Research ministers have approved the development of a new rocket for Europe.
The Ariane 6 will succeed the Ariane 5, which, although highly successful, is now facing stiff competition on price.
The politicians believe industry will find the new vehicle cheaper to construct and to operate.
European Space Agency member states authorised the project at a special council meeting in Luxembourg, where they also agreed funding for the space station and a rover to go to Mars.
All up, the Esa nations came forward with 5.924bn euros in contributions to cover a number of programmes over the next few years.
“I think I can summarise this ministerial council by saying it is a success; I’d even go so far as to say that it is a great success,” said agency director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain.
The Ariane 5 has been operating since the mid-1990s and has come to dominate the market for putting up big commercial satellites.
But its position is now under threat from competitor services offering lower prices. The fear is that the 5′s position will be eroded inexorably in the latter half of this decade.
The Ariane 6 concept is seen as the riposte. This vehicle would employ more modern methods of production and a streamlined assembly to try to reduce unit costs.
Moreover, because the rocket’s modular design can be tailored to a wide range of satellite and mission types, it should gain further economies from frequent use.
Ministers committed 4bn euros to cover not only the 6′s development but also an upgrade to Esa’s small Italian-built Vega rocket. In future, these two vehicles will actually share some propulsion elements.
“They will be a true family with the same DNA,” said Mr Dordain.