The two companies would team up on the production of Ariane rockets, for Arianespace, to compete against low-cost SpaceX in communications satellites.
A 50-50 joint venture would combine the "expertise in launchers systems from Airbus with propulsion systems from Safran", said a statement.
"The Ariane programme has been hugely successful over the last 30 years", said Airbus CEO Tom Enders, "but in order to remain relevant and competitive for the future we need a much more efficient industrial structure."
Although Arianespace's launcher, Ariane 5, is highly reliable, it has to carry two satellites to be profitable.
The newcomer SpaceX has shaken up the industry with its smaller Falcon rockets which can lift satellites into orbit for 60 million euros, half the cost of the Ariane rockets.