The European Commission has signed a €180 million deal with SpaceX to launch its satellites into orbit. The Commission had to turn to Elon Musk’s space company because Europe’s own rocket program, Ariane 6, has experienced significant delays. Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton mentioned that the European Space Agency proposed using SpaceX as Ariane 6 is still not available.
The launch of four Galileo geo-navigation satellites, tentatively scheduled for April and July, will be carried out by SpaceX. The Galileo satellites are crucial for the EU’s alternative to the U.S. GPS network. Originally, the plan was to launch these satellites with Russia’s Soyuz rocket system, but due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, that option was no longer viable.
The European Commission has been exploring alternative options for key missions through 2024 due to the costly delays with Ariane 6 and the retirement of the older Ariane 5 system. The delays with Ariane 6 prompted the need for the Commission to seek external assistance.
Before the SpaceX launch dates can be finalized, the EU needs to negotiate a security deal with U.S. authorities. This deal would secure European engineers round-the-clock access to the Galileo satellites and the right to retrieve technology in the event of a rocket failure or payload loss.
The strategic autonomy that the European Commission has been advocating seems to have faced a setback with this reliance on SpaceX. However, the agreement with SpaceX ensures that the EU’s satellite launches will proceed despite the delays with Ariane 6.
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