PARIS, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- Europe's space company Astrium announced Wednesday that it has signed an agreement with Arianespace to begin production of 18 additional Ariane 5 ECA launchers.
"As part of this agreement, Arianespace has ordered from Astrium, long-lead items and the start of production activities for the 18 additional launchers" valued at more than 400 million euros (540 million U.S. dollars), said the space company in a statement.
The twin companies plan to sign the full production contract for the additional launchers before the end of 2013, the statement said.
"This agreement enables Astrium, which has been prime contractor for Ariane 5 since 2003, to ensure the continuity of production beyond 2017," explained Alain Charmeau, CEO of Astrium Space Transportation who presented the signing ceremony, together with Stephane Israel, Arianespace Chairman and CEO on Tuesday.
"It also guarantees the continuity of the entire industrial production chain which comprises 550 companies (of which 20 percent are SMEs) and 6,000 people across 12 European countries," Charmeau added.
The order takes the number of Ariane 5 launchers in production for Arianespace to 38, and guarantees the continued provision of launch services for the European operator's customers at the Guiana Space Centre through to the end of the decade.
These additional 18 Ariane 5s should be launched from 2017 onwards, following on from the 35 launchers ordered in 2009, according to the statement.
A wholly owned subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company N.V. (EADS), Astrium is the leading company in Europe for space technologies. It is the only global company that covers the full range of civil and defence space systems, equipment and services.
In 2012, Astrium had a turnover over 5.8 billion euros and 18,000 employees worldwide.
Arianespace is the world leader in its sector and its order book represents more than three years of work, which represents 4 billion euros in value. (1 U.S. dollar = 0.74 euro)