Europe looks to SpaceX to fill the launch gap amid tensions with Russia

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has begun preliminary technical talks with Elon Musk’s SpaceX that could lead to the temporary use of its launchers after the Ukraine conflict blocked access. from the West to Russia’s Soyuz rockets.

Private US competitor to Europe’s Arianespace has emerged as a key contender to fill a temporary gap alongside Japan and India, but final decisions hinge on the still-unresolved timetable for Europe’s long-delayed Ariane 6 rocket.

“I would say there are two and a half options that we are discussing. One is SpaceX, of course. Another is possibly Japan,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher told Reuters.

“Japan is waiting for the maiden flight of its next-generation rocket. Another option could be India,” he added in an interview.

“SpaceX would say it’s the most operational of them and certainly one of the backup launches we’re considering.”

Aschbacher said the talks were still in an exploratory phase and that any back-up solution would be temporary.

“Of course, we have to make sure they are suitable. It’s not like getting on a bus,” he said. For example, the interface between the satellite and the launcher must be adequate and the payload must not be compromised by unknown launch vibration types.

“We’re looking into this technical compatibility, but we haven’t asked for a commercial offer yet. We just want to make sure it’s an option to make a decision on requesting a firm 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 shock to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which has attracted other customers severing ties with Moscow’s increasingly isolated space sector.

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Satellite internet company OneWeb, a competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink, booked at least one Falcon 9 launch in March. It has also booked a release in India.

On Monday, Northrop Grumman (NYSE:) booked three Falcon 9 missions to transport NASA cargo to the International Space Station while it designs a new version of its Antares rocket, whose Russian-made engines were withdrawn by Moscow in response to the sanctions.

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