SpaceX might fill gap created by Russia tensions, ESA says

The European Space Agency (ESA) has begun preliminary technical discussions with Elon Musk’s SpaceX that could lead to the temporary use of its launchers, after the Ukraine conflict ended up blocking Western access to Russia’s Soyuz rockets.

The private American competitor to Europe’s Arianespace has emerged as a key contender to plug a temporary gap alongside Japan and India, but final decisions depend on the still unresolved timetable for Europe’s delayed Ariane 6 rocket.

“I would say there are two and a half options that we are discussing. One is SpaceX, that is clear. Another one is possibly Japan,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher told Reuters. “SpaceX I would say is the more operational of those and certainly one of the back-up launches we are looking at,” he added.

As he revealed, talks remained at an exploratory phase while SpaceX reportedly did not reply to a request for comment.

Elon Musk company’s Falcon 9 has already swept up other customers severing its ties with Moscow’s increasingly isolated space sector amid the Ukraine conflict, but a high-profile European mission could be seen as a significant win for the US rocket maker.

Mr Aschbacher stressed any back-up solution would be temporary, however, adding he was not worried about the future of Ariane 6.

Wake-up call

Europe has until now depended on the Italian Vega for small payloads, Russia’s Soyuz for medium ones and the Ariane 5 for heavy missions. Its next-generation Vega C staged a debut last month and the new Ariane 6, designed in two versions to replace both the Ariane 5 and Soyuz, has been delayed until next year.

Mr Aschbacher said a more precise Ariane 6 schedule would become clearer by October after current hot-firing testing. ESA would then finalise a back-up plan to be presented to ministers of the agency’s 22 nations in November, he said, adding the most recent Ariane 6 delay was not the result of any significant new setback.

Russia to leave ISS

Yuri Borisov, the newly-appointed chief of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, announced back in July that the country would withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024.

“Of course, we will fulfil all our obligations to our partners, but the decision about withdrawing from the station after 2024 has been made,” he told Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, during a meeting.