The European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch two scientific missions with Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket, due to the interruption of firing from Russian Soyuz launchers from Kourou and the delay in Ariane 6, its director announced on Thursday. general.
The European Euclid and Hera probes will both be launched by the Falcon 9 launcher designed by Elon Musk’s company, Josef Aschbacher said during a press briefing after an ESA Council meeting.
Waiting for Ariane 6
“This is a temporary measure that we are taking due to the interruption of Soyuz firings and while waiting for the ramp-up of Ariane 6”, whose maiden flight was delayed in the last quarter of 2023, he said. declared.
Euclid will study the expansion of the Universe after it lifts off in 2023. It was originally scheduled to take off with a Soyuz rocket. The Hera probe is due to take off at the end of 2024 towards the asteroid recently deflected by NASA (the Dart mission).
In 2020, ESA had already launched a Sentinel-6 satellite from the European Earth observation program Copernicus with a Falcon 9 reusable rocket.
The program for the new Ariane 6 launcher intended to succeed Ariane 5 and to fulfill the missions previously carried out by the Soyuz was launched in 2014. Initially scheduled for 2020, the first flight of Ariane 6 has already had to be postponed for two years in due to the Covid-19 pandemic and development difficulties.
In February, the Russian invasion of Ukraine cut short all European cooperation with Russia and deprived the European space base of Kourou, in French Guiana, of satellite launches by Russian rockets.
Exploration of Mars delayed
A third mission, EarthCare, a satellite for observing the Earth’s atmosphere, was to leave with Soyuz. It will finally take off with the new European light launcher Vega-C, at the beginning of 2024, detailed Josef Aschbacher.
The ExoMars mission, also suspended after the invasion of Ukraine, should have to wait until 2028 to take off, according to the new ESA exploration program which will be submitted to the 22 Member States at the ministerial conference of the agency, end of November.
“Today would have been exactly one month after the launch which was scheduled for September 20. But now we will have to wait, if the ministers decide to continue the project, until a launch in 2028 for a landing in 2030,” said David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA.
In March, Josef Asbacher had deemed it impossible to launch ExoMars “at least before 2026”.
The European rover Rosalind Franklin, designed to drill deep into the Martian soil in search of traces of extraterrestrial life, was to be deposited there with a Russian lander.
Several replacement options are under discussion, but a European solution is “preferred” at this stage, added David Parker.