Arianespace S.A., the world's first commercial launch service provider and one of the victims of SpaceX’s cheaper rates, is reducing the price of satellite launches for its Ariane 5 rockets to stay in the game.

The price slash will buy time for Arianespace, which is based in France, before the deployment of its new and cheaper Ariane 6 rocket in 2020, said a senior company executive. Ariane 6 will replace Ariane 5 at half the cost, and allow double the number of launches every year.

Commercial launches using the Ariane 6 will give Arianespace enough room to compete more effectively with SpaceX in the commercial launch business. It currently costs a client more than $60 million to launch on a Space X Falcon 9 vehicle.

In contrast, it costs some $170 million (€150 million) to launch a commercial satellite on an Ariane 5.

Arianespace intends to slash the cost of launching the Ariane 6 by around 40 percent versus the Ariane 5. It will accomplish this through design changes and higher volume production, thereby making its prices more competitive with SpaceX, said Arianespace Managing Director and Head of Sales for Asia-Pacific Vivian Quenet.

He said Arianespace is offering customers such as telecom firms an Ariane 5 launch for the same price as the Ariane 6. Quenet said the company has made a lot of effort on the sales price. When we do that, the result is very positive.

Arianespace, which is majority-owned by a joint venture of Airbus and Safran, completed 11 launches with its Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz rockets in 2018. It had initially targeted 14 launches. It has forecast up to 12 launches in 2019, and four of these are slated for the first quarter.

Quenet said Arianespace is competing for two major launch contracts in the Asia-Pacific region for this year and expects tenders for another three.

But Ariane 6 will be the launch vehicle that makes history for Europe. ArianeGroup, Arianespace’s majority shareholder, announced on Tuesday it has signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to study a mission to the Moon before 2025.

The aim of this mission will be to land a rover that will explore the lunar regolith (or soil) in search for the isotope called Helium 3, which can safely generate massive amounts of electricity without producing fatal radioactivity.

If the mission gets the green light, it will be launched with the Ariane 6 at the ESA facilities in French Guiana.

An Ariane 5 blasts-off from Kourou
Launch of an Ariane 5 rocket with four Galileo satellites onboard. Arianespace aims to make Ariane 6 Rockets cheaper to battle SpaceX. S. MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images