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ESA awards contracts to two companies to build unmanned orbital freighters

The European Space Agency (ESA) today awarded contracts worth 25 million euros each to two European companies — the French startup The Exploration Company and the established Italian contractor Thales-Alenia — to begin development of their own unmanned freighters capable of bringing cargo to and from orbit.

During phase 1 development, the selected companies will mature the design of their respective vehicles, focusing on mission requirements, architectures, technology maturation, and de-risking activities. This phase of development is expected to run from June 2024 to June 2026.

Phase 2 of the initiative will see the companies develop and execute a demonstration mission that must be launched by the end of 2028. However, the commencement of Phase 2 will be subject to decisions and appropriations made at ESA’s next ministerial-level council meeting, which will take place in late 2025.

These contracts only cover phase 1. If successful, these capsules will compete with the cargo capsules that SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, and Sierra Space fly in providing supplies to the four commercial space stations presently being built.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Ken

    I’m pretty sure NG already uses Thales-Alenia to supply the Cygnus capsule.

  • David M. Cook

    Hmm… New space vs. Old space. I expect the Thales product to be expensive, complicated, late and unreliable, while The Exploration Company will make it cheap, simple, on-time and reliable. I could be wrong, but that‘s my prediction.

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