The design for Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket has been settled and development will now move on apace, say officials.
The launcher is due to be introduced in 2020 and long-term will replace the Ariane 5 and Soyuz vehicles that currently operate out of French Guiana.
Airbus Safran Launchers, the company set up exactly one year ago to build the new rocket, is in the process of pulling together its subcontractors.
CEO Alain Charmeau said rapid progress was being made on the project.
“The basic design of Ariane 6 is now frozen to allow us to move into a more detailed design and production phase,” he told BBC News.
“We have already signed some major contracts, and more will be signed in the coming days. And for those equipments not on the critical path, we will sign contracts in the coming months after running some competitions.”
The company is a joint venture between the aerospace giant Airbus and the aero and rocket manufacturer Safran. The tie-up has yet to receive full and final sign-off from the French authorities because of corporate tax arrangements, but Mr Charmeau said this delay had made no impact yet on future Ariane developments.
“We were set up to manage Ariane 5 and 6 and we are doing that very efficiently, but it’s true we can’t maintain our current company configuration forever. But we will soon shift into a new configuration.”
Ariane 6 will be a modular rocket that can be tailored to a wide range of satellite and mission types.
One version, known as Ariane 62, will loft medium-sized spacecraft into orbit – the kind of platforms that image and study the Earth.
The second version, known as Ariane 64, will put up the heavy telecoms spacecraft, which sit 36,000km above the equator.
Next-generation rocket will be modular in design, offering two variants
Vehicles will lean on their Ariane 5 heritage but cost less to build
A new upper-stage engine (Vinci), already in development, will be used
Solid fuel boosters from the Vega rocket will provide additional power
A62 will tend to launch medium-sized government/science missions
A64 will launch the big commercial telecoms satellites, two at a time
In the short term, the rocket will be a one-time, expendable vehicle