Exclusive-Europe could turn to SpaceX to replace Russian rockets

by Tim Hepher and Joey Roulette

PARIS, Aug 12 (Reuters) – The European Space Agency (ESA) has entered preliminary technical discussions with SpaceX, the company of billionaire Elon Musk, which could lead to the temporary use of its launchers after the war in Ukraine has ended. blocked Western access to Russian Soyuz rockets.

The American competitor of Arianespace is with Japan and India among the candidates at the top of the list to solve this temporary problem, but the final choice will depend on the timetable of the Ariane 6 rocket, which has not yet been finalized.

“I would say we are discussing two and a half options. The first is SpaceX, that’s clear. Another is maybe 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. “I would say SpaceX is the most operational of them.”

Josef Aschbacher clarified that the discussions were at a preliminary stage and that any solution would be temporary.

“Of course we have to make sure they fit. It’s not like jumping on a bus,” he said. For example, the interface between the satellite and the launcher must be appropriate and the payload must not be compromised by unusual vibrations at takeoff.

“We are looking at this technical compatibility, but we haven’t requested a commercial offer yet. We just want to make sure that this is a (viable) option to make a decision on requesting a commercial offer,” Josef said. Aschbacher.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

ALARM SIGNAL

Until now, Europe has depended on the Italian Vega rocket for small payloads, the Russian Soyuz rocket for medium payloads and the Ariane 5 rocket for heavy missions. The new generation of Vega C debuted last month and the new Ariane 6 has been delayed until next year.

According to Josef Aschbacher, the Ariane 6 schedule will be clearer in October. ESA will then be able to finalize an emergency plan which will be presented to the ministers of the 22 member countries of the Agency in November.

According to the agency’s director, the invasion of Ukraine demonstrated that Europe’s strategy of cooperation with Russia in gas supplies and in other areas, including space, was not working. more.

“It was a wake-up call, we have been too dependent on Russia… We really need to strengthen our European capabilities and independence.”

He, however, played down the possibility of Russia fulfilling its promise to withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS). (Report Tim Hepher and Joey Roulette; French version Valentine Baldassari, told by Kate Entringer)

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