The European Union (EU) has reached a tentative agreement with U.S.-based SpaceX to launch four Galileo navigation satellites, according to EU officials. This deal comes as a response to the growing pressure caused by a gap in European launch capacity.
The agreement involves two launches scheduled for April and July of next year, with each launch carrying two satellites. EU Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton, announced the agreement during EU ministerial talks on competitiveness in space, held in Seville, Spain.
However, the plan is still subject to authorizations related to the protection of the satellites. These Galileo satellites are a crucial part of the European system, which includes a secure signal and a public alternative to the U.S. Global Positioning System.
The need for alternative launch options has arisen due to delays in 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 amidst the Ukraine conflict. These circumstances have left Europe with a temporary gap in launch capacity.
Last year, the European Space Agency (ESA), which includes most EU states, turned to SpaceX to launch its Euclid space telescope. Euclid’s mission is to survey evidence of dark matter and dark energy in the universe. The first images from Euclid were set to be released on the same day as this announcement.
Additionally, in 2024, SpaceX will also launch Europe’s scientific Hera probe, a follow-up mission to NASA’s DART spacecraft. The successful alteration of a moonlet’s path by the DART spacecraft last year marked the first test of a future planetary defense system.
The agreement with SpaceX marks another step towards addressing Europe’s launch capacity challenges and ensuring the continuation of vital satellite missions.