Airbus Defence and Space

European Space Agency (ESA) awards development contract for Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) to Airbus Defence and Space

  • Airbus Defence and Space, industrial prime contractor for the European launcher, is to develop a new, more powerful version of Ariane 5
  • Ariane 5 ME will have a re-ignitable upper stage and be capable of launching payloads of up to 12 tonnes into orbit
  • Contract worth €150 million over two years


Paris, 21 December 2009 – The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with Airbus Defence and Space for the initial development phase of its programme to enhance the performance of the Ariane launch vehicle and make it even more competitive.

With the 49th flight of Ariane 5 from Kourou successfully launched, Airbus Defence and Space, the European space technology leader, is already at work on an even more powerful version of the launcher on behalf of ESA.

ESA’s Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) programme aims to raise the payload capacity of Ariane 5 from 10 to 12 tonnes, an increase of 20%.

The teams at Airbus Defence and Space are working on the development of an entirely new upper stage for the launch vehicle. Among other things, it will feature a new, re-ignitable Vinci engine, which will make it possible to optimise the insertion into orbit of the satellites and other spacecraft it transports and prolong their service life in orbit. Airbus Defence and Space is also planning to introduce a new generation of avionics and flight software that will further enhance the performance of the launch vehicle’s electronic control systems.

The new upper stage for the Ariane ME will additionally benefit from improved reliability and safety.

Alain Charmeau, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space, proudly said: “This contract marks the beginning of a new era for Airbus Defence and Space. It’s a strong vote of confidence in our abilities that, moreover, comes just as we are about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the very first Ariane launch on 24 December 1979. We are all set for another 30 years or more of technological achievements and market success.”

The new Ariane 5 is expected to make its first commercial flight around 2017.

Airbus Defence and Space, a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems and services. In 2008, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover of €4.3 billion and more than 15,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure, Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment and Airbus Defence and Space for the development and delivery of satellite services.


AIRBUS Group is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2008, AIRBUS Group generated revenues of €43.3 billion and employed a workforce of more than 118, 000.


Press contacts:

Daniel Mosely (Airbus Defence and Space UK)                                                      Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 8180

Matthieu Duvelleroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR)                                              Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32

Ralph Heinrich (Airbus Defence and Space GER)                                                   Tel.: +49 (0) 89 607 33971

Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space SP)                                                 Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41


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