SpaceX Rivals Said to Win EU Nod for Arianespace Rocket Deal

  • EU said to insist on strict separation between Airbus, ASL
  • Thales said to express concerns about deal to EU regulator

Rocket maker Airbus Safran Launchers SAS is set to win European Union approval as soon as next month to take over launch-service provider Arianespace SA, countering the rising threat of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The European Commission’s approval is conditional on strict separation between Airbus Group SE and ASL to ensure the businesses are run independently, according to one of the people who asked not to be named as the EU’s decision isn’t yet final.

The EU competition regulator’s decision follows initial concerns the deal would have resulted in less innovation and higher prices in satellite and launch service markets. The EU’s deadline to rule on the deal was extended several times and is set for Aug. 10. 

ASL, which combines the rocket building unit of Airbus and Safran’s space-dedicated engines, was formed on Jan. 1, 2015 to develop the Ariane 6 and to take control of Arianespace. It raised its stake last year to about 74 percent from 39 percent after taking over the 35 percent held by CNES, the French government space agency. The increase in ASL’s shareholding triggered the scrutiny of competitors and the EU commission. 

The commission, ASL, Airbus and Arianespace all declined to comment.

ASL plans to put the Ariane 6 into service in 2020 to fight the low cost launching services offered by SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The concessions required by the EU are meant to ensure Airbus makes its commercial decisions without having privileged information and isn’t in a position to make bundled offers combining satellite and launch together, according to one of the people.

The proposals have won over the EU despite resistance from firms such as Thales SA, the person said.

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