Although there has been no official word from SpaceX, nor even a tweet from Elon Musk, according to Wacotrib.com Space X apparently conducted another moderately long duration test of the Falcon 9-R Wednesday evening. It is unclear just how long the test lasted with witnesses saying it was “about a minute.” NASAspaceflight.com has a very informative article “Testing Times” detailing difficulties with the previous test which cut off unexpectedly at 118 seconds, well shy of the full burn time for the first stage.
An entirely different sort of noise is coming out of the Paris Air Show, where Arianespace is touting the advantages of the Ariane V ME for taking on both SpaceX and the ILS Proton in a single launch. According to report in Space News, Arianespace claims the planned upgrade to the upper stage will allow the company to continue its practice of dual manifesting, placing a large satellite capable of matching anything Proton can loft in the upper slot, and a slightly smaller satellite in the lower position, where it would compete effectively against the Falcon 9 v1.1. In another measure of the looming competition, Arianespace is also promoting its capacity to deliver one of the new series of all-electric propulsion satellites to a higher initial drop-off point than SpaceX, thereby reducing the time required for the slow climb to its final orbital slot.
Arianespace describes the increased capability of the Ariane V ME as a “SpaceX defense,” which shows just seriously the European launch consortium has come in its estimation of the competition since the days its previous president Jean-Yves Le Gall, now head of the French Space Agency would virtually refuse to call the American company by name.
In the end however, the defense may prove to be little more than another Maginot line. What Arianespace is not saying, because it has no answer, it how it would compete with a dual manifested Falcon Heavy, an indication of just how important the triple core booster is to the Hawthorne based company. And as for the Falcon 9-R, better keep that white flag handy.