After the Ukraine war prevented Western access to Russian rockets, the ESA has started preliminary technical conversations with Elon Musk’s SpaceX that may result in the temporary use of its launchers. Along with Japan and India, the private American rival to Europe’s Arianespace has emerged as a major candidate to fill a temporary vacuum, but final choices rely on the still-undetermined timeline for Europe’s delayed Ariane 6 rocket.
“I would say that we are debating two and a half choices. One is SpaceX, which is obvious. Japan might be another, according to ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, who spoke to Reuters. “Japan is anticipating the launch of its most recent rocket. India may be an additional choice, he said in an interview.
SpaceX, in my opinion, is the more operational option and unquestionably a backup launch we are considering. Talks, according to Aschbacher, are still in the exploratory stage, and any fallback plan would only be temporary.
“Of course, we must ensure that they are appropriate. It’s not the same as hopping on a bus,” he remarked. For instance, the interface between the satellite and the launch vehicle must be appropriate, and unusual launch vibrations cannot endanger the payload.
“We are investigating this technical compatibility, but we have not yet requested a business proposal. We only want to confirm that there would be a choice before deciding whether to request a definite business offer, according to Aschbacher.
After reaching out for comment, SpaceX did not provide any feedback. The political repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have already benefited SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which has attracted more clients who are breaking relations with Moscow’s increasingly isolated space industry.
A minimum of one Falcon 9 launch was scheduled for March by satellite internet provider OneWeb, a rival of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband project. It has also scheduled a debut in India.
In order to transport NASA cargo to the ISS, Northrop Grumman scheduled three Falcon 9 flights on Monday. In the meanwhile, the company is developing a new Antares rocket since Moscow withdrew the engines for the original model due to sanctions.
Call to wake up
The new Ariane 6 has been postponed until next year, while its next-generation Vega C made its premiere last month. Ariane 6’s flight schedule will become clearer in October, according to Aschbacher. Only then would ESA complete a backup strategy that would be communicated to the 22 ministers of the agency’s member countries in November.
However, he acknowledged that there was a good chance that backup launches would be required. “The order of magnitude is undoubtedly a respectable number of launches for which we would require temporary solutions.”
According to Aschbacher, the crisis in Ukraine had shown that Europe’s ten-year plan of collaboration with Russia in gas supply and other areas, including space, was no longer effective.
“This served as a wake-up call that our reliance on Russia had become excessive. We have to hope that the decision-makers are as aware of this wake-up call as I am, that we need to really improve our European capabilities and independence.
He downplayed the likelihood that Russia would honor its promise to leave the International Space Station, however (ISS). Russia will leave the ISS “after 2024,” according to Yuri Borisov, the country’s newly designated space head, who spoke with President Vladimir Putin in a televised meeting last month.
Western authorities claimed that the Russian space agency had not disclosed any new withdrawal intentions, although Borisov subsequently confirmed that Russia’s plans had not altered. In actuality, Aschbacher told Reuters, “the construction on the space station is progressing, I would say virtually nominally.” Whether we like it or not, we are all dependent on one another.