The European Space Agency (ESA) has committed to building a new generation of Ariane launch vehicles.
The Ariane 6's four-stage design has been on the table for over a year, but ESA member states hadn't signed off on its construction. At this week's ESA Ministerial Council that changed, with the Resolution on Europe's Access to Space [PDF] giving the green light for construction of the next-generation launcher.
As expected, the Ariane 6 will use solid and liquid fuels in different stages and be capable of hauling payloads of up to 11 tons into geostationary orbits.
First launches are expected in 2020, but the various resolutions also ensure that Ariane 5 continues to fly until that date to ensure the ESA doesn't have to pause its space race.
The new design is hoped to be cheaper-to-operate than the venerable Ariane 5. Lower prices are important because the likes of SpaceX aim to greatly reduce the cost of getting stuff into space. If the ESA can't match such operators, it becomes harder for member states to justify funding the Agency. ®