PARIS (Reuters) - French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Monday hailed a new agreement on space launches between France, Germany and Italy, saying it secured funding for 42 launches of the delayed Ariane 6 and a return to service for Italy's grounded Vega-C.
The agreement covers the second batch of Ariane 6 launches after previous commitments covered an inaugural test flight, recently delayed to 2024, and 14 commercial launches.
The deal between Europe's three leading launch nations also clarifies usage of the European spaceport in French Guiana and opens up competition to future launchers, Le Maire said.
The agreement provides for up to 340 million euros ($365 million) of public support for Ariane 6 from 2026 to address soaring costs and calls on industry to reduce its own costs by 11%.
Ariane 6 is built by Airbus-Safran venture ArianeGroup. A separate statement by France, Germany and Italy said Avio's Vega C would receive up to 21 million euros in public support.
The deal follows six months of talks amid signs of differences as France lobbied for Ariane 6 support and Germany pressed for future competition in the France-led launch sector.
"This is a major success and a decisive point in European space history. It preserves European unity on the question of access to space," Le Maire told reporters following talks between members of the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA).
Delegates said all ESA members had voted to back the accord.
($1 = 0.9316 euros)
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Charlotte Van Campenhout and Mark Potter)