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Airbus, Safran name Alain Charmeau to run space joint venture

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Group and Safran on Wednesday named Alain Charmeau as the head of a new venture designed to reorganize Europe's space launch activities.

The two companies said in June they had agreed to create a 50-50 joint venture in space launchers, combining Airbus's launch systems with Safran's propulsion systems.

The venture is expected eventually to incorporate the marketing teams for Europe's Ariane space rocket, currently in the European consortium Arianespace, and some design teams from French and German space agencies.

It is the first concrete step toward consolidation after Airbus Group Chief Executive Tom Enders called for a shake-up to preserve Europe's commercial access to space in the face of new competition.

His call for a bigger industry say was triggered by the arrival of low-cost U.S. based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), run by electric car mogul Elon Musk, but Russia and China are also seen as challenging competitors.

The joint venture's new CEO Alain Charmeau previously worked as the head of operations at Airbus' space systems division.

The joint venture was expected to begin operations before the end of the year.

"The management is tasked with a clear mission: to improve competitiveness of the future European Launcher business," Enders said in a statement.

"This objective is without alternative for me - either, we fundamentally drive change in this sector or we risk becoming irrelevant very soon."

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, editing by David Evans)