Venture capital-backed companies and space launch entrepreneurs are filling a void the size of Russia


The European Space Agency (ESA) has entered into preliminary technical discussions with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. This could allow a temporary deployment of the rocket after the Ukrainian conflict blocked Western access to Russian Soyuz rockets.

A US private rival to Europe’s Arianespace has emerged as a key contender alongside Japan and India to fill the temporary void, but the final decision will be on Europe’s delayed Ariane 6 rocket. resolved.

“I think there are two and a half options we’re talking about. One is SpaceX for sure. Now it could be Japan,” said ESA Executive Director Josef Aschbacher. told Reuters. “Japan is awaiting the first flight of its next-generation rocket. Another option could be India,” he added in an interview.

“SpaceX is the most capable of these and definitely one of the backup launches we’re looking at.”

“Obviously you have to make sure they’re appropriate. It’s not like jumping on a bus,” he said. For example, the interface between the satellite and the rocket must be good and the payload must not be subjected to unusual types of launch vibrations.

Aschbacher said negotiations are still at the investigative stage and the fallback is temporary.

“While we are evaluating this technical compatibility, we have not yet requested a commercial offer. We just want to make sure that it will be an option to make the decision to get a binding commercial offer. Aschbacher said.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

The political fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already been a boon for SpaceX’s Falcon 9, wiping out other customers who have cut ties with Moscow’s increasingly isolated space sector. Satellite internet company OneWeb, a rival to SpaceX’s satellite internet company Starlink, has booked at least one Falcon 9 launch in March and has also booked a launch in India. On Monday, Northrop Grumman designed a new version of its Antares rocket, booking three Falcon 9 missions to ferry NASA cargo to the International Space Station. The Antares rocket’s Russian-made engine was removed by Moscow in response to sanctions.

Europe has so far relied on Italian Vega for small payloads, Russian Soyuz for medium payloads and Ariane 5 for heavy missions. The next generation of Vega C debuted last month and the new Ariane 6 has been pushed back to next year. Aschbacher said a more specific Ariane 6 schedule will be clarified in October. Only then will ESA finalize its backup plan, which will be presented to its 22 ESA ministers in November. “But yes, it is likely that we will need a backup launch,” he said. “Admittedly, there are only a handful of launches that require workarounds.”

Aschbacher said the conflict in Ukraine showed that Europe’s decades-old strategy of cooperating with Russia in gas supplies and other areas, including space, was no longer working. “It was a wake-up call that we were too dependent on Russia, and a wake-up call that decision makers like me recognize what is really needed to build European capacity and independence. You have to expect it to come. »

However, he downplayed the possibility of Russia keeping its promise to withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS). Russia’s new head of the Space Agency, Yuri Borisov, said in a teleconference with President Vladimir Putin last month that Russia would withdraw from the ISS “after 2024”.

However, Borisov later clarified that Russia’s plans had not changed, and Western officials said the Russian space agency had not released any new plans for the withdrawal. “The reality is that work on the space station is progressing operationally, almost nominally,” Aschbacher told Reuters. “Like it or not, we are interdependent, but we have little choice.”

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  • Venture capital-backed companies and space launch entrepreneurs are filling a void the size of Russia
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