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Sarkozy calls for less costly launchers

FRENCH President Nicolas Sarkozy called on Saturday for a Europe-wide effort to design a cost effective next-generation rocket launcher to replace the Ariane-5.

Sarkozy was visiting the Paris Air Show, where the most visible landmark is an Ariane mock-up soaring above the crowds.

Sarkozy stressed "the necessity to prepare a new generation of launchers" ready to succeed the Ariane-5 in 2020-25, according to a statement from his office. He said he hoped for a decision by 2011.

He ordered French rocket designers to coordinate with partners in the European Space Agency on a sturdy, adjustable new design that takes into account government budgets and international competition. France is one of the Paris-based ESA's 18 member states.

The first Ariane-5 flew in 1997, and various versions have been used to launch dozens of satellites as well as a module for the International Space Station.

The 53 meter long Ariane-5 models can carry up to 21 tons of payload, according to the European Space Agency.

Sarkozy's focus on the Ariane came as leading plane makers at the Paris Air Show struggled to woo buyers amid the global recession.

Airbus won firm orders for 58 planes worth US$6.4 billion over five days, mostly from Asian and budget airlines. Rival Boeing Co managed just one order for two planes worth a paltry US$153 million. But orders for both companies were well below those of recent years.

The International Air Transport Association estimates the world's airlines will collectively lose US$9 billion this year and face a slow recovery as the economic crisis saps air travel and cargo demand.

The air show at Le Bourget opened to the public on Friday, and ended yesterday.


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