Round Table discussion during the NSE2023. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino

Europe’s Challenge in the Space Launch Industry

The European space launch industry faces a number of challenges, including a technology gap with the United States and China

During the “New Space Economy European Expoforum 2023 ” event held in Rome from December 5th to December 7th, the challenges that Europe must face to become as competitive as the USA and China were discussed.

Among the various speakers, the main exponents of the European space sector spoke. They especially discussed the difficulties they are encountering and the potential solutions to contain the gap with the other world powers in this sector.

Round Table discussion during the NSE2023. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino
Round Table discussion during the NSE 2023. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino

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The technology gap between Europe and the US

This Round Table called “Emerging Players in European Launch Industry and the challenge With USA and China”, was introduced by the moderator, Augusto Cramarossa, Head of Strategic Area of ASI. After introducing the topic of the panel, he presented the various speakers present, which are:

  • Sylvain Bataillard, COO, HyprSpace
  • Enrico Cavallini, Head of Space Transportation, Space Infrastructures & in Orbit System Dept, ASI
  • Marino Fragnito, Senior Vice President, Arianespace
  • Marco Mariani, CEO, SAB Launch Services
  • Giulio Ranzo, CEO, AVIO

The difficulties of the European space industry

The space launch industry in Europe has been going through a major crisis in recent years. This is due to the emergence of new actors, both private and public, who are helping to diversify the offer and reduce Europe’s dependence on American and Chinese launchers.

These new competitors are bringing new technologies and new business models to the space launch industry, which bring both new opportunities for Europe and new challenges to face.

One of the major competitors discussed is obviously SpaceX. In fact, as Sylvain Bataillard was able to underline, to be able to cope and decrease the technological gap we would need a European SpaceX. To continue to innovate as they do and not return to what has worked in previous years and copy it.

Differences between European and American model

Resuming the speech, Enrico Cavallini discussed the transformation to access space in Europe in response to the strong competition from SpaceX.

He stressed the importance of developing competitive and reliable launch systems to meet institutional and commercial needs. Pushing towards innovation, trying new technologies, but at the same time consolidating what has been learned with the Vega and Vega C launchers. Cavallini particularly notes the difference between the European model and the American one, where we now need to balance competition and cooperation.


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A united Europe is a stronger Europe

The speech was taken up by Marino Fragnito of Arianespace, who highlighted the need for the European launcher industry to act as a single identity rather than a federation of nations. He points out how the lack of a unified European approach in procurement, both for commercial and institutional missions, has allowed SpaceX to give competitive prices to Europe.

Fragnito highlighted the main problem of the European launcher industry, namely the lack of direct support from Europe. He also cited examples of how European institutions have acquired SpaceX launches at commercial prices, and how there is a lack of a European procurement approach.

“Of course, at the moment we have specific issues for Ariane and Vega, which are not allowing European Commission and distributional agencies to launch European.”
— Marino Fragnito, Senior Vice President, Arianespace

Finally, he indicated that a big problem to be overcome is a possible and fierce internal competition in Europe that can further damage all the actors in our system

Compete Globally

Subsequently, the word passed to Giulio Ranzo, who addressed the imbalance present in the European space industry, of how demand is clearly higher than supply on the market. Precisely for this reason, he says that the price will not be a driving factor given the imbalance.

Ranzo heavily criticized the slowness of decisions and execution in Europe, identifying the need for a change in decision-making speed and focusing on the reliable and regular delivery of hardware.

Round Table discussion during the NSE2023 congress as Giulio Ranzo speaks. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino
Round Table discussion during the NSE2023 congress as Giulio Ranzo speaks. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino
“So, for me, the biggest challenge to be defeated that I see also as my company is to completely change the speed of decision making, focus on delivering hardware and not look at all the other things that are around.” — Giulio Ranzo, CEO, Avio

In addition, Ranzo highlighted the decline of Europe in the space market and the difficulty of competing globally. He cited examples such as SpaceX and Rocket Lab, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the reliable delivery of the product without getting too lost in innovation.


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Economic sustainability and new technological solutions

The moderator Cramarossa then proceeded to close the panel with a final round of answers on the theme of economic sustainability and prospects for new technological developments, then exploring new business models and launches certified for human use.

Sylvain Bataillard began to respond to this request, in the context of the financial sustainability of the launcher industry, he dwelt on some doubts about how SpaceX for her is not so profitable. For this reason, they charge several times the launch price for institutional missions. So he closes the speech saying that Europe must be careful to remain profitable.

Enrico Cavallini then spoke, and reiterated the importance of a rapid approach in technological development, adapting it to market needs. He then shifted attention to the great expansion that the space sector is having.

Marino Fragnito then spoke, he addressed the challenge of the price imposed by competition, especially SpaceX, highlighting how this influences the business case. He concluded by highlighting the need for a more ambitious approach in Europe.

Round Table discussion during the NSE2023 congress as Marino Fragnito speaks. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino
Round Table discussion during the NSE2023 congress as Marino Fragnito speaks. Credits: Space Voyaging/Edoardo Giammarino

Marco Mariani then connected to the speech, he suggested the expansion of the services offered by the launchers, proposing in-orbit servicing as a valid option. He highlighted the possibility of reusing part of the launchers to offer additional services, offering an economic solution, and opening up new business opportunities.

In conclusion, Giulio Ranzo closed the panel, which discussed the development of reusable service modules and proposed the removal of space debris as a future business opportunity. He stressed the importance of celebrating European successes, such as the fact that Vega launchers do not leave space debris in orbit, highlighting the necessary attention to sustainable space management.


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Federico Airoldi

Federico Airoldi

Coder, developer and content creator. I am dedicated to spreading my love of space exploration and inspiring others to join me in the pursuit of new frontiers. Page owner of Airo_spaceflight.

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