Arianespace SA is a multinational company founded in 1980 as the world's first commercial launch service provider. It undertakes the operation and marketing of the Ariane programme. The company offers a number of different launch vehicles: the heavy-lift Ariane 5 for dual launches to geostationary transfer orbit, the Soyuz-2 as a medium-lift alternative, and the solid-fueled Vega for lighter payloads.
As of May 2017, Arianespace had launched more than 550 satellites in 254 launches over 35 years (236 Ariane missions minus the first 8 flights handled by CNES, 17 Soyuz-2 missions and 9 Vega missions). The first commercial flight managed by the new entity was Spacenet F1 launched on 23 May 1984. Arianespace uses the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana as its main launch site. Through shareholding in Starsem, it can also offer commercial Soyuz launches from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. It has its headquarters in Courcouronnes, Essonne, France, near Évry.
Arianespace SA was founded in 1980 as the operation and marketing arm of the Ariane launch vehicle programme, seven years after the formation of the pan-national Ariane programme by the European Space Agency in 1973.  The launcher was to be developed for the purpose of sending commercial satellites into geosynchronous orbit with a family of Ariane launch vehicles.  France was the largest stakeholder in the Ariane development programme. 
Immediately following the successful first test launch of an Ariane 1 on 24 December 1979, The French space agency CNES and ESA created a new company—Arianespace—for the purpose of promoting, marketing, and managing Ariane operations.  Three addition test flights were carried out, with one failure and two more successes. The first commercial launch took place on 10 September 1982, and ended in failure when a turbopump failed in the third stage.  The six remaining flights of Ariane 1 were successful, with the final flight occurring in February 1986.
On 21 October 2011 Arianespace launched the first Soyuz rocket ever from outside former Soviet territory. The payload consisted of two Galileo navigation satellites.
On 21 January 2019, ArianeGroup and Arianespace announced that it had signed a one-year contract with the ESA to study and prepare for a mission to the moon to mine regolith.
Company and infrastructure
Arianespace "is the marketing and sales organization for the European space industry and various component suppliers."
The primary shareholders of Arianespace are its suppliers, in various European nations. Arianespace had 24 shareholders in 2008, 21 in 2014, and just 17 as of October 2018.
In 2015, Arianespace shareholding was restructured due to the creation of Airbus Safran Launchers (later renamed ArianeGroup), which is tasked with developing and manufacturing the Ariane 6 carrier rocket. Industrial groups Airbus and Safran pooled their shares along with the French government's CNES stake to form a partnership company holding just under 74% of Arianespace shares, while the remaining 26% is spread across suppliers in nine countries including further Airbus subsidiaries.
As of October 2018, the Arianespace management team was:
- Arianespace inc. (U.S. Subsidiary)
- Arianespace Singapore PTE LTD. (Asian Subsidiary)
- Starsem S.A. (European-Russian Soyuz commercialization)
Competition and pricing
In 2004, Arianespace held more than 50% of the world market for boosting satellites to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
However, the disruptive force represented by the new sector entrant SpaceX forced Arianespace to cut back on its workforce and focus on cost-cutting to decrease costs to remain competitive against the new low-cost entrant in the launch sector.
According to an Arianespace managing director, "It's quite clear there's a very significant challenge coming from SpaceX," he said in 2015. "Therefore things have to change … and the whole European industry is being restructured, consolidated, rationalised and streamlined."
In the midst of pricing pressure from U.S. company SpaceX, Arianespace made a November 2013 announcement of pricing flexibility for the "lighter satellites" it carries to Geostationary orbits aboard its Ariane 5.
In early 2014, Arianespace was considering requesting additional subsidies from European governments to face the competition from SpaceX and unfavorable changes in the Euro-Dollar exchange rate. The company had halved subsidy support by €100m per year since 2002 but the fall in the value of the US Dollar meant Arianespace was losing €60m per year due to currency fluctuations on launch contracts.
Reducing the cost allowed Arianespace to sign four additional contracts in September 2014 for lower slots on a Ariane 5 SYLDA dispenser for the satellites that otherwise could be flown on a SpaceX launch vehicle.
Arianespace signed 11 contracts in 2014 until September that year. with two additional being in a late stage of negotiations. As of September 2014 Arianespace has a backlog of launches worth €4.5 billion with 38 satellites to be launched on Ariane 5, 7 on Soyuz and 9 on Vega, claiming 60% of the global satellite launch market.
By November 2014, SpaceX had "already begun to take market share" from Arianespace, and Eutelsat CEO Michel de Rosen — a major customer of Arianespace — said that "Each year that passes will see SpaceX advance, gain market share and further reduce its costs through economies of scale."
Currently Arianespace operates 3 launch vehicles, including two versions of Ariane 5:
Additionally Arianespace offers optional back-up launch service on H-IIA through Launch Services Alliance.
Since the first launch in 1979, there have been several versions of the Ariane launch vehicle:
- Ariane 1, first successful launch on December 24, 1979
- Ariane 2, first successful launch on November 20, 1987 (the first launch on May 30, 1986 failed)
- Ariane 3, first successful launch on August 4, 1984
- Ariane 4, first successful launch on June 15, 1988
- Ariane 5, first successful launch on October 30, 1997 (the first launch on June 4, 1996 failed).
The new Ariane 6 vehicle is in development. It would have a similar payload capacity to the Ariane 5 but have considerably lower costs. Tentatively, its first flight is planned for 2020.