After the commissioning of Europe’s next carrier rocket, Ariane 6, has been delayed further and further, the EU Commission wants to set the course for Galileo navigation satellites to be launched with US technology and from US territory. This is reported by the political magazine Politico, citing an internal paper intended to facilitate the necessary negotiations with the United States. The plan to ask the United States for help in transporting the state-of-the-art satellites and not to wait any longer for Ariane 6 would be a huge setback to the goal of being strategically autonomous in space.
Europe without launchers
Galileo satellites not only enable extremely precise location determination on the earth’s surface, there is also an encrypted and particularly secure extra service for government agencies and critical infrastructures. Because of the associated security requirements, the satellites can usually only be launched from European territory. So far, this has happened from the French spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana. Ariane 5 was used for this, but also Russian Soyuz rockets. The former is fully booked, the latter no longer available since Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
It is now up to the EU member states to approve negotiations on an agreement with the USA, writes the political magazine. The Falcon 9 from SpaceX and the Vulcan from the United Launch Alliance, which is about to make its maiden flight, come into question. The European Space Agency – which is not an EU institution – already announced in the summer of 2022 that talks were being held with SpaceX for some launches. At that time it was said that as an alternative, switching to Japanese or Indian missiles was also possible. There is probably no question of this in the EU. Should they also switch to US technology for the Galileo satellites, it would be an immense success for the US manufacturers and a major setback for the ArianeGroup, which is developing Ariane 6.
Europe has so far relied on the European Vega rocket for launches of small payloads, on the Soyuz for medium-sized ones and on the Ariane 5 for the largest ones. A continuous transition from Ariane 5 to Ariane 6 was actually planned, but this has been delayed more and more. The first launch of an Ariane 6 is now scheduled for this year, but it is unclear whether that will work. Since the summer, ESA has considered it very likely that launches with other rockets will be necessary to process all bookings