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ESA looking to SpaceX to launch Euclid space telescope

Capitalism in space: Having lost its Soyuz launch vehicle for its Euclid space telescope because of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, the European Space Agency (ESA) is now looking at SpaceX as a possible option.

At a meeting of NASA’s Astrophysics Advisory Council, Mark Clampin, director of the agency’s astrophysics division, said his understanding is that the European Space Agency was leaning towards launching its Euclid mission on a Falcon 9 in mid to late 2023.

NASA is a partner on Euclid, a space telescope that will operate around the Earth-sun L-2 Lagrange point 1.5 million kilometers from Earth to study dark energy, dark matter and other aspects of cosmology. The 2,160-kilogram spacecraft was to launch on a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana in 2023.

Europe has for years used its own rockets for its science missions. However, right now the Falcon 9 appears the only option. The last launches of Europe’s Ariane-5 rocket are already assigned, and the new Ariane-6 rocket has not yet flown, is behind schedule, and its early launches are also already reserved.

Nor does ESA have other options outside of SpaceX. Of the rockets powerful enough to do the job, ULA’s Atlas-5 is also being retired, and the Vulcan rocket is as yet unavailable. Blue Origin’s New Glenn is years behind schedule, with no clear idea when it will finally launch.

A final decision is expected soon. ESA could either go with SpaceX, or simply delay several years until Ariane-6 is flying.

If SpaceX gets the job however it will once again demonstrate the value of moving fast in a competitive environment. While its competitors have dithered and thus do not have their rockets ready, SpaceX has been flying steadily for years, so it gets the business.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

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12 comments

  • David Eastman

    It continues to amaze me that Ariane and ULA both chose to retire their existing launchers and move to new vehicles without retaining some kind of fall-back or transition capability, at the same time, and that both of them seem to lack any urgency in getting past that gap even in the face of SpaceX happily taking all their customers.

  • Ray Van Dune

    How will SpaceX respond to continuing market demand for Falcon rockets and Merlin engines? Of course it really is a net new demand for Falcon second stages and launch services, since first stages are reusable.

    How long will SpaceX keep prices similar to current levels, while their current competitor platforms fold, and new ones slow walk? Not long I would suggest. I hope Elon gives preference to NASA and DoD, and soaks the rest to maintain his margins.

  • Gary

    If they wait a couple of years, they can launch several telescopes at once on a Starship.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Good point, Gary. And as I have said before, why are they designing a Mars sample-return mission when a SpaceX astronaut could just bring them back in his carry-on?

  • Gary

    Ray, I guess – politically – Musk has to follow your suggested path, but I would prefer he preference private enterprise and charge max rates to DOD and NASA and build his margins off them.

  • Ray Van Dune

    I guess instead of “soaks the rest”, I really meant “soaks the Euros”, because they have backed themselves into a corner, first by relying on outmoded Russian technology, and then by investing in non-reusable stuff when forced to finally leave the Soyuz.

  • sippin_bourbon

    “It continues to amaze me that Ariane and ULA both chose to retire their existing launchers and move to new vehicles without retaining some kind of fall-back or transition capability”…

    You mean like the US government when they shut down the shuttle without a viable means to replace it?

    As for waiting on Starship… why? If they are going to wait for that, they might as well wait for Ariane 6. Falcon (or Falcon Heavy, since it will need fuel to get to L2) is flying now. Un-tested so far, lets say they get Starship to orbit in the next few months. That is still just LEO. To get anywhere else requires the currently unavailable re-fueling in orbit technology. Should they wait for that also?

    And just because Starship is projected to have greater upmass capability, does not mean that a bunch of telescopes, or anything for that matter, are all going to the same place. It will not be like a pick up truck that can run around from one orbit to another at will.

    I want to see it work.. but I am not holding my breath for trips to the moon, or anyone else, anytime soon.

  • David Ross

    “to study dark energy, dark matter and other aspects of cosmology”
    I hope they’re just talking about the “dark” malarkey to excite the Astrophysics Community, because otherwise this mission is a complete waste of SpaceX’s launch opportunities.

  • David Ross: SpaceX won’t waste anything. They are a launch provider, and make money by providing that service to anyone. And they certainly have the resources to handle as many launches as possible.

    If the ESA wishes to spend its money on this project, SpaceX would be foolish to turn it down.

  • sippin_bourbon

    David Ross,

    Sometimes the contribution made by observationS or experiments is to disprove the original hypothesis.
    If that happens, it is still an advancement of knowledge.

  • Edward

    Ray Van Dune asked: “How long will SpaceX keep prices similar to current levels, while their current competitor platforms fold, and new ones slow walk? Not long I would suggest. I hope Elon gives preference to NASA and DoD, and soaks the rest [“soaks the Euros”] to maintain his margins.

    One of Musk’s goals (other than colonize Mars) is to provide low cost access to space. I would suggest that SpaceX will not raise prices any faster than inflation. Although it means that each flight contributes less to future development projects, it also means that SpaceX should get more customers. This is in line with the low cost access to space, as it opens up space to so much more commercial work than we ever had before low cost commercial access.

    David Eastman wrote: “It continues to amaze me that Ariane and ULA both chose to retire their existing launchers and move to new vehicles without retaining some kind of fall-back or transition capability, at the same time, and that both of them seem to lack any urgency in getting past that gap even in the face of SpaceX happily taking all their customers.

    ULA’s main problem is the availability of the BE-4 engine. I’m sure they would be farther along if the engine had been available on time.

  • pzatchok

    The only country that might have a chance to beat Space X and musk is China, only because cost means nothing to them. They will give anyone they want a free flight just to kill their competition.

    Russia does not have the tech or economy and the EU must watch its pocketbook even more than the US. India might get close but by then Musk will have moved on and advanced even further to providing launches faster and cheaper than he does now.

    Musk might get to the Mars but the Moon is the next logical off planet permanent colony.

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