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European Space Agency sets specs for next launch vehicle

July 9, 2013 at 5:01 PM

PARIS, July 9 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency says the basic design for Europe's next generation rocket, the Ariane 6, has been selected and approved.

The performance requirement for the new launch vehicle will be the ability to lift 3-to-6.5 tons to a geostationary transfer orbit to cover both governmental and commercial needs, a release from ESA headquarters in Paris said Tuesday.

The Ariane 6 will be powered by a solid-fuel lower stage and make use of the liquid-fuel upper-stage currently under development as an upgrade for the existing Ariane 5 rocket, officials said.

The new configuration has been chosen in an effort to reduce costs of manufacture and operation over the successful but expensive Ariane 5, they said.

"We will have to make Ariane 6 a very competitive launcher," Alain Charmeau of Astrium Space Transportation, which leads the Ariane industrial consortium, told the BBC. "It's really a complete change in Europe. It's the first time ever that we will try to develop a rocket thinking about production price and not just performance."

European Space Agency member states have said they expect the new rocket to begin launches at ESA's Kourou spaceport in French Guiana at the start of the next decade.