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.

NASA instrument for European space telescope flawed and must be rebuilt

The NASA instrument for Europe’s Euclid optical/near-infrared space telescope has been found defective and must be rebuilt, thus delaying the launch of the telescope by at least one year.

What interested me about this telescope is its goals and specifications:

Euclid is a two-ton space telescope selected by ESA in 2011 as a medium-class mission in its Cosmic Vision program of space science missions. The spacecraft features a 1.2-meter telescope with visible and near-infrared instruments to study dark energy and dark matter, which combined account for about 95 percent of the universe. Euclid will operate at the Earth-sun L-2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, that is used by other infrared astronomy missions.

With a mirror about half the size of Hubble’s, this telescope will act as a partial replacement and back up for it. In fact, it will likely make numerous ground-breaking discoveries, as every optical telescope placed above the atmosphere has so far done.

Meanwhile, the article provided no information on the flaws, who built the flawed instrument, and who will pay for the delays its failure will cause.

NASA has now agreed to contribute equipment and researchers to a European dark energy mission.

The check is in the mail: NASA has now agreed to contribute equipment and researchers to a European dark energy mission.

And why should Europe have any expectation that NASA will follow through? Europe’s ExoMars project was screwed badly when NASA pulled out last year. Nor was that the first time the U.S. government reneged on a deal with Europe.

Considering the fragile nature of the U.S. federal budget, I wouldn’t depend on anything from NASA or any U.S. government agency for the foreseeable future. And this includes the various private space companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences that are using NASA subsidies to build their spaceships. Get those things built, and quickly! The government money could disappear very soon.