Europe's space agency is turning to Elon Musk's SpaceX after anti-Russian sanctions left it scrambling for rockets

Europe's space agency is turning to Elon Musk's SpaceX after anti-Russian sanctions left it scrambling for rockets
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch.iStock/Getty Images Plus
  • SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets will be used in two launches by the European Space Agency.

  • The ESA previously used Russian rockets, but has cut ties since the invasion of Ukraine.

  • The agency's boss has previously warned that the rest of the world's space tech is falling behind SpaceX.

Elon Musk's SpaceX will launch two rockets for the European Space Agency after the Ukraine conflict led to the organization severing ties with Russia.

The ESA's director general, Josef Aschbacher, confirmed on Thursday that it will use SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets to launch two spacecraft, Euclid and Hera, in 2023 and 2024 respectively, per Reuters.

The Euclid space telescope — which hopes to allow humans to better understand dark matter, and will orbit near NASA's James Webb telescope — was supposed to launch this year from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana.

But after the ESA cut ties with Russia in February, Moscow's space program Roscosmos withdrew its employees from the project, causing a major headache for the ESA.

"In response to EU sanctions against our enterprises, Roscosmos is suspending cooperation with European partners in organizing space launches," it announced at the time.

Hera, planned to launch in 2024, will examine the aftermath of NASA's DART mission, which succeeded in deflecting an asteroid off course last month.

While the ESA has its own Ariane 5 rocket for heavy payloads, it has previously depended on Russia's Soyuz system for medium-sized launches such as Hera and Euclid. However, with Roscosmos withdrawing its cooperation, the space agency was forced to look elsewhere.

Delays to the next-generation Ariane 6 – which was planned to compete with SpaceX and maintain Europe's independence in space  – have also constricted the ESA's plans.

Reuters reported in August that discussions had begun with SpaceX, but said at the time Japanese and Indian rockets were also being considered.

Aschbacher told Reuters: "We of course need to make sure that they are suitable. It's not like jumping on a bus."

In a Financial Times interview last year, Aschbacher warned that Europe and the rest of the world was not responding quick enough to the progress being made by the likes of SpaceX, adding that Musk was "making the rules" in space.

The ESA's choice of SpaceX rockets comes soon after a payment dispute over Musk's Starlink service in Ukraine, which has provided key internet access during the war while normal infrastructure has been offline.

CNN reported last week that the billionaire had asked the Pentagon to pick up the bill for Starlink, with the bill already surpassing $200 million. Musk has since said he has withdrawn the request.

Russian sanctions have also delayed a previously-joint mission to look for signs of life on Mars, initially scheduled for a September launch but now postponed to 2028.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider on the ESA's use of Falcon 9 rockets.

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