PARIS, December 14, 22:14 /ITAR-TASS/. The French company Arianespace, which provides commercial space launch services from Kourou at the Guiana Space Centre, and EADS Astrium, the world’s second leading space technology company, have signed a more than two billion euro contract for the supply of 18 additional Ariane-5 heavy carrier rockets.

The contract was signed at Kourou in the presence of President Francois Hollande, who had arrived in French Guiana on a two-day visit.

The 18 new Ariane 5 rockets will be launched starting in 2017, following the 35 launchers that were already ordered in 2009, in the PB batch.

This latest order brings the number of Ariane 5 launchers under construction or on order to 38. It ensures that Arianespace’s customers will enjoy continued launch services from the Guiana Space Centre until the end of the decade.

The contract follows the framework contract signed by Arianespace on September 17, 2013, which already enabled Astrium and its partners to start procurement of long-lead items, and begin production of the new launchers.

Commenting on this latest contract, Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stephane Israel said: “I would first like to thank the French President, whose presence here today at the Guiana Space Center shows how important France considers its space program, and also reflects how both public authorities and our partners identify with the values that characterize Arianespace, namely reliability, availability and quality. I would also like to thank Astrium of course, and the European launcher industry, for delivering Ariane 5, an exceptional launch vehicle that has driven Arianespace’s operational and business success. Coming at the end of a record year of launch orders, this contract guarantees the longevity of the Ariane launch system, while also improving its competitiveness. In other words, it’s a strong sign of confidence in our future, allowing us to give customers the services that best match their needs.”

Astrium CEO Francois Auque thanked Arianespace for “this major new order, which shows that the industrial network set up by Astrium is capable of producing the most reliable launcher in the world as well as ensuring the global leadership of Arianespace.”

He believes that the contract reaffirms Astrium’s role “as prime contractor of Ariane 5 since 2003 and reinforces its robust order book. The presence of the French President here in Kourou today shows the importance of the space sector to the European economy and industry, as well as France’s commitment to guarantying European independent access to space for the past 40 years.”

Arianespace is the world’s leading satellite launch company, delivering innovation to its customers since 1980. Backed by 21 shareholders and the European Space Agency, the company offers an international workforce renowned for a culture of commitment and excellence. As of December 1, 2013, Arianespace had carried out a total of 215 Ariane launches, 31 Soyuz launches (five at the Guiana Space Centre and 26 at Baikonur via Starsem) and two Vega launches. Arianespace has a backlog of 21 Ariane 5, 10 Soyuz and four Vega launches, equalling three years of business.

Astrium is a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services.