The European Space Agency (ESA) has chosen SpaceX over the Russian space agency as the launcher for two of its high-profile missions in the next two years.
The two ESA missions selected to launch SpaceX’s Falcon 9 are the Euclid space telescope to search for dark matter and the Hera probe, which follows NASA’s successful DART asteroid exploration mission. SpaceX rocket launches will take place in 2023 and 2024, respectively. Both missions were originally planned to be launched by the Russian space agency Roskosmos aboard Soyuz rockets, but tensions following Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine have prompted ESA to seek other launch service providers.
This was stated by the head of the ESA, Joseph Aschbacher, during an information session. (will open in a new tab) after the meeting of the ESA Council, which was broadcast on the agency’s YouTube channel. “We have also made significant progress on a number of decisions, 18 decisions in total that were made in this council,” Aschbacher told reporters at the briefing. “One was on launch […] Today it was decided to launch Euclid, Earthcare and Hera. Just for the record, we Member States have decided that Euclid and Hera are proposed to run on Falcon 9 and Earthcare will be launched on Vega C.”
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“As you all know, this is a temporary measure that we need to run on other launches, in particular, due to the withdrawal of the Soyuz,” Ashbacher continued. The head of the ESA later tweeted. (will open in a new tab) that “decisions have been made to launch #Earthcare, #Euclid and #Hera missions.”
Earthcare is ESA’s Earth observation satellite that will join the European Copernicus program, a constellation of climate monitoring spacecraft. As Ashbacher noted, Earthcare will now be launched not on the Soyuz, but on Vega C, the rocket of the French company Arianespace, which debuted in July this year.
The ESA statement is linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions, which have strained relations between Western space agencies and Roscosmos. In February 2022, Ashbatzer stated that ESA would continue to cooperate with Russia in light of the Ukrainian invasion, although space policy experts had doubts.
Now these doubts seem well founded. In addition to the Euclid, Hera and Earthcare missions, the European Space Agency has already ended its cooperation with Roscosmos on the rover search program, which is scheduled to launch later this decade.
“The circumstances that led to the suspension of cooperation with Roscosmos — the war in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions — continue to prevail,” Aschbacher tweeted at the time. (will open in a new tab).
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