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.