PARIS, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Airbus Safran Launchers signed a 2.4 billion euro ($2.7 billion) contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) on Wednesday to develop the Ariane 6 satellite launcher, the company said.
The deal includes a firm commitment of some 680 million euros for initial development of the Ariane 62 and 64 versions up until a preliminary design review scheduled for mid-2016, the company said in a statement.
The contract will finance the Ariane 6 through to 2023, when it is set to become fully operational, the company said, adding that the first flight was scheduled for 2020.
The total cost for the development of the launcher - including boosters to be shared by Ariane and the Vega small launcher, as well as 400 million euros of industrial investment - is expected to reach about 3 billion.
The signing follows a decision last December by 20 ESA member states to build a new European launcher.
The Ariane 6 launch pad will be based at the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The Airbus Safran Launchers joint venture was inaugurated in December to combine satellite group Arianespace with Safran’s rocket propulsion business to secure the future of the Ariane rocket and cut costs in the face of U.S. launch rival SpaceX. ($1 = 0.8986 euros) (Reporting by James Regan; editing by Susan Thomas)