THE European Space Agency (ESA) engaged in preliminary technical discussions with the SpaceXin Elon Muskwhich can lead to Temporary use of their launchers after the war in Ukraine blocked Western access to Russian Soyuz rockets.
Arianespace’s North American competitor has emerged as a key contender to fill a temporary void alongside Japan and India, but final decisions hinge on the still-unresolved schedule for Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket.
Elon Musk, billionaire owner of Tesla and SpaceX, May 2021 image — Photo: Michele Tantussi/Reuters
“I would say there are two and a half options that we are discussing. One is the SpaceX it’s clear. Another may be Japan,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher told Reuters.
“Japan is awaiting the maiden flight of its next-generation rocket. Another option could be India,” he added in an interview. “THE SpaceXI would say, is the most operational of them and definitely one of the backup versions we are considering.
Aschbacher said the talks remained at an exploratory stage and any alternative solution would be temporary.
THE SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
Falcon 9 rocket with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during preparation on Tuesday (26) – Photo: Steve Nesius/Reuters
Europe has until now depended on the Italian Vega for small payloads, the Russian Soyuz for medium and the Ariane 5 for heavy missions. The next generation of Vega C debuted last month and the new Ariane 6 has been delayed until next year.
Aschbacher said a more precise timeline for Ariane 6 would be clearer in October. Only then will ESA finalize a support plan to be presented to ministers from the agency’s 22 nations in November.
He said the war in Ukraine demonstrated that Europe’s decade-long cooperation strategy with Russia in gas supply and other areas, including space, was no longer working. .
The International Space Station is seen in an external photo as it orbits Earth — Photo: NASA/Roscosmos/Handout via REUTERS
“It was a warning, that we have been very dependent on Russia. And this warning, we must hope that the decision-makers realize as much as I do, that we really need to strengthen our European capacity and our independence.”
However, he downplayed the prospect of Russia keeping its promise to withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024.
“The reality is that operationally work on the space station is continuing, I would say almost nominally,” Aschbacher told Reuters. “We depend on each other whether we like it or not, but we have little choice.”