The European Union (EU) has reached a provisional agreement to use U.S.-based SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets for the launch of four Galileo navigation satellites. This decision comes as Europe faces a gap in launch capacity. The EU plans to conduct two launches in April and July of next year, with each launch carrying two satellites.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton confirmed the agreement and mentioned that the launches will be subject to satellite protection authorizations. The Galileo satellites are part of a sensitive European system that provides a secure signal and serves as an alternative to the U.S. Global Positioning System.
Europe’s launch capacity has been affected by various setbacks. Delays in the development of the Ariane 6 launcher, the grounding of the smaller Italian Vega-C following a launch failure in 2022, and the loss of access to Russian Soyuz rockets due to the Ukraine conflict have collectively contributed to this gap.
To address this issue, the European Space Agency (ESA) turned to SpaceX in 2022. Elon Musk’s company successfully launched ESA’s Euclid space telescope, which aims to survey dark matter and dark energy in the universe. The first images from Euclid were scheduled to be released on the same day as this announcement.
Additionally, in 2024, SpaceX will also be responsible for launching Europe’s scientific Hera probe. This mission serves as a follow-up to NASA’s DART spacecraft, which successfully altered the path of a moonlet in a crucial test of a future planetary defense system.
The partnership between the EU and SpaceX highlights the collaborative efforts being made in the field of space exploration. By utilizing SpaceX’s rockets, Europe aims to bridge its temporary gap in launch capacity and continue its ambitious space missions.