By Tim Hepher and Joey Roulette
PARISAug 12 – The European Space Agency (THISfor its acronym in English) began preliminary technical talks with SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, which could lead to the temporary use of its launchers after the Ukraine conflict blocked Western access 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,” the director general of the THISJosef Aschbacher.
“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 any backup solution would be temporary.
“Of course, we have to make sure they are suitable. It’s not like getting on a bus,” she 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 are studying this technical compatibility, but we have not yet requested a commercial offer. We just want to make sure that it is an option to make a decision on the request for 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 breaking ties with Moscow’s increasingly isolated space sector.
Satellite internet company OneWeb, a competitor of SpaceX’s Starlink, booked at least one Falcon 9 launch in March. It has also booked a release in India.
On Monday, Northrop Grumman booked three Falcon 9 missions to transport cargo from the POT to the International Space Station while designing a new version of its Antares rocket, whose Russian-made engines were recalled by Moscow in response to sanctions.