The European Space Agency (ESA) signed a contract with Astrium for the initial development phase of a program to enhance the performance of the Ariane launch vehicle. ESA’s Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) program aims to raise the payload capacity of Ariane 5 from 10 to 12 t. The teams at Astrium Space Transportation are working on the development of an entirely new upper stage for the launch vehicle. Among other things, it will feature a new, re-ignitable Vinci engine, making it possible to optimize the insertion into orbit of the satellites and other spacecraft it transports and prolong their service life in orbit. Astrium is also planning to introduce a new generation of avionics and flight software. The new Ariane 5 is expected to make its first commercial flight around 2017.