orbiter mission, a six-year support services agreement with French defense procurement agency DGA for the Helios Earth observation system and the next-generation Comsat NG project that could succeed France's Syracuse 3 system by 2019.
Last year Astrium saw a record seven launches of the Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket, one of which lofted the third of five Astrium-built Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV) to the International Space Station (ISS). The company also launched nine Astrium-built satellites in 2012, among them four telecom spacecraft, two Galileo satellite navigation satellites, the Metop-B polar-orbiting meteorological observatory, and the SPOT 6 and Pleiades 1B optical imaging satellites.
This year Astrium expects to deliver six Ariane 5 rockets to commercial launch consortium Arianespace, which is anticipating ordering 18 Ariane 5 launchers from Astrium's space transportation division in 2013.
A fourth ATV is slated to launch this year, though an initial launch date of April 18 has been postponed as ESA tests a replacement component on the cargo vessel's Integrated Cargo Carrier. Astrium delivered ATV-4 in September to the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, where it is undergoing final integration and test prior to the mission.
“It was during the final part of the testing of the ATV when we found a problem with an avionics box inside the ATV, so the integration has been stopped,” ATV-4 mission manager Alberto Novelli said Feb. 22, adding that despite the ISS's busy traffic schedule, there are several opportunities in May and June to launch the ATV.
In the coming months, Astrium expects to sign a contract withto begin work on an ATV-derived service module that will fly on NASA's Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle in 2017.
As Astrium continues work on Ariane 5 ME, the company will be looking for synergies between the rocket's new, more powerful upper stage and the design of an Ariane 5 successor, known as Ariane 6. Astrium's Bremen, Germany, location has added 70 positions as a result of continued work on the mid-life upgrade, which was approved at the ESA budget meeting in November. But Astrium says design of the next-generation Ariane 6, including the proportion of liquid versus solid propulsion, would necessitate a restructuring of the launcher industry among ESA's primary financial backers, including France, Germany and Italy.
“This will have consequences for the liquid and solid propulsion industries in Europe and they will have to be restructured,” Astrium CEO Francois Auque said during a Jan. 28 breakfast with reporters in Paris, noting that Astrium's German facilities do not have expertise in solid rocket propulsion. “To the extent you have more solid fuel stages, there will be more work in Italy and France because of work share,” unless Germany contributes additional funding to the effort.
Astrium expects to launch as many as 10 satellites in 2013, including ESA's Gaia astronomy mission and the Astra 2E, SES 6, Alphasat 1-XL and Astra 5B telecom satellites. The company is also preparing five Earth observation satellites for launch, including ESA's three Swarm spacecraft, Vietnam's VNREDSat-1 and Astrium's SPOT 7, which Auque says will launch late this year or early next year atop an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).