European space agency turns to Elon Musk’s SpaceX after anti-Russian sanctions have left her chasing rockets

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch.iStock / Getty Images Plus

  • SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets will be used in two launches by the European Space Agency.

  • ESA previously used Russian rockets, but broke off relations after the invasion of Ukraine.

  • The head of the agency previously warned that the rest of the world’s space technology is lagging behind SpaceX.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch two rockets for the European Space Agency after the conflict in Ukraine led the organization to sever ties with Russia.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher confirmed Thursday that he will use SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets to launch two spacecraft, Euclid and Hera, in 2023 and 2024 respectively, according to Reuters.

The Euclid Space Telescope – which hopes to allow humans to better understand dark matter and will orbit near NASA’s James Webb telescope – was due to be launched this year from the European spaceport in French Guiana.

But after ESA severed ties with Russia in February, Moscow’s Roscosmos space program withdrew its employees from the project, causing ESA a severe headache.

“In response to EU sanctions against our companies, Roscosmos is suspending cooperation with European partners in organizing space launches,” he announced at the time.

Hera, scheduled to launch in 2024, will look into the aftermath of NASA’s DART mission, which managed to deflect an off-course asteroid last month.

Although ESA has its own Ariane 5 rocket for heavy payloads, it previously depended on the Russian Soyuz system for medium-sized launches such as Hera and Euclid. However, with Roscosmos withdrawing its cooperation, the space agency was forced to look elsewhere.

Delays in the next-generation Ariane 6, which was designed to compete with SpaceX and maintain Europe’s independence in space, also limited ESA’s plans.

Reuters reported in August that discussions had started with SpaceX, but said Japanese and Indian rockets were also being considered at the time.

Aschbacher told Reuters: “Of course we have to make sure they fit. It’s not like jumping on a bus.”

In an interview with the Financial Times last year, Aschbacher warned that Europe and the rest of the world were not responding quickly enough to the progress made by the likes of SpaceX, adding that Musk was “setting the rules” in space. .

ESA’s choice for SpaceX rockets comes soon after a payment dispute over Musk’s Starlink service in Ukraine, which provided key internet access during the war while normal infrastructure was offline.

CNN reported last week that the billionaire had asked the Pentagon to withdraw the bill for Starlink, with a bill already exceeding $ 200 million. Musk has since claimed to have withdrawn the request.

Russian sanctions also delayed a previously joint mission to search for signs of life on Mars, initially scheduled for launch in September but now postponed to 2028.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to an Insider request for comment on ESA’s use of the Falcon 9 rockets.

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