Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Musk's SpaceX push hits French resistance

France says space industry will not be a part of forthcoming US EU trade talks despite Tesla chief's plea for inclusion

SpaceX hangar at Kennedy Space Centre, Florida. Space industry will not be included in US-EU talks. Reuters
SpaceX hangar at Kennedy Space Centre, Florida. Space industry will not be included in US-EU talks. Reuters

Elon Musk’s push to include space technology in US trade talks with the European Union is running into French resistance.

The “non” by Paris is the latest obstacle to emerge before negotiations begin, adding to a list of industries that France considers off-limits, such as agriculture. On the US side, President Donald Trump is threatening tariffs on imported cars and car parts if talks fail.

Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies asked the office of the US Trade Representative in December to use the planned talks to expand market access and ensure that European competitor ArianeGroup doesn’t get preferential treatment in Europe. That’s a non-starter, French space agency head Jean-Yves Le Gall said after French newspaper Les Echos reported on SpaceX’s request, according to Bloomberg.

“We don’t believe the space industry should be part of trade talks,” Mr Le Gall said. “We believe this is a sovereignty and security industry.”

Responding to the SpaceX letter’s call to address imbalances,Mr Le Gall said US subsidies of the space industry are “far ahead” of Europe’s.

Linked by more than $1.1 trillion in annual trade, the two sides are seeking to lay down markers. US priorities include agriculture, subsidies and telecommunications. The EU laid out its goals in January.

Ariane, whose launchpad is located in French Guiana, is an icon of French technology and research. ArianeGroup’s biggest shareholders are Airbus and Safran.

SpaceX upended the space-launch business with reusable rocket technology that cuts costs. That puts competitive pressure on ArianeGroup, which slashed the price of its next-generation launcher, known as Ariane 6.

Arianespace managing director and head of sales for Asia-Pacific Vivian Quenet said in current marketing campaigns, the company is offering customers such as telecoms an Ariane 5 launch for the same price as the Ariane 6.

"We have made a lot of effort on the sales price. When we do that, the result is very positive," Mr Quenet said last week, declining to discuss details of profitability.

Arianespace is competing for two major launch contracts in the Asia-Pacific region that should be awarded this year and expects there could be tenders for another three, he said.

SpaceX, based at Hawthorne outside Los Angeles, set a company record last year with 21 launches for customers including commercial satellite operators and the US military. ArianeGroup completed 11 launches last year through its Arianespace subsidiary.

France’s public accounts auditor, which monitors the efficiency of government spending, criticised the Ariane programme in January, suggesting it has little hope of keeping up with competitors such as SpaceX.

Last month, The National reported that Saudi Arabia has become the latest member of the space club. It is the seventh nation in the Arab world to open an agency and the third in the Arabian Gulf, following the UAE and Bahrain.

The formation of the Saudi Space Agency was part of a broader Government reshuffle by King Salman. The reorganisation installed Prince Sultan bin Salman at the agency’s helm. In terms of experience, there is no one better qualified for the job. The prince was the first Arab to travel to space in June 1985, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and responsible for the successful deployment of ArabSat-1B.

Updated: February 23, 2019 01:36 PM